In the iconic sports car’s 60th year, Corvette collector Charles Mallon looks back at the cream of the crop
By Stephen Williams
Nearly 60 years ago, the General Motors corporation was already such a worldwide industrial force that it built more than half the cars sold in America: Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Cadillacs and the occasional locomotives. What it didn’t make was a sports car. Until 1953.
The storied history of the Chevrolet Corvette is stuff of fantastic legend and hard iron. It was conceived to be a one-off exhibited at GM’s Motorama that year, until Ed Cole, Chevy's chief engineer, saw it, and is said to have literally jumped up and down with enthusiasm to build it.
In honor of Chevrolet’s release of its 60th anniversary model, Chevy Culture asked Charles Mallon of Pennsylvania, the man with more than 2,000 miniature Corvettes in his basement, to name a few of the most significant Vettes from the past six decades. It’s sort of like trying to pick your favorite Disney movies, but Mallon was up to the task. His selections:
The original, in Polo White fiberglass. The car that started a new chapter in America’s romance with the automobile. And a bit of hardware that Mallon sees as reflecting the culture of an era: “The Fifites and Sixties were all about free spirit, the Beach Boys, easy going—and the Corvette personified the driving spirit.”
The ’57 Vette was the first to offer fuel injection. While the new technology would be discontinued in ’65—only to be brought back later, as government economy and emissions regulations became stricter—it proved that the Corvette was ahead of its time. “The ’57 was a milestone,” Mallon says. “Fuel injection was so important from a power standpoint. Add the four-speed transmission and it really became a sports car.”
“It was a cream-of-the-crop car. They worked on the features and the style and put it all together in a tremendous package that year. If you ask someone who had a mid-Sixties car, ‘Was it a ’67 427?’ you’ll often hear, ‘Aw, no, but I wished it was."
“It was nicknamed king of the hill,” says Mallon. “It really took the Corvette to a whole different class. It was a beast.”
The first C4 ZR-1 arrived in 1990, with 375 horsepower pumped out by its then revolutionary all-aluminum engine. According to the history on the National Corvette Museum website, the “instant legend” set seven world speed records—“the most notable being a 24-hour endurance run that averaged 175.8 mph and recorded more than 4,200 miles.”
In 2009, the C5 ZR1—Mallon’s favorite, minus the hyphen—arrived with a powertrain that put down a ferocious 638 horses, making it the fastest to roll off the Vette assembly line.
The current C6 ZR-1 has been built at GM’s Bowling Green, Kentucky assembly plant.
You say ZR1 to Corvette people and they know exactly what you’re talking about. I have a poster of a ZR1 cutaway—it’s one of my favorite pieces.”
For the 2013 model year, Chevrolet offers the Corvette 427 Convertible Collector Edition—the most capable convertible in Corvette’s history—as well as a 60th Anniversary Design Package that’s available on all 2013 Corvette models.
“The 2013 model year is historic for Corvette, marking the final year for the current C6 generation,” says Chris Perry, Vice President of Global Marketing and Strategy for Chevrolet. “We couldn't think of a more fitting way to celebrate these milestones than bringing back one of the most coveted combinations in the brand's history: the Corvette convertible and a 427 cubic-inch engine.”
Stephen Williams has written about cars and the automobile industry for The New York Times and Automotive News, and is a former staff writer and columnist for Newsday. He’s never owned a Corvette, but that goal remains high on his Bucket List.