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A History of the Chevy Corvette Chassis

Classic C1 Chevy Corvette chassis

It’s been said that racing improves the breed, and when it comes to the Chevrolet Corvette, nearly six decades of checkered flags are the proof. As Corvette marks its 60th anniversary in 2013, the design of the chassis, suspension and other drivetrain features are rooted in the rigors of competition.

“Candidly, Corvette was not a high-performance car until Zora Arkus-Duntov fitted it with a V-8, and began campaigning Corvettes in racing,” said Tadge Juechter, Corvette’s vehicle chief engineer. “Today, the Corvettes competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans use many of the same components as Corvettes rolling off the assembly line at Bowling Green.”

The Corvette C6.R is built on the same aluminum frame rails that underpin production Corvette Z06 and ZR1 models. Other production chassis structures in the race car include the windshield frame, the hoop around the rear of the passenger compartment, the door hinge pillars, the drivetrain tunnel, the firewall and the floor pan. Corvette C6.R also uses the production steering column out of the ZR1, with a fully adjustable steering wheel, as well as production rack-and-pinion steering.

For the production Corvette ZR1, the racing influence is also evident in the rear transaxle design that helps achieve a near-perfect 51/49 weight distribution, as well as the racing-developed carbon ceramic brake rotors and Michelin® Pilot® Sport Cup Zero Pressure tires (developed by the same Michelin engineers who developed tires for Corvette Racing in the American Le Mans Series). These features contribute to the ZR1 running Germany’s legendary Nürburgring in 7:19.63.

Here’s an overview of the chassis technologies that have shaped Corvette performance on and off the track:

Second-generation (C2): Independent suspension, disc brakes and aluminum wheels
First-generation (1953-62) Corvettes used a modified passenger car frame and live rear axle, which worked well with the cars’ comparatively modest performance output. Substantially greater power was on the horizon for the second-generation Corvette and racing-derived development spearheaded by the legendary Zora Arkus-Duntov – Corvette’s first chief engineer – highlighted the need for a dedicated chassis system.

When the “C2” (Corvette second generation) launched in 1963, it featured a sturdy, ladder-type frame design that was 90 percent stiffer than the sedan-based “X”-frame of the first-generation models. It also featured an independent rear suspension held in place by a unique transverse leaf-spring design. Besides offering greater handling capability, the independent rear axle was lighter than the previous solid axle design.

The C2 also introduced disc brakes and aluminum wheels, based on designs Duntov refined on Corvette race cars.

“Duntov pioneered the model of technology transfer by applying what was learned on the race track to improve the production cars,” said Juechter, “That philosophy continues to play an integral role in vehicle development at Chevrolet.”

Fourth-generation (C4): Unitized structure, composite springs, antilock brakes and traction control
The C4 generation (1984-96) represented an even bigger leap in chassis technology than the C2. The ladder frame that had served the Corvette for about 20 years was replaced by a unitized “backbone” chassis that, again, was inspired by racing cars. It eliminated several cross members, allowing direct mounting of the rear differential and other components, which enabled greater interior room. It was also lighter than the previous ladder frame.

Integrated on the backbone chassis was a “cage” incorporating the windshield frame, door frames, rear wall of the “cockpit,” rocker panels and more. The Corvette’s body panels were attached to the chassis and cage, marking the first time in the car’s history that it didn’t use a conventional body-on-frame design.

When it came to the suspension, the C4 again used unequal-length upper and lower A-arms in the front suspended by a new, transverse spring design similar to the rear suspension. At the rear was another transverse composite spring, but used with a new five-link independent suspension design vs. the previous three-link setup. The reinforced fiberglass springs were exceptionally strong yet compliant, and they worked in two ways: They flattened as they flexed, but when the vehicle rolled in a turn, they effectively formed an S shape. That added roll stiffness, which minimized the size – and weight – of the stabilizer bars.

Additional C4 chassis/drivetrain innovations included rack-and-pinion steering (1984), aluminum driveshaft (1984), aluminum disc brake calipers (1984), antilock brakes (1986) and traction control (1992).

The C4 was an unqualified success on the track. In its first year of competition, the C4 Corvette went undefeated and captured the SCCA Showroom Stock GT-class championship. That launched a renewed effort on racing and the benefits of technology transfer.

Fifth-Generation (C5): Hydroformed rails, rear transaxle, magnetic ride
The C5 generation (1997-2004) built on the success of the C4 with a new, unitized backbone chassis design, but it was lighter and stronger. Its construction employed a comparatively rare process called hydroforming, which used water pressure and heat to turn six-inch steel tubes into side rails for the Corvette chassis. Each tube replaced what formerly had comprised 36 separate, welded components in the C4 chassis.

The other big advancement with the fifth-generation Corvette was the use of a rear transaxle, which moved the transmission to the rear of the vehicle rather than the traditional position directly behind the engine. The tunnel between the engine and transaxle was enclosed with a panel that contributed to the chassis’ strength and rigidity.

“Weight distribution was a primary motivator,” said Juechter. “We were trying to get to 50/50, balancing the work load on the front and rear tires, which is extremely challenging to do with the front-engine, V-8 powered car. Moving to a rear transaxle dramatically improved the weight balance, as well as enabling a smoother ride and greater interior space.”

Additional C5 chassis/drivetrain innovations included run-flat tires (1997), Active Handling System (1998), magnesium wheels (2002) and Magnetic Selective Ride Control (2003).

The strength and performance capability delivered by the C5 chassis paid huge dividends on the race track. During six years of competition, Corvette Racing – the first factory-backed Corvette team in the car’s history – led the C5.R to an overall victory at the Daytona 24-hour race and three 1-2 finishes in the GTS class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. During the 2004 season, Corvette Racing won every race the team entered and captured every pole position in the American Le Mans Series.

C6 Chevy Corvette chassis

Sixth-generation (C6): Aluminum and magnesium structure
The success of the C5.R racing program directly influenced the design of the C6 Corvette (2005 – 2013) as designers and engineers further strengthened but lightened the proven backbone design.

At a glance, the C6 chassis looks similar to the C5, but it was shortened slightly and strengthened in key areas to enable greater performance and to enhance crashworthiness. And while it retained the same basic suspension design as the C5 – short/long arm front suspension and multi-link rear suspension with transverse composite springs – all of the components were redesigned. No C5 suspension parts were carried over to the C6.

For the first time, different chassis were available with different Corvette models. The higher-performance C6 Z06 and ZR1 models received a unique, aluminum-intensive backbone structure rather than the steel backbone used on other models. It was developed as a lighter foundation, featuring a magnesium roof structure and engine cradle, and weighed only 278 pounds – 49 percent less than the steel backbone’s 414 pounds. Like the steel frame, the aluminum chassis was created via hydroforming.

Corvette Racing immediately employed the C6 chassis with its C6.R race cars. Corvette Racing has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans seven times since 2001, most recently beating Ferrari to the checkered flag in 2011.

Seventh-generation (C7): CLASSIFIED

Sorry, we had to leave some suspense, right?

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1958 Chevy Corvette For Sale At Auction By GM CEO

1958 Chevy Corvette

Dan Akerson's 1958 Chevy Corvette will be auctioned off at the 60th Anniversary Corvette Display at the Birmingham Triangle

This rare Regal Turquoise 1958 Chevy Corvette will be up for auction soon, and that makes us pretty jealous. Whether you’re a fan of the vintage Corvette styles or not, you can’t help but marvel at the curves, the color, and the chrome. There may have been fewer horsepower back then, but seeing a car like this reminds us all why the Chevy Corvette has endured for 60 years and counting.

General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said Thursday he plans to auction off his 1958 Chevrolet Corvette with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity Detroit and its efforts to rebuild and revitalize the Morningside Commons neighborhood on the city’s lower east side.

Auction details will be announced shortly. Interested parties can get an up-close look at the Akersons’ 1958 Corvette this weekend at the Woodward Dream Cruise sponsored by Chevrolet and get more details at www.facebook.com/corvette.

Akerson and his wife, Karin, made a personal, cornerstone $1 million donation in February to help launch “Leaders to Rebuild Detroit,” Habitat Detroit’s three-year, $25 million initiative to serve at least 500 families in Morningside Commons through house construction, rehabilitation, critical repairs and energy-efficiency upgrades.

“A strong America is built on strong communities, and building those communities starts with one hammer, one nail and one person – and from there it’s contagious,” Akerson said. “My wife, Karin, and I want to see this effort to rebuild our headquarters city catch on, spread out and draw scores more volunteers and millions more in contributions.

“The 1958 Corvette is a great example of American passion and ingenuity, and my hope is that the auction will help bring attention and resources to Habitat’s efforts to revitalize a historic Detroit neighborhood,” said Akerson. “I love this Corvette, and if putting it on the block can help rebuild the heart and soul of a neighborhood, I am all for it.”

The Regal Turquoise Corvette, powered by a 245-horsepower V-8, will be front and center at the 60th Anniversary Corvette Display at the familiar Birmingham Triangle along old and new Woodward avenues in downtown Birmingham. More than 200 classic Corvettes spanning 1953 to present will be on display.

“We continue to be overwhelmed by the generosity and leadership of Dan and Karin Akerson and the entire General Motors team,” said Vincent Tilford, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Detroit. “We are extremely grateful for their ongoing commitment and support for our efforts. Parting with a classic Detroit vehicle like this is above and beyond the call of duty.”

The 1958 Corvette included new body panels, a new instrument panel and new upholstery. External distinguishing features included dual headlamps – a Corvette first – and twin chrome trunk spears. In a sign of changing times 54 years ago, safety belts were factory installed for first time. Chevrolet built 9,168 Corvettes for the 1958 model year, but only 510 – just over 5 percent – were painted Regal Turquoise.

Last year we had a Corvette Display here at Ross Downing Chevrolet that featured some great looking classic Chevy Corvettes. Click here to watch the video recap.

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Corvette and Carbon Fiber: Changing the Game

Chevy Corvette Z06 frame with carbon fiber components

Chevy Corvette technology has constantly been evolving. When fiberglass was the standard, the Corvette broke new ground by moving to a carbon fiber-based frame. Since then the power-to-weight ratio of the Chevy Corvette has been a signature component in its continued dominance on and off the track.

The 2013 Corvette Z06 exemplifies that philosophy. With a curb weight of only 3,199 pounds (1,451 kg) and 505-horsepower (377 kW), it is not only one of the lightest sports cars available in America, it has one of the best power-to-weight ratios of 6.33:1. That’s better than the Aston Martin DBS (7.5:1 – 510 horsepower/3,836 pounds), Porsche 911 Turbo S (6.7:1 – 530 horsepower/3,561 pounds) and Nissan GT-R (7.1:1 – 545 horsepower/3,887 pounds).

“Horsepower isn’t the only measure of performance,” said Harlan Charles, Corvette’s marketing manager. “Balance and low weight are just as important and that’s where the Corvette excels. It has a heritage of employing cutting-edge technologies and materials to help optimize performance.”

Corvette’s use of advance materials began in 1953, when the first Corvettes were produced with all-fiberglass bodies. Every Corvette since has featured a composite-material body.

Fiberglass, the lightweight, rust-proof composite material, was first considered for use on a GM vehicle by legendary designer Harley Earl. Besides being an exotic choice for the early Fifties and having an undeniable weight advantage, fiberglass offered an economical way to create the low-volume Corvette without the expense of large sheet metal stamping dies.

Starting with the third generation in 1968, the body parts were manufactured with a press mold process, whereby the fiberglass material and resin were shaped in a die-like tool that produced smoother parts more quickly. It was a significant advancement in forming technology and laid the groundwork for a change in the body panels’ material in 1973. That year, the composition changed from conventional fiberglass to sheet-molded composite, or SMC, which was composed of fiberglass, resin and a catalyst formed under high heat and pressure. The ratio of resin to fiberglass was reduced with SMC, while the fiberglass itself was a bit coarser. The new material helped produce panels that were smoother right out of the mold, resulting in higher-quality paint finishes.

1984 Chevy Corvette composite transverse front leaf spring

All Corvettes since 1973 have used SMC body panels, but the material composition has changed dramatically, featuring less traditional fiberglass and more lightweight plastic. The early SMC material created parts that were stronger and more rigid, but more brittle. As SMC technology and production experience evolved, Corvette engineers were able to alter the material composition and the body parts’ specifications to trim the Corvette’s curb weight. Mostly, that happened through making thinner body panels, because SMC was denser and stronger than conventional fiberglass.

It’s rare that a next-generation model of any vehicle is lighter than its predecessor, but that was the case with the fifth-generation (C5) Corvette in 1997. In fact, the 1997 Corvette was larger overall – longer and wider – than the 1996 model, but it weighed nearly 100 pounds less. A greater emphasis on advanced materials was the reason.

The contributors that helped drive down the C5’s curb weight included the use of SMC body panels with more plastic than ever before. The material, basically the same used in the current sixth-generation (C6) Corvette, was composed of about 40 percent resin – polyester, vinyl ester, styrene or a blend of all three – 33 percent calcium-carbonate filler, 20 percent chopped fiberglass, The remaining 7 percent is resin and hardeners that improve the out-of-mold surface finish.

The C5’s panels were exceptionally light, but so was the Corvette’s all-new chassis, which used beefy rails and hydroformed sections to provide strength with less complexity and weight. The floor sections used a sandwich of materials including featherweight balsa wood – a renewable material – to minimize mass. That continues with the C6 cars.

Even the C5’s Gen III small-block V-8 contributed to weight savings and overall greater balance. Compared to the Gen II small-block it replaced, it delivered a lightweight aluminum cylinder block, aluminum heads and a composite intake manifold that weighed less than 10 pounds. The Gen II engine used a heavier iron cylinder block and aluminum intake manifold. A lighter engine improved the front-to-rear weight balance.

The C5 also introduced titanium and carbon fiber to the Corvette. The 2001-04 high-performance Z06 model used a 26-pound titanium exhaust system that was 70 percent lighter than the conventional muffler/tailpipe assembly of other models. A lightweight carbon fiber hood was used on a special-edition 2004 Z06 model and it was nearly 11 pounds lighter than the already lightweight standard SMC hood.

The introduction of the C6 Z06 in 2006 brought an aluminum-based chassis structure and a greater percentage of carbon fiber body panels, representing the most significant advanced materials initiative in Corvette history. Despite looking like the steel chassis of the base Corvette, the C6 Z06’s aluminum frame weighs nearly one-third less. Magnesium is used for the roof structure, engine cradle and some of the other suspension attachment points for greater mass reduction. On the outside, the Z06 uses carbon fiber panels for the front fenders, front wheel houses and rear fenders.

The Corvette ZR1 uses the same aluminum chassis structure as the Z06 and incorporates even more carbon fiber body parts, including the roof panel, rocker panels and more. The new 2013 427 Convertible model also uses lightweight carbon fiber in the hood, fenders and floor panels.

Another advanced material found on today’s Corvette is the carbon ceramic brake rotors that are standard on the ZR1 and available on the Z06. These space-age composite components deliver a significant weight savings over conventional iron brake rotors, while offering exceptional wear resistance.

“Corvette has never been focused on an exclusive material – be it aluminum, carbon fiber, or fiberglass,” said Corvette Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. “Instead, we are constantly looking for the best materials structure, powertrain, and chassis to improve the performance of Corvette.”

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Waiting List for C7 Corvette Orders Now Available

It’s an exciting time in the Chevy Corvette world. There has never been as much buzz for a redesign as there has been for the C7 Chevy Corvette. As one of the largest Corvette dealers in the country, we will be given a decent number of order allocations here at Ross Downing Chevrolet. While we cannot officially begin placing orders as of right now, we are accepting serious buyers to be added to our C7 waiting list.

This may not promise that you’ll be able to place an order, but it does open the door to letting our staff know that you’re interested in being one of the first people in the country to own a new 2014 Chevy Corvette. Click here to go to our C7 waiting list page, fill out the information, and we will contact you and discuss what you’re looking for and what we can do for you. Don’t miss your chance to order from a trusted dealer – it will be nearly impossible to find any C7′s for sale once they’re first released, so let Ross Downing Chevrolet help you be a part of history!

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2013 Corvette ZR1 is the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car

A 2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will lead the starting field of the 96th Indianapolis 500 to the green flag Sunday, May 27 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With 638 horsepower, the Corvette ZR1 is the most powerful production car ever to pace the race.

This will be the 23rd time a Chevrolet has paced “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the 11th time a Corvette is serving as the Pace Car. Both are event records. The 2013 model year will mark the 60th anniversary and the final year of production for the current generation Corvette.

“Corvette embodies pure performance, so the ZR1 is a perfect car to pace the most prestigious auto race in the world,” said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and chief executive officer. “Chevrolet is a great partner of the Speedway, and we share in the excitement of the upcoming 60th anniversary of the iconic Corvette brand. It’s even more meaningful to see a Chevrolet pacing the field at Indy since Chevy has returned as an engine supplier for the IZOD IndyCar Series for the first time since 2005.”

“This is a truly momentous year for Chevrolet when it comes to performance, with our continued success on and off track, and especially with our return to the IndyCar Series, powering some of the fastest cars on the circuit,” said Jim Campbell, GM vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports.  “I can’t think of a better way to mark the 60th Anniversary of Corvette than having it lead the starting field of the Indianapolis 500.”

A supercharged, 6.2-liter LS9 engine generating 638 horsepower helps to create the ZR1’s performance. Of all mass-production companies, Chevrolet is the leader in using carbon fiber. The lightweight material is used for structural components,   including the front fenders, hood, roof, front splitter, rocker panels and floor pans. With a curb weight of 3,353 pounds, the ZR1 features a power-to-weight ratio of just 5.2 pounds per horsepower. The ZR1 also features advanced technology such as Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Launch Control system with Performance Track Management, a four-channel ABS system and Brembo carbon-ceramic disc brake rotors.

As a result, the ZR1 is the fastest Chevrolet ever produced, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, and capable of reaching a top speed of 205 mph. The ZR1 lapped the famed Nurburgring’ Nordschleife (“north loop”) in 7:19.63.

The first Chevrolet selected as the Indianapolis 500 pace car was the 1948 Fleetmaster Six. The brand would go on to lead the racing pack more than any other manufacturer. In addition to the Fleetmaster Six, the list of Chevy pace cars includes:

  • 1955 Bel Air
  • 1967 Camaro
  • 1969 Camaro
  • 1978 Corvette
  • 1982 Camaro
  • 1986 Corvette
  • 1990 Beretta
  • 1993 Camaro
  • 1995 Corvette
  • 1998 Corvette
  • 1999 Monte Carlo
  • 2002 Corvette
  • 2003 SSR
  • 2004 Corvette
  • 2005 Corvette
  • 2006 Corvette
  • 2007 Corvette
  • 2008 Corvette
  • 2009 Camaro
  • 2010 Camaro
  • 2011 Camaro
  • 2013 Corvette

Corvette 60th Anniversary Package

The Corvette Pace Car features an exterior paint scheme and full body length stripe similar to that of the 60th Anniversary Package being made available on all 2013 Corvette models.  The 60th Anniversary Package features an Arctic White exterior with a Blue Diamond leather-wrapped interior with suede accents. Convertible models will have a blue top.

Additional content includes a ZR1-style rear spoiler, special badging, gray-painted brake calipers and the “60th” logo on the wheel center caps, steering wheel and seat headrests. An optional graphics package adds full-length racing stripes in Pearl Silver Blue, including a tonal stripe stitched into the convertible top, extending the graphic theme over the roof.

For 2013, all Corvettes will feature 60th Anniversary badges on the fascias and the “waterfall” panel on convertible models, as well as 60th logos in the instrument panel gauge cluster and on the sill plates.

The 96th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to start at noon (ET) Sunday, May 27. The driver of the Pace Car will be announced soon.

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Corvette Centennial Edition Awarded to Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning

What does a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots get you? Well, besides a championship ring, trophy, MVP award, and potential hall-of-fame consideration… the next best thing on the list is a 2012 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport Cenntenial Edition.

Eli Manning, Super Bowl MVP and Brady Slayer, was handed the keys to this bad boy at last night’s post-game ceremony as his team celebrated their victory on the field. Well… he was almost handed the keys – it seems Eli had already begun to make room for the next person on the mic before he could actually get his hands on them. But considering he had just won the biggest sporting event in America, I think that’s a forgivable offense.

If you’re looking for an in-depth look at the Centennial Edition, check out our walkaround video of the ZR1 version of this awesome special edition!

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First 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible Sold

It’s a Chevy tradition to auction off the first of any new edition for a charitable cause, and the new 427 Convertible is no different. The first 2013 Corvette 427 Convertible Collector Edition – the fastest and most capable convertible in Corvette’s history – sold for $600,000 in the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale collector car auction Saturday.

The Corvette 427 Convertible, which arrives at U.S. Chevrolet dealers this summer, blends elements of the Z06 and ZR1 models. The Vehicle Identification Number ending in 001 was sold in the auction.

Its heart is the 427-cubic-inch (7.0L) LS7 engine from the Corvette Z06. Rated at 505 horsepower (377 kW) and 470 lb.-ft. of torque (637 Nm), it is the most powerful engine ever installed in a production Corvette convertible – and, like the Z06, the 427 Convertible is only available with a six-speed manual transmission.

Early 427-powered Corvettes, particularly convertibles, offered from 1966 to 1969 are some of the most-coveted and collectable Corvettes ever produced. 

Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports teamed up for the auction, with four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jeff Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick, to raise a total of $700,000 for the AARP’s Drive to End Hunger food relief program.

The Drive to End Hunger is part of a multi-year sponsorship for Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet. It calls on racing fans, corporations and charitable organizations to raise money, build awareness, and engage Americans who face the threat of hunger.

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