3 September 2013

Design Analysis: Chevrolet Corvette C2 (1963-1967)

It could be argued that the first generation Corvette ushered in a fresh era of motoring in the U.S. It was the first modern American sports car — the fenders were flush with the rest of the body and the body enveloped the frame (rather than sitting atop it). The ‘Vette made such a personal luxury statement that Ford was caught flatfooted and responded two years later with the Thunderbird. They quickly diverged though, the Corvette remaining true to its European gentleman-racer roots.

While the C1 laid the foundation, the second generation came to exemplify the Corvette. The C2 also represented a shift in design, generally, and within GM, having been designed right after the styling leadership changed (Bill Mitchell replaced the aging Harley Earl). Design transitioned from voluptuous to sheer and raked. Mitchell’s tenure saw GM cars become less ornate and more futuristic. He also killed that symbol of the 1950s, the tail fin, which reached its zenith in 1959 in one of Earl’s last production cars — the Cadillac Eldorado.

The Corvette's overall proportions didn’t change much from the first gen. It maintained the traditional long hood/short trunk shared with most other sports cars. But the surfacing became much tauter with the second generation. The 1950s were essentially an extension of the art deco era that favored a rounded aerodynamic look (fenders) with speed lines for accent (think of the C1’s bumpers and grille teeth).

As the decade drew to a close, the Corvette had been steadily moving away from its slightly pudgy beginnings toward the beautiful, lithe form it acquired in 1963. Under Mitchell’s stewardship, designer Larry Shinoda began with the ’62 Corvette’s light-looking ducktail rear end and picked up on the 1953’s chrome character line and brought it up, tangential to the tire tops and terminating in the ducktail. Everything below the beltline reflects the ground, giving the car a very lean, low, planted look. The gesture of the beltline is carried through the bodyside, giving the car a dynamic, athletic appearance.

Detail-wise, Mitchell did away with many of the chrome tidbits of Earl’s era, but the 1963 C2 was still festooned with a variety of doodads — hood vents that only served a visual purpose, B-pillar scallops, and divided backlight. While the scallops remained for a few years, the hood vents and two-piece backlight (split-window) were nixed the following year.

The reason the C2 is the prototypical Corvette is because it’s clean and purposeful. It wasn’t conservative, it was a bold risk taker. It was designed to speak to an American aesthetic when traditional-looking MG’s and Porsches were beginning to appear on our shores in greater numbers. All of the surfacing and details were designed to make it look like the gutsiest, fastest racecar on Earth. The first generation made the Corvette’s success possible. But it was this car, the 1963 Corvette, that defined what a ‘Vette is.

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Gregory McClain Arizona September 4, 2013 at 14:45
    I am a quintissential baby boomer who turned 16 in 1963 (in August just in time for the roll out of the 1964 model year). Your piece on the C1 Corvette was spot on as far as naming the midyear 1963-1967 Corvettes as the iconic image of the Classic Corvette, The Stingray wins hands down. I do have say though that in my opinion the most beautiful design of the era was the 1962 Vette which was the perfect combination of both designs rounded art deco front, pinched ducktail rear. It always looked to me like a work of art coming at you and a racecar running away from you. Ah the memories. Hagerty insures my 1964 Corvette, which while not having the blended beauty of the 1962 does remain the queen of every young boys dream who got his license just as the '64 model year came out. Dreams do come true.ej erf
  • 2
    Gary Zatkovich Santa Rosa, CA September 4, 2013 at 16:33
    Great article,.....I'm an original owner 65 Vette,...truly "The" ageless American sportscar!
  • 3
    Chuck South Dakota September 4, 2013 at 19:21
    I agree that the C2 Corvette Stingray is a timeless style that continues to hold market value many times its original selling price. Very few cars of that vintage can lay claim to the enthusiastic reaction it garners both on and off the street. It is the original Stingray but that moniker has fallen victim over the years to adorning mundane styling efforts for sales appeal. Breaking new ground in aesthetics and chassis engineering was the C2's forte...no Corvette since (other than the C4) has made such a major change from a previous model. It is sad that GM sales had to tag the new C7 as a Stingray...although the styling has changed somewhat from the C6, it is not a major break thru to new ground. The new chassis and interior deserve the review kudos but certainly not the exterior which seems to be the work of multiple design teams. Of course a new Corvette will sell well initially but it won't be the aging star a C2 Stingray is on an auction stage, at a car show or just cruising by on the street. My point...please don't call the C7 a Stingray...that is tarnishing the unique mystique that the '63 Stingray brought to the American sports car scene many years ago...it deserves to be kept special.
  • 4
    sal long island ny September 4, 2013 at 21:03
    could you please put more articles like this one . tis was very good.
  • 5
    George Las Vegas,NV September 4, 2013 at 21:55
    I agree, I bought my 1st C1 when I turned 21. I drove it from Florida to Canada for many years. When it was totaled, (hit from behind ), I bought my 1st C2, a 65 roadster and what a difference in handling & performance. I drove it for many years. I bought my 2nd C2, a 66 roadster and enjoyed it for 18 yrs. Last year I traded my 66 for my 1st love, a C1, 1962. I think this will be my last ,well, except I now I have my eye on the new 2014? It's a charmer.
  • 6
    James Conner Weaver,Al September 4, 2013 at 22:48
    My favorite was the high revving 327 with 2 4 barrel carbs or 3 2 barrel carbs.
  • 7
    Charles Morey United States September 4, 2013 at 23:07
    Could not have said it better. I have owned 10 vettes, the 2nd one a '63 convertible, and it is my favorite of all the cars I have owned.
  • 8
    Big Bob United States September 4, 2013 at 23:30
    Pretty amazing that the basic concept remained unchanged from 1965 to 1982 with many body modifications and very few chaise modifications while the power plants jumped from 250 HP to 435 HP. It's no wonder the midyear corvettes are treasured having modern suspension, big horsepower per cubic inch and disk brakes only being introduced by Porsche and Jaguar. A tradition that continues to this day.
  • 9
    Jerry Farber Las Vegas, Nv. September 5, 2013 at 15:50
    I have 65' Corvette convertible small block.. The best thing about my 65' is the fact that the only computer in this car is my garage opener....!
  • 10
    Joe Robbins United States September 5, 2013 at 09:45
    The Corvette was obviously an American act of accidental genius. Like so many other ideas not unlike the Beatlesvia George Martin. The Corvette ushered in an era that what was a spring board for what would become a revolution of American car enthusiasts ever growing with passion and ingenuity which has never let up and never will. My 64 Chevelle in it's current state produces well over 400lb ft of torque at a meager 2000RPM and 450HP at 5000RPM getting 20MPG and runs on 85octane fuel. With all due respect the fellow enthusiasts across the pond do have passion to be sure though no one can argue with American technology, enthusuasm and performance. At 120MPH the Chevelle rides as smooth as a late model Cadillac.
  • 11
    Steve Goldenberg Fairfax, VA September 15, 2013 at 23:48
    I own a '65 silver coupe that still has under 50,000 miles. It drives and rides like a new car. Everything except the paint is original even the rubber mats on the floor. It always get the looks whenever I drive it. People stop to take pictures wherever I park. It's equipped with a 327/300 V8, side pipes, knock off wheels and a teak steering wheel. What more can anybody ask for.
  • 12
    John Cork Dover, AR June 22, 2017 at 14:08
    I like this article but I've read too many that say virtually the same thing. It would be nice to read one which has some critical things to say about the design. I think the front end is too short and therefore doesn't flow as well from front to back. It also handicaps the aerodynamics by causing front end lift at high speeds. I would love to see a "long nose" C2 which blends well with the original design but adds some length to the front and decreases the aero lift.
  • 13
    John Meadows Charlotte NC June 22, 2017 at 09:17
    I have owned a 63 Split Window Coupe, a 66 Coupe in the past but ended up letting them go. I really missed my 63. In 1997 I purchased another 63 that needed restoration. We got it back on the road in 2000. Sebring Silver,4 Speed, PB ,PW, and PS. We love the car and will stay in the family. I drive another Corvette daily.
  • 14
    Steve Lang MN June 25, 2017 at 12:33
    i had several corvettes in my 20's, 30's and 40's. 1962, 63 ragtop, 65 loaded coupe, 67 big block coupe, 66 modified coupe, 67 small block coupe. i converted both 67's to automatic trans as i am an amputee. i owned a junkyard and paid a buddy 100.00 to convert the m21 to a th350. it took him 6 hours overnight.but it took me 8 hours and 6 different shifters from a variety of cars to make it appear to still be a 4-speed with the original 2-finger pull-up. i did not destroy ANYTHING original in the process. experts at car shows swore it was a 4-speed until i asked them about the AT filler tube hiding by the distributor. i sold that car to buy a new 1994 NSX with auto trans. hands down, that NSX beat the snot out of all my corvettes in every category...acceleration, braking, handling, ease of operation. life got busy and i drive the NSX less and less. as i approach retirement i am seriously considering buying another BB 67 coupe. the NSX is a great car but it cannot beat the panache of a 50-year-old vette. i am EXCITED just thinking about my new (old) vette!!

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