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DC Crew
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Automobile Magazine: If I could just pull back a little bit and talk historically about the car. Could you give me a kind of condensed history of the Corvette, generation by generation? Highs and lows?

Dave Hill: Ooooh. Wow. That's kind of hard to do off the top of my head, but let me wing it. There were these auto-show cars and these motorama cars after the war and in the early '50s and everybody was doing stuff, GM was probably doing more than most. But the Corvette was remarkable in that it went all the way into production really fast. The '53 Corvette was just a fantastic accomplishment in terms of a very well done design that had stood the test of time. And went into production very very fast. But it was also pretty hasty and they just took stuff that they had lying around and slapped this car together, chassis-wise and powertrain-wise. Ed Cole and the Chevy small block V-8 was a fantastic accomplishment. In all the '50s there probably isn't anything more important in the whole industry than the Chevy small block that came in the '55 Corvette. It was Zora working on the vehicle integration for the first time the Corvette really got on the map in '56 when they had a few things coming together with a decent engine and a decent transmission and some window sealing and stuff that the car didn't have when it was new. By that time it was clear demarcation that Ford was going for the volume and Chevy was going for a real sports car. From that point the cars were clearly distinct. Ford was more successful commercially, and they kept chasing the volume while Chevy really kept improving the product in a world-class sports-car era. So I think the '53 and the '56 were the Corvette.

Then, Corvette got a little crazy in '58 going in the wrong direction with a bigger car. Like in 1958 everybody had tons of chrome on their car. And the 58 Corvette wasn't that much out of character with the whole Detroit set, where the '58 Corvette was bigger and had more brightwork on it, yet still people like the '58 Corvette. It certainly was not Zora's favorite car. Then they began to reel it back and get more simplicity in the design as the C1 finished up its time in '62. It was pretty handsome by then, but still a relatively old-fashioned straight-axle chassis. It's interesting. You look at the car and the car looks like you could be happy driving it today. Then you get in it and you drive it and you say, "Ohmygod! I can't believe how people used to drive these things and think they were cool." That Corvette is a handful and far more engine than the rest of the vehicle was able to sustain. When you think about racers driving those cars flat out and the brakes they didn't have... Those folks were really courageous. The C1 high points were the '56 where they got the V-8 going, the '57 Fuelie.

Then I think the '63 and '67 that you and I both like, the StingRay, it was a great advance in tech. With the IRS and disc brakes and the style. It was very compelling style. And that was a great car because it had really wonderful accommodations—the coupe and convertible choice. Unfortunately the convertible lost the trunk and the trunk wouldn't come back until 1998. But the C2 was a very compelling car.

Automobile Magazine: And then you had the big block.

Dave Hill: Yeah, the big block made a lot of acceleration. I did not prefer those kinds of cars because they didn't have the balance and the overall good handling that the small block Corvette had, but big-block cars were amazing in their immediate acceleration response and the gobs of torque that they had. So the mid-year cars were everybody's favorite. Really about the only thing that was truly worn with the mid-year car is that they had this aerodynamic lift that was not good. It didn't help them, their competitiveness in real racing, but they had most everything else together. It was actually a pretty short generation, timewise, and one that's gonna keep going up and up and up in value because they're not making any more of them, but they're making more people who want them. It's just a great vintage.

The '68, the Mako Shark, had smoother, simpler lines than the '67, and it was definitely a modernization, but when you look back at its overdone shapes and the fender bulges and the cant on the top of the front fenders—the Coke-bottle shape really constrained the occupants a bit although they're really high-style cars and had a lot of customers. The coupe with the T-top was significant in that era as well as the roadster, so a lot of volume business was done in that C3 which went from '68 to '82 and sold a lot of cars with a very dramatic American style, maybe overly so by today's standards. But people loved 'em, and there wasn't anything else like 'em on the road. The first half of that generation has the all-metal bumpers and then we had to move the Corvette through the difficult transition of going to bumpers that would actually bump and we had some of the first soft fascias in the industry and some were done better than others. It was an immature technology in terms of having soft panels that were high quality and stayed that way.

So that was long generation. Then I would say that the C4, which missed the year of '83 and started with the '84, that was a substantial upgrade in all of the chassis and mechanical systems and really got the car for the first time to really world-class handling levels. Maybe overdid it and there was lot of criticism that maybe the '84 was too much of a proving grounds-developed car and not enough of a refined car and maybe the people did overdo it going for maximum lateral acceleration numbers and maybe unbalancing the car.

The '84 was maybe a little bit excessive in its chassis tuning but they worked on it aggressively, got it better, brought out a convertible in '86, and there had not been a convertible for a while and that C4 design was a little milder, not so flamboyant as its predecessor, and it really lasted. It might not have had quite enough passion to stir the imagination, but it was a very successful car that lasted for many years, from '84 to '96. And there was a ZR1 in there for a while which had a very expensive engine but probably not enough differentiation from the rest of the Corvettes being sold. Not too long after the ZR1 came out, the pushrod engine was upgraded greatly in '92 with the LT1 engine and that took some of the steam out of the ZR1 and the ZR1 turning out to be kind of an unsuccessful business because they sold quite a number of cars in the first year but then not so many after the pushrod engine was improved and it finally went away in '95.

When I arrived, the first car I had an influence on was the '94. We kept working to make it better and by the time the C4 was finished in '96 it was a pretty respectable car. And as I say, it did send the rice burners back on the boat.

Automobile Magazine: It's funny that the pushrod engine knocked the OHC engine off the block. The advancements to the LT1 with the economy and drivability and its sounds, it's such a great engine, you're like, "Why do I need the complexity?"
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