In the Barbie garage, Corvette is queen
Fear not, Barbie fans—the bowtie brand is back in the playhouse garage. Coming to theaters on July 21, 2023, is a new Barbie blockbuster written by Greta Gerwig and her husband, Noah Baumbach. Gerwig directed the movie as well, which follows Barbie’s 2020-era-appropriate existential crisis. Amid the frenzy she gets a sweet set of wheels—a classic first-generation Corvette. Barbie has had plenty of dalliances with America’s sports car, but her most recent was a C5, about two decades ago.
America’s relationship with Barbie started in the ’50s, when Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler noticed her daughter eschewing her baby dolls for paper adult versions. An idea was born, and on March 9, 1959, Barbie debuted at the New York Toy Fair. The long-legged blond with eyeshadow that matched her cornflower blue eyes became the first adult-looking mass-produced doll in the United States. Handler’s daughter’s name was Barbara, but she also had a son named Kenneth. Ken, Barbie’s male sidekick, came along in 1961.
By the early ’60s, the iconic doll’s star was on the rise. She did what most celebrities do with their first big paycheck: She bought a car. Her first was a 1962 Austin Healey 3000 MkII. It came in a variety of colors, including a sedate brown with a blue interior as well as her now-signature pink. But golly, a girl from the fictional Willow, Wisconsin, couldn’t be driving around in a foreign car, so eventually Barbie got herself a Corvette.
The third-generation Corvette (C3) was her first, making mid-’70s Barbie’s American dream come true. Dubbed the Star ‘Vette, this magenta-colored beauty donned the slim mid-section and fat fenders from the pens of Chevrolet designers Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell. Then there’s Barbie who, if she were an actual woman instead of a doll, would have been anatomically impossible.
Barbie’s pink convertible came with star decals for the hood and door panels. A luggage rack came with a snap-on suitcase. (This being a Corvette, we can assume two sets of golf clubs fit in the trunk.) The interior came fully loaded with a tape deck and three cassettes. It also sported sport bucket seats, a CB radio, and a working steering wheel that turned the front wheels, and sweet “G70-14 Super Slicks” tires.
In 1979, the Barbie Super ’Vette hit toy stores with remote-control capability, though, since it was corded, you’d have to walk alongside Barbie and her plastic man as you cruised the living room. The Super ‘Vette’s sunshine yellow hue sparkled over a blue interior. The toy version seems to have snagged the post mid-cycle refresh details in concert with the big-person version, including the front and rear bumpers revised for federal safety compliance. Barbie is law-abiding, but we’re assuming the RC version’s electric power meant it was exempt from Malaise Era emissions controls.
Mattel took some creative license taken, however, as the real-life 1975 Vette was the final one of the C3 generation to don a convertible top. Ingress and egress would never have been so easy in a coupe, and it helped that 1967 marked the first year Barbie started bending her legs and could swivel at the waist thanks to “Twist ‘N Turn” technology.
There were only two engine options for the real-world, late-model C3: a 350-cubic-inch small-block that made 165 horsepower and the L82, which made substantially more, with 205 max output. Barbie, one imagines, opted for the bigger engine just to see if she could blow any of Ken’s hair back. By 1980 we got the final of Barbie’s C3 iterations. The interior even gained a TV screen—how prescient! The box came with the verbiage “push it everywhere,” which is not the ideal situation for real-deal Vette owners.
Mattel stayed on the Corvette bandwagon into the Dave McLellan–designed C4 generation, built between 1984 and 1996. Brand-new from the chassis up, the C4 represented a sea change for America’s sports car, and Barbie had several. As the C4 shifted from a fiberglass body-on-frame to what GM called a “uniframe” U-shaped frame construction, Barbie also got some significant changes. This was the ’80s, so Great Shape Barbie arrived in her leotard-and-leg-warmers outfit. The C4 got more power during its tenure, up to 375 hp if you got the LT5-equipped ZR-1; the improvement of Barbie’s core strength after adding Jazzercize to her workout regimen is impossible to quantify.
Barbie’s first C4 showed up at toy dealers in 1983 as the sparkling metallic pink Ultra ‘Vette. Around 1984 another Mattel C4 appeared, named Silver ‘Vette, for obvious reasons. While the clean design of this 1980s-era Corvette felt understated by the decade’s excess-laden standards, the Silver ‘Vette came loaded with “lots of realistic features” as the box proclaimed: vanity plates, chrome wheels (stickers), and a working hatchback window.
While we’ve only had eight generations of Corvette, Barbie has seen closer to 12 major facial changes. This doesn’t take into account her myriad mid-cycle refreshes as different makeup trends came and went.
Barbie has run for President of the United States every year since 1992. That year, to reflect this new stoic Barbie, Mattel left the cutesy naming conventions behind; it was now just the Barbie Corvette. Today you can find a pink-on-pink example on eBay for anywhere from $15 (a well-played-with driver) to $75 for a sealed, new-in-box specimen.
Over the years, the Corvette saw its share of race tracks, doing duty as pace car for Indy over several years of its run. Barbie herself, no stranger to motorsports, first appeared to the NASCAR crowd in 1998 with, yes, NASCAR Barbie, in honor of the 50th Anniversary. Helmet and firesuit in hand, Barbie was ready to take the wheel. In 2000, Barbie belted in for Scuderia Ferrari, becoming an F1 driver for the yellow and red. (There was a car, too but it was a limited edition that only sold at the 2004 International Barbie Doll Collections Convention in Chicago.) Let’s hope it’s not much longer until a real live woman can claim an F1 seat.
By the mid-2000s Barbie took a step back from the cockpit, dressing in Dale Jr.—and Jeff Gordon-inspired streetwear, but by 2009, she was back in the driver’s seat again when Race Car Driver Barbie showed up ready for the starting grid.
Radio Shack, back when that was still a thing, offered up a gift set that featured the new-for-1997 C5 as a proper remote-control unit. From what I can tell, it’s her only example of the C5 and the final Corvette Barbie would have. The pale-pink-over-white car could turn and reverse and came with chrome wheels (plastic, not stickers this time), a quad exhaust, vanity plates, and power from four C batteries. Purists may consider the Corvette E-Ray to be the first to drive its wheels with battery power, but Barbie thinks otherwise.
The real-life C5 got the LS1 engine and a new transmission—a rear-mounted transaxle—as well as hydroformed box frame that improved stability, especially on the convertibles. Barbie thanks you, Chevy.
Barbie’s first-generation Corvette (C1) in the 2023 movie is scaled smaller in size but retains the pastel-shaded, two-toned details of the original. This officially marks the first time Barbie has claimed a C1 in the driveway. There’s actually one in every Barbie’s garage (yes, every Barbie in the movie is named Barbie). The director, Gerwig, clearly has excellent taste.
Barbie rarely rides in the passenger seat of her cars, but she did once when her sister, Skipper, went to the DMV. The Student Driver gift set came complete with driver handbook, traffic signal charts, and an insurance card.
Barbie’s passion for driving and cars has hopefully fueled the love of cars for girls and young women across the globe. Now, come on Mattel, put her in a C8.