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New Corvette to arrive with 60 years of history

Just 300 of the inaugural 1953 Corvettes were

Just 300 of the inaugural 1953 Corvettes were made, all with white exteriors and red interiors. Photo Credit: General Motors

Details of the upcoming seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette are slowly being leaked by General Motors in advance of the car's January debut at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The most telling revelation so far is the Corvette's new 6.2-liter V8 engine, dubbed the LT-1, that will produce 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, up from 430/424 for the current 6.2. (Find more details on the new engine at Newsday's Car Nation blog.)

General Motors has invested $131 million into the Bowling Green, Ky., manufacturing facility that builds Corvettes and is in the process of adding 250 new jobs there.

So different is the new seventh-generation - C7 - Corvette from the current car that it shares only two parts, and the factory will be closed for about six months beginning early next year to allow for retooling.

Although the Corvette has always and will always be a niche vehicle in terms of sales volume, it is Chevrolet's flagship car and as such is very important to the automaker. While we await the 2014 unveiling, here are some of the more significant 'Vettes of years past.

1953: There were just 300 Corvettes made in the first year - all Polo White with red interiors - and in truth, the original editions were far from performance cars, with power coming from the anemic 150-horsepower "Blue Flame" six-cylinder engine mated to a two-speed automatic transmission. This type of showing, and the arrival of the Ford Thunderbird for 1955, just about killed the Corvette party before it ever got rolling.

1957: Although Corvettes would get V8 engines early in the 1955 model run, the big news came two years later with the introduction of fuel injection. The top-of-the-line fuel-injected Corvette made 283 horsepower from 283 cubic inches, which was an unheard-of ratio of power to displacement in those days. This was also the first year the Corvette offered racing option packages, with comprehensively upgraded suspension and brakes.

1963: To this day, the original Corvette C2 - known as the Sting Ray - is one of the most iconic automotive designs of all time. Available for the first time in coupe and roadster models, the closed model became the most famous, earning the moniker "split window" for its huge, divided window out back, which carried a key design feature - the spine - from the windshield to the tail uninterrupted.

1965: Although still the C2 body, the 1965 Corvette carried two significant advancements: the introduction of four-wheel disc brakes; and a new "big-block" engine that produced 425 horsepower from 396 cubic inches. In 1966-'67, the big block was punched out to 427 cubic inches and was available in four different production versions. The addition of four-wheel discs and the big engines made the Corvette a fearsome performer, albeit one that was a handful to drive, made all the worse by sweltering interior heat.

1970: In 1968, the Corvette was redesigned based on the Mako Shark II concept car of 1965. The C3 was attractive, but the early cars had serious build-quality issues. Things got much better in 1970 when Chevrolet introduced the 350-cubic-inch LT-1 engine package - yep, same name as in the upcoming 2014 'Vette powerplant. The original LT-1, built from 1970-'72, was the ultimate small-block model of the day, producing 370 horsepower. The LT-1 had nearly the power of a big block, but was significantly lighter, making it the driver's choice.

1990: For the second half of the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the Corvette was a shadow of its former self, performance-wise. That changed in 1990, with the introduction of the ZR-1 in the C4 Corvette. With design help from Lotus, the ZR-1 was powered by a high-tech double-overhead-cam aluminum V8 that produced 375 emissions-friendly-ish horsepower. Base price for a ZR-1 in 1990 was an astounding $58,995, with some dealers getting low-six-figure values.

2001: Chevrolet rolled out the light-weight high-performance Z06 package for the 2001 Corvette, which was powered by a 385-horse 5.7-liter V8 (later 405) that would take it from 60 mph from zero in four seconds. Combined with special suspension and brakes, this would be the high-water mark of the C5 generation of Corvettes.

2006: Developed alongside the C6-R road-racing Corvette, the Z06 arrived with a 7.0-liter (427-cubic-inch) small-block engine with 505 horsepower. It was the only model that ever came with this amazing powerplant that was equipped with titanium connecting rods, except for the new 2013 427 Convertible, which is intended to be a 60th-anniversary collector car. With a wider body, fat tires and big brakes, the Z06's straightline speed and handling set a new benchmark in this price race.

2009: While the Corvette has a long and glorious history, the 2009 ZR1 leaves every one of its forebears in the dust. With a supercharged engine that produces 638 horsepower, the ZR1 has a top speed of 205 mph, along with world-class handling and braking that put it on par with many exotics. The ZR1 came about when then GM product boss Bob Lutz wondered what a $100,000 Corvette might be like. The answer is painted all over the pavement in the ZR1's 13-inch wide black strips. 

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