Why there’s no such thing as a 30th Anniversary Corvette

If someone offers to sell you a 1983 Chevy Corvette, do your research. That car is either the rarest Corvette of all – or probably, a total scam.

Collectors are well aware of the gap between the last of the third-generation Corvettes, the 1982 cars, and the first of the new C4, titled as 1984 models. But Chevrolet’s designers and engineers didn’t plan on skipping the 1983 model year. Prototypes and pilot production cars were built – 43 of the latter, according to Corvette’s chief engineer in that era, Dave McLellan – and Chevrolet even printed brochures for the ’83 car.

No, aliens did not abduct all of the 1983 Corvettes and transport them to Tralfamadore. The evidence supports a more reasonable explanation, with the missing model year brought on by myriad complexities involved with launching an entirely new generation of America’s sports car. The result: None of the 1983 cars were ever sold to the public.

Searching for the causes of the missing link turns back the clock to the late 1970s. The Corvette was selling briskly, despite years of tepid performance and a body style exceeding a decade of production. The Corvette market was a youthful bunch, yet it had settled into a life of automatic transmissions, creature comforts and nonessential conveniences. As went America, so did its sports car. In 1979, a record 53,807 Corvettes were produced to meet consumer demand.

Record sales did not stop the Chevy from constant planning and development for the next generation Corvette, hints of which were seen in the glass liftback on the 1982 Collector Edition Corvette. Contemporary and future Corvette competitors were numerous, including the emerging front-engine rear-wheel drive V-8 powered Porsches (the 928) and even a midengine machine from former GM executive John DeLorean. Some alternate futures for the 1983 C4 Corvette might have included everything from rear-engine V-8 power to a monstrous four-rotor Wankel rotary engine mounted amidships.

In Detroit, tradition prevailed, and the front-engine, rear-drive V-8 core of the sports car soldiered on. It would be an altogether different and vastly improved Corvette, one of those rare evolutionary leaps after years of stagnation. The chassis, which had been largely unchanged since 1963, was updated, with a late rework to accommodate a targa-type roof in place of the previous T-tops. An LCD instrument panel was specified. The only engine was a 350-cube V-8 making 205 hp, using the Cross-Fire fuel injection system, and the manual transmission was the unloved 4+3 gearbox. All had development glitches.

Getting the C4 into production was a daunting challenge. The assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky., had only been operational since 1981, and it was dealing with a change in the composite body panels’ makeup. Shifting emissions regulations and tooling changeovers added to the complexity of the launch. Everything ran late – so late that the best alternative was to simply jump ahead to a 1984 model designation for the C4 introduction.

The 1983 Corvette pilot cars were used for automotive press previews, engineering evaluations and crash testing, and were then destroyed. The single exception is on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. This elusive ’83 model, having been spared from the crusher and the infamous sinkhole that swallowed other display cars in 2014, will not come up for sale anytime soon.

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