Chevrolet Corvette Part Three: Corvette for the 21st Century

In this third part of the Corvette story, we will be looking at the C6 and C7 generations.  The C6 was produced from 2005 to 2013, and the C7 from 2014.

After the C5 Corvette discontinued after 2004, the C6 debuted for the 2005 model year.  The new C6 Corvette deviated from the aging hidden-headlight design, although the quad-taillight layout was reserved.  Compared to the C5, the C6 boasted a longer wheelbase (105.7 in) and increased height (49 in).  Since the Corvette now shared the second-generation “Y-body” chassis with the Cadillac XLR, GM decided to throw in a few luxury amenities for the interior.  Reworking of the interior included soft-touch materials for the seats and steering wheel, metallic accents, and cupholders.  Power for this luxury sportster came from a revised LS2 engine, which replaced the outgoing LS1.  This new engine was bored out to 6.0 liters and could throw 400 horsepower.  In its first year of production, the C6 sold 37,372 examples.

Late 2005 saw the introduction of the 6L80 6-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission.  Also new was the Z06 coupe, which utilized an all-aluminum architecture, stiffer suspension setup, stiffer anti-sway bars, and wider and grippier tires.  Power came from a larger version of the Generation IV small-block, the LS7.  This engine displaced 7.0 liters (1.0 liter larger than the LS2) and threw out 505 horsepower.  This “427” engine recalled the 427 CID (7.0L) big-blocks utilized in 60’s Corvettes.  Model year 2006 sales slid to 34,021 units.  In 2008, the LS3 replaced the LS2 as the base engine.  This new engine was bored out to 6.2 liters and developed 430 horsepower.  In addition, the new manual transmission was the Tremec TR6060, which was claimed to give faster shifting times.  2009 saw the debut of the ZR1, the monstrous supercar Corvette of this generation.  It featured a supercharged 6.2L LS9 with 638 horses and a wealth of carbon fiber all around its body.  In 2010, the Grand Sport debuted in both coupe and convertible body styles.  This model replaced the Z51 performance package, and housed the LS3 as its power source.  However, the LS3 in automatic models had a wet sump, and manual models had a dry sump.  The 2010 GS also boasted larger sway bars, revised shocks and springs, functional brake ducts, cross-drilled Z06 brakes, and wider tires.  In 2011, Chevy debuted a limited-edition Z06 with loads of carbon.  The Carbon Edition borrowed the active suspension system and many carbon fiber components from the ZR1.  Only 500 Carbon Edition Corvettes were produced.  Also that year, some Z06 models gained the Z07 performance package.  2012 production fell to 11,647; the lowest in the C6 generation.  The end of the C6 generation’s run coincided with the Corvette’s 60th birthday year in 2013.  As part of its 60th Anniversary package, the 427 Convertible Collector Edition was released.  Power came from the 7.0L LS7 which threw out 505 horsepower.  In total, 13,466 Corvettes were produced for 2013, and 215,123 in the C6 generation overall.

Although the C7 was in development since 2007, the release date was delayed from its originally planned 2011 model year debut by 3 years.  Nevertheless, it released for the public in September 2013 as a 2014 model.  With the Cadillac XLR long out of production, the Corvette was now the sole inhabitant of the Y-body platform.  Also notable was the “Stingray” moniker for base Corvettes.  This was the first Stingray since its discontinuation in 1976.  The Stingray was back – as both a coupe and convertible, although the convertible debuted a little later in late 2013.  Power came from a new 6.2-liter LT1 throwing 450 horsepower.  With an optional Performance Exhaust, the Stingray could develop 460 horses.  Eventually, the sixth-generation Camaro would also have this same engine.  The C7’s manual transmission option was an all-new 7-speed TR6070 unit.  The C7 Corvette features a carbon fiber hood, removable roof panel, fiberglass composite fenders and doors, carbon-nano composite underbody, and hydro-formed aluminum chassis.  The Corvette won Automobile Magazine’s “Automobile of the Year” award in 2014.  It was also a Finalist for Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award.

In 2015, Chevy debuted the Corvette Z06.  Also new that year was the revised 8-speed automatic transmission, which replaced the outgoing 6-speed unit.  The C7-era Z06 featured a unique double-wishbone suspension and MagneRide dampers, electronic limited-slip differential, extended fenders and larger splitters.  This aggressive body kit was backed by an equally aggressive LT4 engine.  The LT4 came equipped with a supercharger and could throw 650 horsepower and 650 ft/lbs of torque.  These engine specifications are the same in the 2017-up Camaro ZL1.

For 2016, Daytona Sunrise Orange Metallic, Night Race Blue, Shark Gray, and Laguna Blue exterior colors were discontinued.  The base Stingray coupes accounted for more than half of the Corvette’s total production and sales, with the exception of some other special editions.  Mainly as an appearance package, the Z06 C7.R Edition featured a suede interior, competition racing seats, and yellow contrast stitching.  Only 650 such examples were produced.  Total Corvette production for 2016 was 40,689 units.

The 2017 Grand Sport debuted at the 2016 Geneva Auto Show.  The Grand Sport featured a dry-sump 460 horsepower LT1 engine.  It also came equipped with carbon ceramic brakes, Michelin Pilot Sport 2 / Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, 14-inch Brembo brakes, magnetic ride control, stabilizer bars, and electronic LSD.  For 2017, a total of 11,958 Grand Sport models (coupes and convertibles both accounted for) were produced, with a total of 32,782 Corvettes overall.  The 2018 model year was notably short; Corvette production began in November 2017 and ended in January 2018.  Quite possibly a C7-generation low, only 9,686 Corvettes were produced.

The 2019 Corvette ZR1 debuted at the 2017 Dubai Motor Show.  The early-risen ZR1 features a new supercharged LT5 engine, capable of outputting 755 horsepower.  Inside, the ZR1 features Nappa leather, heated seats, and carbon fiber steering wheel.

Nissan GT-R: Premium Midship Godzilla

From 1989 to 2002, Nissan Motor Co produced a series of legends that would captivate the auto enthusiast community with amazement and excitement.  These were the RB-series Skyline GT-Rs; and they packed such panache so much as to have the last special edition named after a famed racing circuit.  Although at the turn of the early 2000’s the new Z-car (the 350Z) was introduced, the era of high-performance twin-turbo sportsters made by Nissan had come to an end.  Or, at least it would have, if not for the debut of the Skyline-based 2001 GT-R concept.  This concept is what lead to years of research and development for the return of the automotive Godzilla.

The production version made its initial debut at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, and released for the public in December that year.  North American production was confirmed in July 2008 (for the 2009 model year).  The GT-R was both a continuation of and a break from the Skyline.  For one thing, the name “GT-R” is obviously a recollection of the Skyline GT-Rs of the past.  The GT-R’s mission is to be a jet-fast high-power car.  The fastest a 2009 GT-R went around the Nürburgring was 7 minutes and 26.7 seconds, beating the Porsche 911 GT2 by 5 seconds.  This secured the GT-R in its place in the world racing stage, as well as carry on the legacy of the R34 Skyline GT-R.  On the other hand, the GT-R was a whole new lineup.  This “R35” sat on a vehicle platform unique to itself, the Premium Midship (PM).  Power for the base GT-R comes from an all-aluminum 3.8L VR38DETT V6.  Initial power has been rated at 478 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 434 ft/lbs at 3200 rpm.  Transferring all this power is done with a 6-speed semi-automatic transmission, which sends power out to the electronically controlled ATTESA ET-S all-wheel-drive system.  Inside, the GT-R’s multifunction display was designed by Gran Turismo developer Polyphony Digital.  This customizable system displayed statistics such as boost, engine oil temperature and pressure, and real-time cornering g-forces.

The GT-R received positive recognition.  It won Top Gear’s Sports car of the Year (2007), Autocar’s Driver’s Car of the Year, Evo Magazine’s Car of the Year, and Popular Mechanics’ Automotive Excellence Awards in 2008.  That year, the GT-R sold 6,739 units worldwide; the majority of which (4871 to be exact) were sold in its home market, Japan.  The second largest quantity, 1730 examples, were shipped to the United States.  US model year 2009 sales saw a turnout of 1534 units.

In 2010, the GT-R gained a power upgrade (485 horsepower and 434 ft/lbs of torque) and a cosmetic update for 2011.  In addition, the GT-R gained higher turbocharger boost, more rigid carbon composite front strut bar, larger brakes, lighter and stronger wheels, and grippier tires.  In 2012, the power was amped to 530 horsepower and 448 ft/lbs of torque.  A March 2011 test by AutoGuide.com found the 2012 GT-R two seconds faster than the Dodge Viper ACR and six seconds faster than the Porsche 911 GT2 RS around the Nürburgring, elapsing a new lap record of 7 minutes and 24.2 seconds.  In 2013, the GT-R got 545 horsepower and 463 ft/lbs of torque.  In 2015, Nissan Motorsports (Nismo) debuted the GT-R NISMO.  The Nismo had a staggering racetrack-style bodykit and large rear spoilers.  Models with the N-Attack Package were equipped with a more powerful engine throwing out 600 horsepower.  Claimed Nürburgring lap time was 7 minutes and 8.6 seconds.

2017 GT-R

For model year 2017, the GT-R gained a mild facelift and more power.  The long-staying VR38DETT engine was tuned yet again; this time 565 horsepower and 467 ft/lbs of torque for base GT-Rs.

GT-R Gallery

2010 GT-R
2013 GT-R
2014 GT-R
2017 GT-R

Chevrolet Corvette Part Two: Bowling Green, Indy Pace Cars, and Convertibles

In the mid-1970s, the era of engineering input from Zora Duntov had come to an end.  His replacement, Dave McLellan, looked over the remainder of the C3 Corvette’s production run.  He would also commence the engineering input for the C4 Corvette for the 80’s.  For the up-and-coming C4 Corvette, McLellan implemented styling input from Jerry Palmer, chief designer of Chevrolet Studio 3.  The automotive landscape in the early 80’s was somewhat more hostile towards sports cars, especially the Corvette.  But the second gas crunch of the late 70’s did not deter Palmer, McLellan, and company from developing the C4 Corvette, which, by the way, was already under development in the late 70’s.

Although the C4 was originally planned for a 1983 launch, only 43 prototypes were produced for that year.  This was due to the 1984 model year emissions standards the car had to meet, as well as delays in parts production.  All but one of the prototypes were serialized to 1984 models.  Eventually, most of these prototypes were destroyed.  The one and only 1983 Corvette, a white coupe, was preserved and kept by General Motors in its facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  The prototypes provided the framework for subsequent production Corvettes: a digital instrument cluster, high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) uniframe chassis with polyester resin (plastic) based sheet moulding compound (SMC) exterior body panels for light weight and rigidity, and fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) mono-leaf spring front suspension.

1985 Corvette

The C4 Corvette released for the public in March 1983 for the 1984 model year.  Compared to the outgoing C3 Corvette, the new model sat on a slightly shorter wheelbase (96.2 inches or 2440 mm), and reduced exterior length (176.5 inches or 4480 mm).  Like the 1982 Collector Edition, the 1984 C4 Corvette featured a hatchback body with rear glass liftgate.  The sole power for the ’84 Corvette was the carried-over L83 V8 with Cross-Fire throttle-body injection.  For 1984, this engine was tuned for slightly more power than featured in the ’82 Corvette.  GM provided the economy-conscious public with 205 horsepower for all 51,547 Corvettes produced for 1984.  The Corvette improved for 1985, ditching the outgoing Cross-Fire L83 for a more powerful L98.  This engine was capable of 230 horsepower and featured tuned port injection.

1987 Corvette convertible

1986 saw the first convertible variant in a decade.  Notable updates to the ’86 Corvette included the addition of a center-mounted brake light, climate control, and anti-lock brakes.  To keep the burglars out, a key-code anti-theft system was installed.  The Corvette convertible was chosen to be the pace car for the 70th Indianapolis 500.  In 1987, the L98 engine was tweaked for more power: thanks to improved roller valve lifters, the Corvette could throw 240 horsepower and 345 ft/lbs of torque.  The Corvette was also available with an updated Z52 handling package.  1988 marked the 35th anniversary of the Corvette.  The “Triple White Corvette” was clad with white exterior paint, black pillars, dark-tinted roof, white wheels, and white interior.  In addition to a slight power upgrade, the 35th anniversary coupe came equipped with a superior sport-handling package and 17-inch wheels and tires.  For 1989 onward, the ZF 6-speed was the only available manual transmission.  The Corvette could also be had with a Selective Ride Control (SRC) handling package, which featured three modes: Touring, Sport, and Competition.

The long-rumoured “King of the Hill” Corvette, under development with help from Lotus Cars and Mercury Marine, made its debut in 1990.  This model, dubbed ZR-1, was built with intent to be the world’s fastest production car.  Initially available only as a fastback coupe, the ZR-1 got loads of power from a Lotus-built 32-valve 5.7L LT5 V8.  This engine featured tuned port injection and developed 375 horsepower and 370 ft/lbs of torque.  A world record in 1990, the Corvette ZR-1 could launch from 0 to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.4 seconds and reach a maximum speed of 175 mph (283 km/h).  To help aid the ZR-1’s performance, it was fitted with an “ABS-II” anti-lock brake system.  This extremely pricey supercar Corvette sold 3049 examples in 1990.  Over the next few years, Chevrolet would refine and re-engineer the ZR-1.

In 1991, the entire Corvette range received a mid-cycle cosmetic refresh.  What was meant to distinguish the ZR-1 from other Corvettes had been incorporated into the design of all Corvettes.  What was initially a highly anticipated release of the 5th gen (C5) Corvette ended up as a continuation of the C4.  Contributing to this issue was GM’s high production overhead and decreased demand for the Corvette – this was the second time the Corvette was nearly axed.  Despite this uncertain financial situation, Corvette production soldiered on.  In 1992, the 300 horsepower LT1 replaced the L98 in the base Corvette.  Almost matching up to the “King of the Hill” ZR-1, the base Corvette could launch from 0 to 60 mph in over 5 seconds.  Top speed: 170 miles per hour (273 km/h).  On July 2, 1992, Chevy built its millionth Corvette.  To commemorate, this millionth model was a white convertible with red interior, just like the first 1953 Corvette.  Attending the unveiling ceremony were both chief engineers Zora Duntov (father of the Corvette) and David McLellan.

In September of 1994, the National Corvette Museum opened in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  This museum, located within close proximity to the Corvette’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant, is a showcase of all things Corvette, including many concepts, prototypes and race cars.  In 1995, the Indy 500 pace car was released, which featured unique graphics.  Except for some minute tweaks, the Indy pace car was relatively stock.  Only 527 pace car replicas were produced.  It was also by this time the ZR-1 discontinued production.  1996 was the final year for the C4 Corvette.  To commemorate, two special editions were released: Collector Edition and Grand Sport.  The latter featured the LT4 engine.  The LT4 was capable of 330 horsepower and 340 ft/lbs of torque.  In total, 358,180 C4 Corvettes were produced from 1984 to 1996.

The C5 Corvette made its production debut in 1997.  Compared to the outgoing generation, the C5 had a much more muscular stance.  It sat on a 104-inch (2654 mm) wheelbase and boasted slight increases in exterior dimensions (179 inches in length and 73 inches in width).  The Corvette’s body was made in a process called hydroforming, which uses high-pressure water to form metal body panels.  Not only was this method of manufacturing cost-effective, it also contributed greatly to the body rigidity of the C5 Corvette.  Power was sourced from a new 5.7L LS1 V8.  The LS1, in stock form, could develop 345 horsepower and 350 ft/lbs of torque.  In manual Corvettes, that power was transferred to a rear-mounted “transaxle”.  Combine all these stats, and the Corvette had a drag coefficient of 0.29 and near 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.  Despite all these winning remarks, the Corvette sold only 9752 examples in its first year.  Oh, well.  No matter.

Whereas the 1997 Corvette was available only as a fastback coupe, 1998 saw the return of the convertible.  Also making a return to the Corvette lineup was a rear trunk-lid – the first time since 1962.  Since the C5 Corvette debuted just last year, the engine and transmission remained unmodified.  Chevy produced 1163 replicas of the Indy 500 pace car convertible.  To improve handling, an “Active Handling” system was introduced.  1998 production soared to 31,084 units.  In 1999, a less-expensive fixed-roof hardtop released.  The Z51 suspension package was now standard.  That year, the traditional coupe outsold the new hardtop: 180,078 coupes versus 4031 hardtops.  Model year 2000 sales of the Corvette saw a slight equilibrium between coupes and hardtops.  18,113 coupes and 13,479 hardtops were sold.  Convertible sales plunged to 2090 units.  In 2001, Chevy began production of the high-performance Z06 model.  The first high-performance Corvette since the ZR-1 of the 1990’s, it employed a modified version of the small-block LS1, titled LS6.  The LS6 could throw out 385 horsepower and 385 ft/lbs of torque.  Other modifications included a strengthened six-speed transmission, firmer FE4 suspension setup, and wider and grippier tires.  Being the priciest Corvette for 2001, it sold only 5773 examples.  Total Corvette production that year was 35,627 units.  In 2002, the Z06 got a power upgrade.  The LS6 now threw out 405 horses and 400 ft/lbs.  Chevy managed 8297 Z06s, selling a total of 35,767 Corvettes in 2002.  The Corvette turned 50 in 2003, and to commemorate, the F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control Suspension was made standard.  This system superseded the F45 Selective Ride Control system.  This suspension setup utilizes a special fluid called magnetorheological (MR) fluid that changes viscosity when a magnetic field is applied.  2003 production fell to 35,469 units.  In its final year, the C5 Corvette was available with the 24 Hours of Le Mans Commemorative Edition.  This special edition was available on all models, including the Z06.  The Commemorative Edition Corvette featured a unique blue and silver/red stripe livery.  Total Corvette production fell again, to 34,064 units.  After an 8-year, 248,715 unit production run, the C5 Corvette ended production, with the C6 on the horizon.

Nissan Skyline GT-R: Godzilla of Japanese Autos

Very few Japanese cars evoke passion and popularity like the GT-R.  Of course, even lower-tier Skylines garner much attention thanks in no small part to media exposure, such as in movies, TV shows, and video games.  The GT-R dates back to an era in Nissan Motor Co’s existence under the name of “Prince Motor Company“.

When Prince Motor Company merged with Nissan in 1966, they left a lot of carried-over hardware to be re-engineered into the Nissan lineup.  When the C10 generation Skyline, the first to feature the GT-R variant, debuted Japan-only in 1968, it utilized 1.5 and 1.8 liter engines designed under license by Prince.  However, Nissan Motor Co engineered their own series of inline-6 engines: the L20 for the 2000GT, and the S20 for the 2000GT-R.  When the PGC10 Skyline GT-R released for the public in February 1969, it featured the 2.0L S20 as its powerhouse.  The S20 developed 160 horsepower and 130 ft/lbs of torque.  Typical of the era, the GT-R had an FR drivetrain layout like the rest of the Skyline range.  A popular Japanese nickname for the PGC10/KPGC10 Skyline was “Hakosuka”, which roughly translates to “boxy Skyline”.  The second generation GT-R, the KPGC110, made its debut at the 1972 Tokyo Motor Show and released for the public for 1973 only.  The “Kenmeri” GT-R was short-lived due to the Energy Crisis, and as there was very little demand for high performance sports cars, the GT-R was ultimately discontinued (or at least on hiatus) from the Skyline range for many years.

In 1984, former chief engineer Shinichiro Sakurai left development of the 7th-generation R31 Skyline to his “student”, Naganori Ito.  Ito then became chief of engineering for the 7th Skyline, which was set to debut in 1985.  However, due to negative reception from Skyline aficionados, Ito gained a bad reputation.  Ashamed of the R31 Skyline, he ventured to develop the 8th-generation R32 Skyline.  Ito was determined to bring back the GT-R which had been on hiatus for 16 years.  Ito gained a good reputation when the R32 Skyline and its GT-R variant debuted in 1989.

1990 Skyline GT-R (R32)

The BNR32 GT-R started production in August 1989.  Whereas lower-tier Skylines were rear-wheel-drive, the GT-R transitioned to an all-wheel-drive layout.  Of all the Skyline GT-Rs produced, the R32 was the lowest-slung: its height was at 1340 mm (52.8 in).  Power came from a 2.6L twin turbo RB26DETT inline-6 throwing out 276 horsepower.  A limited-run Group A racing homologation special, the GT-R NISMO, released in February 1990.  Performance modifications included were improved airflow to the intercooler, front and rear bumper lip spoilers, larger ceramic turbines in place of the standard turbochargers, and ABS delete.  In addition to the limited 500 NISMO models, 60 more were produced for Group A competition; however the ABS delete was not legal under Group A regulations.  February 1993 saw the introduction of the V-Spec.  The V-Spec added larger Brembo brakes, retuned suspension and ATTESA ET-S all-wheel-drive, and lightweight aluminum hood.  It also featured 225/45R17 tires.  February 1994 saw the addition of the V-Spec II, which, although the same as the V-Spec introduced in 1993, featured wider 245/45R17 tires.  Production of the R32 Skyline GT-R ceased in November 1994, and public sales ended in December that year.

When the R33 Skyline debuted, Kozo Watanabe was appointed as chief engineer of the Nissan Skyline.  Watanabe worked on both the R33 and R34 Skylines.  When it released for the public in January 1995, the R33 GT-R was notably longer, wider, taller, and had a longer wheelbase than its predecessor.  It kept relatively the same drivetrain as the R32 GT-R, with exception to improved air intake and oil circulation.  Nissan Motorsports (NISMO) built a racing version of the GT-R, called NISMO GT-R LM, for competition in 24 Hours of Le Mans.  This vehicle featured a body kit unique all to itself, such as a bulkier rocker panel side skirt.  Only one roadgoing homologation special was ever produced, making it extraordinarily rare.  In May 1996, the V-Spec LM Limited debuted in the GT-R lineup.  This model should not be confused with the one-off NISMO GT-R LM which was entered for Le Mans competition.  The 1996 LM Limited was a commemorative car which featured Champion Blue as its only available exterior paint color, unique carbon front splitter with air intakes, and a carbon fiber rear wing blade.  This model was available for sale for two months only.  Also that year, Nismo built a special model called 400R.  The 400R was undoubtedly very unique in its own right, as it featured a heavily modified version of the Nissan RB engine, named RB-X GT2.  Because it was bored out to 2.8 liters, a similar engine called RB28DET was produced.  This modified engine with reinforced block and heads, along with forged crankshaft and connecting rods, had the potential to throw out 400 horsepower.  Loosing even more weight, a lightweight driveshaft and exhaust muffler were installed.  Nismo planned to produce 100 examples of the 400R, although a rumoured 44 units were built.

Autech, another in-house tuning firm, also modified the coupe-only GT-R and made a rare 4-door sedan variant in 1998.  The Autech version 40th Anniversary merged the designs of the 4-door GTS sedan and GT-R models, keeping the power train of the GT-R intact.  Some Autech GT-R sedans were converted to highway patrol use and ordered by and/or delivered to the Saitama Prefectural Police and Kanagawa Prefectural Police departments.  The R33 GT-R ceased production in November 1998, with sales ending in December that year.

The R34 Skyline GT-R released for the public in January 1999.  The new model had a shorter overhang when compared to the outgoing generation.  Inside, the R34 Skyline featured a 5.8-inch infotainment screen with such features as engine and turbocharger pressure and temperature, as well as GPS navigation.  Midnight Purple II was a limited color option available only at the time of the R34 GT-R’s launch in January of 1999.  In 2000, Midnight Purple III was made available as a sequel to the discontinued Midnight Purple II exterior color option.  Also, the V-Spec trim was discontinued and replaced with V-Spec II.  In addition, 18 variants of the V-Spec II were given an upgraded N1 package.  In May 2001, the M-Spec was introduced to the lineup.  The M-Spec was a performance package quite similar to the V-Spec II; however, it was the only model to feature aluminum construction for the hood.  By 2002, the R34 Skyline had reached the end of its production cycle.  To commemorate, a final special edition called GT-R V-Spec II Nür was introduced.  The “Nür” was a reference to the infamous Nürburgring racetrack in Germany.  This package made the N1 performance upgrade standard, which brought power up from the advertised 276 horsepower to an admirable 330.  Auto tuning enthusiasts may upgrade this engine to above 400 horsepower if they want.  The Nür featured different interior stitching, gold valve covers, and gold VIN plates.  Production of the Skyline GT-R ended in August 2002.

When the GT-R discontinued in 2002, the rest of the Skyline range continued production without an ultra-high performance model.  In the works were two prototypes based on the Skyline, but officially distinguished as a model lineup separate from the Skyline.  These were the aptly named GT-R concepts which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2001 and 2005.  When Nissan Motor Co announced GT-R production would begin in 2007, the production variant would be based more on the refined 2005 prototype.  Also, unlike past Skylines, this model wouldn’t be exclusive to Japan.  This was an international rollout.  In essence, the GT-R, although a model separate from the Skyline lineup, proved a worthy successor to carry on the legacy of past Skylines.

Pontiac Firebird

Although John Z DeLorean had a hard time getting the 1964 Pontiac Banshee concept (codenamed XP-833) greenlit for production, a joint effort on the “F-body” platform for both the Chevrolet and Pontiac divisions made it abundantly clear to GM that they would need a pony car lineup to compete in production and sales against the Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar.  Thus, 1967 marked the beginning of GM’s endeavour into producing four generations of both the Camaro and Firebird over the next 35 years.

1968 Firebird convertible

The first generation Firebird entered production in February of 1967.  The wheelbase sat at 108.1 inches (2746 mm) and exterior length at 189 inches.  This made the Firebird dimensionally similar to the Camaro, down to the same 108-inch wheelbase.  Power for the standard model came from a 230 CI (3.8L) inline-6.  This engine was similar to Chevrolet’s inline-6, but featured a unique cast iron block and aluminum valve cover.  With a single barrel carburetor, this engine developed 165 horsepower.  A four-barrel “Sprint” model developed 215 horsepower.  Detroit’s performance specials for the Firebird were four V8 engine options: the 326 (5.3L) Pontiac V8, a 326 “high output” (HO), a 400 (6.6L) Pontiac V8, and the 400 Ram Air V8.  The 326 was capable of 250 horsepower and its “high output” counterpart developed 285 horses.  Although both versions of the 400 V8 developed 325 horsepower, the Ram Air gave the Firebird functional hood scoops, low-end torque and high redline.  In 1968, the 230 engine was replaced by a 250 CI (4.1L) engine for both the standard and Sprint models.  A new 350 CI (5.7L) V8 replaced the 326 and power ratings for the 400 went up.  The base 400 jumped up to 330 horsepower, and the Ram Air and High Output developed 335 horsepower.  Soon though, Pontiac decided to axe the Ram Air engine option, only to return it to the lineup and give it more power.  The revised “Ram Air II” now made 340 horsepower.  In 1969, an appearance and handling package called Trans Am was introduced.  The Trans Am’s power was delivered via a 400 CI Ram Air V8; good for 335 to 345 horsepower.  That year, a total of 689 Trans Am coupes and 8 Trans Am convertibles were produced.

The second generation Firebird was met with design and production delays, meaning there would be no 1970 model per se.  Thus, the “1970 1/2” debuted in February 1970.  Production started off well, with 48,739 units in 1970, and 53,125 for 1971.  New was the 455 (7.5L) V8, which packed 325 horsepower.  A high-output Ram Air IV packed 335 horses.  A labour strike in 1972 resulted in vastly reduced production of the Firebird.  1972 production remained mainly unchanged from 1971, with the exception of a slight restyle.  The 455 engine was upgraded in 1973, and was called “Super Duty 455”.  This SD-455 featured a strengthened cylinder block, forged crankshaft, forged rods, and forged aluminum pistons.  The Firebird was facelifted in 1974 to feature a “shovel-nose” front-end and crash safety components.  The addition of mandated safety features also added curb weight.  A wrap-around rear windshield was implemented into the 1975 model.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pontiac brand, the Firebird for 1976 gained some “Limited Edition” anniversary models.  This was the first time a Trans Am would feature black with gold accents as a livery option.

1978 Firebird

1977 saw a restyle to the Firebird; mainly, a restyled front end which now featured rectangular headlights.  Although the front fascia was similar for both the 1977 and 1978 models, they featured slightly different grille designs.  The 1977 had a honeycomb design and the 1978 had a crosshatch.  The most popular Firebird trim for both these years was the Trans Am, which got power from a 400 CI (6.6L) V8.  Power output for 1977 was 200 horsepower, but increased to 220 in 1978.

1980 Trans Am 4.9

The Firebird was redesigned again in 1979.  This was the last year a Trans Am featured a 6.6-liter as its engine.  For 1980, the 400 was replaced by a 301 CI (4.9L) unit.  Although the T/A did feature either a naturally aspirated 4.9-liter or a turbocharged variant, some models were supplied with a 305 CI (5.0L) Chevy V8.  The naturally aspirated T/A drew 155 horsepower and turbocharged models could develop 210 to 220 horsepower.  Models with the Chevy engine developed 150 horsepower.  The 1979 redesign was kept intact until the end of the second generation’s run in 1981.

The third generation Firebird debuted in model year 1982.  Like the Chevrolet Camaro, its wheelbase was shortened to 101 inches.  The bodywork resembled that of the then-new third generation Camaro.  The trim levels for the Firebird were Base, S/E, and Trans Am.  The base model was powered by a 90 horsepower 151 CI (2.5L) “Iron Duke“; the S/E got the 173 CI (2.8L) Chevy V6; and the Trans Am got the 305 CI (5.0L) V8.  Depending on setup, the Trans Am could develop either 145 or 165 horsepower.  The first option, codenamed LG4, was the 4-barrel carb variant.  The LU5 option added 20 horsepower to the 305 V8, replacing the 4-barrel carburetor with Cross-Fire Injection; a system also seen in the Corvette that year.  In 1983, the S/E came available with a “high output” 2.8L.  This unit now made 125 horsepower.  As for the Trans Am, power went up to 150 horsepower.  The 25th Anniversary Daytona 500 Limited Edition amped that power up to 175 horsepower.  In 1984, the Trans Am was also available with a “high output” version of its 5.0L V8.  This engine produced 190 horsepower.  In 1986, the base model transitioned to V6 power and the Trans Am got tuned-port fuel injection (TPI).

1987 Trans Am
1988 Trans Am GTA

In 1987, the S/E was dropped from the lineup and replaced with the Formula.  The Formula model got power from a 5.0L V8, a feature on past Trans Ams.  This 5.0-liter developed 155 horsepower.  The Trans Am could throw out 165 horsepower from the same 305 V8.  New for 1987 was the Trans Am GTA (Gran Turismo Americano).  The GTA utilized a 350 Ci (5.7L) V8 with tuned port injection, which developed 225 horsepower.  1989 saw the addition of a Corvette-sourced 5.7L TPI and a Buick-sourced 3.8L V6 in the Trans Am models.  The TPI threw 230 – 240 horsepower, and the Buick V6 developed 250 horsepower.  In 1991 the Firebird lineup was given a facelift.  The new design made the vehicle look more rounded and aerodynamic.  Convertible versions of the V6 and V8 base and Trans Am were available.  The third gen Firebird soldiered on until 1992.

The fourth generation Firebird reflected styling cues from the 1988 Banshee IV concept.  This meant the new-for-1993 Firebird had a more aerodynamic contour, in leu of the Camaro’s redesign that year.  Also, the production facility relocated to Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec (Canada).  The base model got power from the 3.4L L32 V6, developing 160 horsepower.  This was the base engine for the Firebird across the board, except for California.  California models were installed with the Series II 3.8L Buick V6.  A new-generation LT1 (also referred to as LT1 350) was the sole power for the Trans Am.  Following tradition, the LT1 was a 350 cubic inch (5.7-liter) V8; also installed in the Corvette.  Power ratings for the LT1 were detuned from the Corvette variant, making 200 horsepower for the Trans Am.  Depending on the model, the transmission options ranged from 4-speed automatic, 5-speed manual, and 6-speed manual.  The Turbo-Hydramatic 4L60/4L60E was the automatic transmission available in the Firebird for its entire generational production.  The Borg-Warner T-5 was the 5-speed manual that was available in some V6 models, and the T56 6-speed manual was installed in the Trans Am.  For 1994 only, a special version of the Trans Am, called Trans Am GT, was produced.  The GT retained the look of its base counterpart, and some GT models could be had with an “uplevel spoiler”, coupe, targa, and convertible tops.  While these weren’t official Trans Am GT packages, but were installed anyway.  The majority of the available equipment on the 1994 GT would become standard on subsequent Trans Ams.  In 1996, OBD-II (onboard diagnostics) became standard on all vehicles.  This included the Pontiac Firebird.  The Series II Buick V6 previously available only in California models were now the base engine for the Firebird.  In 1997, all models got air conditioning, daytime running lights, digital odometer, and compact disc (CD) players as standard equipment.  In conjunction with SLP Engineering, Pontiac produced 29 examples of the LT4-powered Firehawk.  The Firehawk was named after the Firestone Firehawk tires installed on the car, and the LT4 was a 350 cubic inch (5.7-liter) Small-Block V8.

In 1998, the Firebird received a mid-cycle refresh.  Notable changes included a more aggressive body kit with wide air intakes and circular fog lights inserted into the front splitter.  The Formula and Trans Am switched to the all-aluminum LS1 engine.  Although the Corvette-sourced units produced nearly 350 horsepower, the Trans Am produced 325 horsepower.  2002 was the Firebird’s final model year.  To celebrate, a “Collector Edition” Trans Am was produced.  Features included special exterior paint colors, pin-striping, decals, and a WS6 performance package.  Power mirrors and power antenna were standard equipment for the Firebird in 2002.

In the wake of the 2008-2009 economic recession, General Motors began to consider phasing out some brands, including Pontiac.  After chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed, Pontiac’s fate was sealed.  Pontiac manufactured its last ever vehicle (a G6 sedan) in January of 2010.  The Pontiac brand was officially defunct in October of that year.  Although the Chevrolet division had announced a comeback of the Camaro after an 8-year hiatus, Pontiac couldn’t afford to bring the Firebird back – not even for 2010.  Thus, it can be said that the Firebird/Trans Am lives on in spirit in the form of its former platform cousin the Chevrolet Camaro.

Chevrolet Corvette Part One: Harley Earl, Duntov, and Stingray

The Chevrolet Corvette is a sports car produced by General Motors (GM) since 1953.  In its first generation from 1953 to 1962, the Corvette was a convertible, and since 1963 has been available also as a coupe.

The first generation Corvette, dubbed C1, debuted as the EX-122 at the GM Motorama in New York in January 1953.  Chevrolet’s amateur reputation at the time gave them little guarantee that they would ever build an all-American sports car for cheap, as the sports car market in the 50’s was comprised of expensive high-end Alfas, Jaguars, and Healeys.  However, the presence of 45,000 attendees at the GM Motorama and their fascination with the EX-122 prototype convinced GM that they should start production of the Corvette right away.  The Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan in June of 1953.  Cosmetically, the production vehicle differed very little from the prototype; its wheelbase at 102 inches (2600 mm), and exterior length at 167 inches (4250 mm).  Power came from a 235 CI (3.9L) Blue Flame inline-6, which produced 150 horsepower.  Due to the Corvette’s rushed production and poor decisions on discount parts, only 300 units were built for 1953.  In 1954, Corvette production moved to St. Louis, Missouri, with the hope that Corvette production would total at least 10,000 units annually.  Unfortunately, only 3640 Corvettes were produced for the 1954 model year.  Even more abysmal was the 700-unit turnout in 1955.  These poor production figures almost killed the Corvette project.

It was the then chief engineer Ed Cole who revived the Corvette and kept the ideal image of the “sports car” in the public mind.  In order to retain the flair it had when it debuted at the 1953 Motorama, it needed more finesse.  The Belgian-born engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov had the idea of installing the 265 CI (4.3L) Small-Block V8 into the 1955 Corvette.  Low production numbers aside, the Corvette was an improvement from the two years before: not only did it have the original Blue Flame inline-6, but the new V8 was much more powerful.  In fact, more Corvettes had the V8 rather than the inline-6.  The Corvette was redesigned for 1956, and the six-cylinder was dropped from the engine lineup.  The Small-Block V8 was upgraded to deliver 210 to 240 horsepower.  Exterior length was increased to 168 inches (4300 mm).  The Corvette was little changed for 1957, except for the updated 283 CI (4.6L) V8, which produced 283 horsepower.  This made the Corvette to be the first vehicle to feature an engine with “one HP per cubic inch”.

1958 Corvette
1959 Corvette

The Corvette was given a dramatic facelift in 1958.  It featured a wealth of chrome – all the rage that year – and a four-headlight design.  This was a predominant design feature on GM’s 1958 passenger vehicles.  Exterior length was increased to 177 inches (4500 mm).  The 283 V8 was rated for 290 horsepower.  The 1959 Corvette, although largely unchanged, featured less chrome.  The chrome was removed from the louvers and the rear trunk.  This gave the Corvette a smoother and sleeker look.  This design was kept until 1960.

1961 – 1962 Corvette

In 1961, the Corvette received a fine-mesh grille and a  “boat-tail” rear end with quad-taillights.  The 283 Small-Block was fuel injected to deliver up to 315 horsepower.  In the C1 Corvette’s final year, the Small-Block V8 was enlarged to 327 cubic inches (5.4L), and rated between 250 and 360 horsepower.  More than 69,000 Corvettes were produced in the first generation.

The second generation “C2” Corvette began production for 1963.  Seemingly overnight, the Corvette received some radical changes, such as more rigid structural steel and independent rear suspension.  The “Sting Ray” was designed as a sleek fastback with a split rear windshield; however, the split rear design proved controversial, and was changed to a singular piece in 1964.

The wheelbase was shorter, at 98 inches (2500 mm); and exterior length measured 179.3 inches (4554 mm).  Power came from the carried-over 327 V8, which produced 250, 300, 340, or 360 horsepower, depending on the engine compression ratio.  Chevy produced 199 race-oriented models called Z06, an option priced at $1818.  These cars were nicknamed “Big Tanks” or “tankers” due to their enormous 36.5 gallon (138 liter) fuel capacity.  For 1964, the Corvette was slightly restyled.  The hood louvers and split rear windshield were deleted, and the engine produced 365 horsepower (up 5 horses) in stock form.  The options price was jacked up to $538 for a fuel-injected version, which produced 375 horsepower.  New for 1965 was a “Turbo Jet” 396 CI Big-Block V8.  This unit was carbureted, and capable of 425 horsepower.

1966 Corvette coupe

1966 saw a slight change yet again to the Corvette.  The front grille gained an egg-crate design, and coupes gained simplified rear pillars.  With 10.25:1 compression, the Big-Block could develop 390 horsepower; and 11:1 compression gave 425 horses.  With more Big-Blocks selling, demand for the Small-Block 327 waned.  The Small-Block in the 1966 Corvette developed either 300 or 350 horsepower.  GM’s Corvette engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, held next-generation production at bay.  The C3 Corvette was originally planned as a 1967 model, but the C2 stayed for a year longer.  Although little changed from the year before, the wildest Corvette employed a “Tri-Power” Big-Block, which could throw out 435 horsepower with 11:1 compression.  Throughout its entire production run, the C2 Corvette totaled 117,964 units.

The third generation “C3” Corvette was introduced for 1968, and it featured exterior styling much like the 1965 Mako Shark II concept.  Other than that, the Corvette kept pretty much all else the same with the chassis, still sitting on a 98-inch wheelbase.  The base engine to power the Corvette was a 327 (5.4L) Small-Block V8, distributing 300 to 350 horsepower.  However, the big guns to really put down lots of power were the various forms of the 427 (7.0L) Big-Block: a 390 horsepower 4-barrel; a 400 horsepower Tri-Power; a 430 horsepower 4-barrel carb; and a 435 horsepower 3X2 barrel carb.  For 1969, the Small-Block was bored out to 350 CI (5.7L).  Although the displacement went up, power remained the same at 300 and 350 horsepower.  The “Sting Ray” model had “Stingray” written as one word for the front fender emblems.  It should be noted that the “Stingray” name would be limited to this generation before it went on hiatus for several generations.  Also, 1969 saw the first sales ratio in favour of coupes: 22,129 coupes versus 16,633 convertibles.

1971 Stingray

“Four-barrel carburetor” was the name of the game in 1970, when the redesigned Corvette gained a 4-barrel-carb version of the 350 Small-Block, and two Big-Blocks (LS5 and LS7).  A two-month labour strike in 1969 caused Corvette production to decrease by half: only 17,316 were produced for 1970.  Also putting a damper into Corvette production was the recently passed “Clean Air Bill” which required all vehicles produced to meet emissions requirements.  The new 4-barrel carb Small-Block was codenamed “LT-1“, and it developed 370 horsepower.  The Big-Block was bored out to 454 CI (7.4L), and it produced 390 horsepower.  Although a 460 horsepower LS7 Big-Block was rumoured to be in the lineup, it proved environmentally unfriendly; none are known to be produced for sale.  Thus, the LS7 was not offered again.  All engines were detuned in 1971.  The 350 Small-Block dished out 270 horsepower for the base, and 330 for the LT-1.  The 454 Big-Block came in two forms: the 365 horsepower LS5 and the LS6.  The LS6 was a detuned LS7 which produced 425 horsepower.  This helped Corvette sales to recover somewhat.

1972 Stingray

Power ratings for 1972 transitioned to the SAE net system.  The LS6 was discontinued, leaving only the base Small-Block, the LT-1 and the LS5.  With a “net” power rating, the LS5 was vastly detuned, now producing only 270 horsepower.  The LS5 Corvette was not available in California.  Despite all this, Corvette sales for 1972 saw a rise to 27,000 units.  The Corvette gained a new “soft” fascia in 1973.  Now equipped with body-color urethane bumpers, it adhered to federally mandated crash safety standards.  Also a sign of the times, the Corvette’s engines were detuned to meet emissions and fuel economy standards in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo.  For 1973, the 454 Big-Block threw out 275 horsepower, but detuned to 270 for 1974.

1975 Stingray

The Corvette was transformed into an “economy car” for 1975.  Such updates included slightly newer fascia and further detuning of its engines.  The 454 was dropped, leaving only two 350s.  The base engine developed only 165 horsepower, and the L-82 option threw out 205 horsepower.  Having worked at General Motors for over two decades, Zora Arkus-Duntov resigned from his position as chief engineer.  Replacing him was Munising, Michigan born Dave McLellan.  Despite his retirement from GM, Duntov was not indifferent towards the Corvette.  In fact, for the rest of his life he was passionate about his project.  The Corvette was altered again in 1976, this time gaining a steel floorpan in place of fiberglass.  This achieved weight reduction and reduced interior road noise.  Due to decreasing popularity and sales, the convertible was discontinued, leaving only the coupe.  The engine lineup for ’76 and ’77 saw more healthy power output figures: The base L-48 developed 180 horsepower, and the L-82 developed 210 horsepower.  The “Stingray” moniker was discontinued in 1977.

1979 Corvette

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Corvette, a Silver Anniversary edition was produced for 1978.  The Corvette benefited from an aerodynamic redesign including a fixed-glass fastback and an aircraft-inspired interior center console.  The optional L-82 engine was tuned for 220 horsepower.  The Corvette was slightly restyled again in 1979.  Aesthetic enhancements included blacked-out rocker panels and window trim.  Some models gained a front and rear aero kit much like from the 1978 Corvette pace car.  Brand new hardware included halogen high-beam headlights, AM/FM radio, and an anti-theft alarm system.  The L-82 engine developed 225 horsepower.  1979 was the year of highest sales figures of the Corvette: 53,807 units; a record that’s yet to be beat.

1980 Corvette t-top

For 1980, the Corvette was radically transformed – in favor of gas mileage.  It was aerodynamically redesigned and lightened in several parts, such as doors, hood and glass.  A shocker when it comes to straight-line performance is the federally-mandated 85 mph (136 km/h) maximum speed speedometer.  1980 was the last year for the L-82, and this year it produced 230 horsepower.  Corvette sales dropped to 40,614 units.  In 1981, the lone engine option, the L-48, was renamed L81.  This motor threw out 190 horsepower.  The L81 had magnesium rocker covers and a stainless-steel exhaust manifold.  This drivetrain was paired up to a Computer Command Control engine management system.  Corvettes had always been produced in St. Louis, but in mid-1981 the production line moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky.  By means of Cross-Fire Injection, the engine in the 1982 Corvette developed 10 more horsepower.  GM built many “Collector Edition” models as well.  The Collector Edition featured unique two-tone silver/beige exterior paint, bronze-tint glass T-top, and a lift-up rear glass hatchback.  It also had turbine wheels like on 60’s Vettes.  With a ludicrous base price of $22,357 resulting in a decade-low sales figure, the time was soon coming for a new generation of Corvette.