Chevrolet Corvette Performance History: We\u0027ve Been Testing \u0027Vettes Since 1954

From the first 150-horsepower 1954 convertible to the latest 755-hp 2019 ZR1 coupe, MotorTrend has tested every generation of Corvette. Our record keeping is now computerized (forgive the blanks), and our methods for measuring performance have changed over the years. Acceleration, for instance, was first two-aboard with a bank of handheld stopwatches, to one driver and a bumper-mounted fifth wheel, to radar speed guns, and finally satellite data recorders. That said, we have instrument-tested results (some more thorough than others) from precisely 122 of them. If you add the 22 modified Corvettes, that’s 144 or about two per year.

Number of stock Corvettes tested by MotorTrend by generation: (1st generation) 12; (2nd) 6; (3rd) 13; (4th) 33; (5th) 22; (6th) 20; (7th) 16.

Interested in the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette? See our comprehensive coverage HERE.

C1 Corvette (1953-1962) A Legend Is Born

Our first impressions were printed in the March 1953 issue of the magazine, and the first test appeared in June 1954. Of that first generation, we tested every available engine (235, 265, 283, and 327). Naturally, the slowest was the 1954 Corvette: Its 235-cubic-inch 150-hp Blue Flame inline-six and two-speed automatic required 11.5 seconds to sprint to 60 mph. The fastest was the 1962, with a 327-cubic-inch 360-hp V-8 and four-speed manual, which dropped the 0-60 time to 5.9 seconds. Quarter mile testing was in its infancy then, but just 9 years after its debut, that same 1962 car was the first Corvette to break 100 mph over the 1,320 feet, coming in at 14.9 seconds at 102.9 mph. In contrast, it took 29 years after its introduction for a production Camaro to surpass a 100-mph trap speed with a 1996 SLP-built 350-cubic-inch 305-hp Z28 SS (13.8 seconds at 101.4 mph).  

C2 Corvette (1963-1967) The Stingray

During the Corvette’s shortest, but some say, its greatest generation, three engines were offered: 327-, 396-, and 427-cubic-inch models of various outputs. We didn’t manage to snag a 396 to test, but we did run a 13.4-second 105.0-mph quarter mile in a ’66 427-cubic-inch 425-hp convertible. The year prior, disc brakes were made available, and stopping from 60 mph shrunk from 144 to 120 feet. Many say this was the high-water mark for Corvettes in terms of styling and performance, and we’d tend to agree.

C3 Corvette (1968-1982) Highs and Lows

What started as a strong generation with 327- and 427-cubic-inch V-8s making 350 to 425 hp, the Corvette saw a big dip in engine output corresponding to emissions requirements and the shift from SAE-gross to SAE-net horsepower ratings. First, the high point. We were treated to a track day in the infamous, mysterious Super Vette, the 1969 ZL-1 with an all-aluminum L-88 427-cubic-inch V-8. Officially rated at 430 horsepower (61.4 hp/L), reports and results suggest it actually cranked out at least 500 to 550 horses (78.6 hp/L). With a three-speed automatic and a 3,000-rpm “neutral drop” into drive (yikes!), on slick tires the ZL-1 ran a 10.6-second quarter mile at 132 mph. We wouldn’t see a pass like that for another 50 years when a supercharged 2019 Corvette ZR1 (122.5 hp/L) would run a 10.8-second pass at 133.1 mph. The absolute low spot was in 1975 (the first year of the catalytic converter and single-exhaust), when the Corvette’s L-82 made just 165 horsepower with its 350-cubic-inch V-8 (28.9 hp/L). Results were expectedly underwhelming with a 9.6-second 0-60 time and an agonizing 16.4-second 87.5-mph quarter mile.

C4 Corvette (1984-1996) A Return to Form

Skipping the 1983-model year and shedding some 200 pounds in weight, we proclaimed the 1984 C4 Corvette “the best-handling production car in the world.” To prove it, we took one to Laguna Seca (MT May 1983) and raced it against a Ferrari 308 GTSi, Jaguar XJS, and Porsche 928S. It beat them all. A few months later, we named the Corvette our 1984 Car of the Year. Other C4 highlights included the debut of the highly anticipated ZR-1 variant in 1990. It was the first (and only) Corvette to shun OHV pushrods and 16 valves, and benefit from a DOHC 32-valve engine (LT5). With the exception of that enigmatic ’69 ZL-1, this 375-hp Corvette first dipped into the 12-second field in the quarter mile with a 12.8-second run at 113.8 mph. At just 4.4 seconds, it was also the first sub-5-second 0-60 time. Antilock brakes arrived in 1986, and 60-0 stopping distances dipped under 110 feet for the first time.

C5 Corvette (1997-2004) The Coke Bottle and the Hard Top

Perhaps the most redesigned Corvette since the C1-C2 shift, the C4 shed 1,000 parts from its forebear and gained a new LS1 (Gen III small block with individual coils for each cylinder) engine boasting 345 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Shortly thereafter MotorTrend named it 1998 Car of the Year. The ride/handling balance was solved with the F45 Selective Ride suspension, and the track-oriented Z51 package made its mark. Shortly thereafter, F55 Magnetic Ride superseded F45. It was also during the C5 period that the high-performance Z06 returned (it had been MIA since 1963) with the next-gen LS6 V-8 (385/405 hp) propelling it to trap speeds in excess of 110 mph. It also posted the first ever 1.0 g lateral acceleration figure on the skidpad for a Corvette. Once the low-cost model, the new Hard Top (notch back) became the only way to get a Z06.

C6 Corvette (2005-2013) Small (Big) Blocks and Blowers

Often criticized as a warmed-over C5, the C6 improved interior materials and controls. The pop-up headlights went away, and the LS2 appeared with a gain of 50 hp and 40 lb-ft of torque, but fuel economy suffered. The engine was later bumped from 6.0 to 6.2 liters; horsepower rose from 400 to 436 and torque from 400 to 436 lb-ft. Things got interesting in 2006 when the 427-cubic-inch (7.0 L) engine returned, supplying an honest 505 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. This put the Corvette’s 0-60 time under 4 seconds for the first time (3.8) and its quarter-mile under 12 (11.8), with trap speeds in excess of 125 mph (125.2). However, the real excitement arrived in 2009 with the ZR1’s supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 making a then-unheard-of 638 horsepower and 604 lb-ft of torque. This was the first Corvette engine capable of producing more than 100 horsepower per liter (102.9 hp/L). This dropped the 0-60 time to 3.5 seconds and the quarter-mile time to just 11.2 seconds at 130.5 mph. Late in the C6 era, Chevrolet released a 427 Convertible that rocketed to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds on the way to a 11.9-second, 121.5-mph quarter mile, making it the quickest and fastest Corvette convertible.

C7 (2014-2019) The Front-Engine Swan Song

The standard 6.2-liter LT1 engine brought 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque to the party, and paired with the new seven-speed manual transmission, sub-4-second 0-60 times. The Z06 returned in 2016, but this time with a 650-hp 650-lb-ft supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V-8. Paired with a new eight-speed automatic, this combination beat a manual-transmission Z06’s performance for the first time in a Corvette. The Grand Sport returned in 2017 with a dry sump LT1, the Z06’s widebody, and the Z51 handling package. Some say this was the true sweet spot in the C7, as it could put all of its grip and power to full use. Again, the new eight-speed auto was slightly quicker, but they stopped in 90 to 91 feet and circled our skidpad with between 1.11 and 1.14 g in lateral acceleration. As if to throw a going-away party, Chevy resurrected the ZR1, but this time with 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque. The traction-limited car was only able to manage 3.0-second blasts to 60 mph, but with its 10.8-sec/133.1-mph drag strip performance, it was the first (and only) Corvette into the “tens” and over 130-mph in the quarter mile.

Engines of MT-tested Corvettes

Smallest: 3.9L/150-hp I-6 (1954)
Largest ever: 9.9L/580-hp V-12 (1993 ZR-12 Conan coupe, MT Mar. 1993)
Largest production car: 454 cu-in V-8 (available in various outputs in various model-years)
Least powerful: 3.9L/150-hp/143-lb-ft I-6 (1954)
Most powerful: 880-hp/1161-lb-ft turbine (1978 Chevrolet Corvette Turbine coupe, MT Nov. 1979)
Most powerful production car: 6.2L/755-hp/715-lb-ft supercharged V-8 (2019 ZR1)
Lowest power density (hp/liter): 28.9 (1975 L-82, 5.7L/165-hp V-8)
Highest power density: 122.5 (2019 ZR1, 6.2L/755-hp supercharged V-8)

Quarter-milestones, discounting the 1969 ZL-1’s 10.6-sec @ 132 mph run

First sub-15-second quarter-mile elapsed time: 14.9 sec (1957 283 “fuelie” three-speed manual)
First sub-14: 13.4 sec (1967 427, 4m)
First sub-13: 12.8 sec (1998 LS1 coupe, 6m)
First sub-12: 11.7 (2006 Z06, 6m)
First sub-11: 10.8 (2019 ZR1/1ZR/ZTK, 8a)
Slowest quarter-mile elapsed time: 17.8 seconds (1956 “265” 4.3L/210-hp V-8; we failed to run the ’54 the full quarter mile)
Quickest: 10.8 sec (2019 ZR1/1ZR/ZTK 6.2L/755-hp supercharged V-8)
Quickest production car: Same as above
Lowest quarter-mile trap speed: 77.5 mph (1956 “265” 4.3L/210-hp V-8; we failed to run the ’54 the full quarter mile)
Highest: 133.1 mph (2019 ZR1/1ZR/ZTK 6.2L/755-hp supercharged V-8)
Highest (production car): Same as above

0-60 mph

First production car sub-7-second time:  6.4 seconds (1957 283 “fuelie” three-speed manual)
Sub-6: 5.8 seconds (1957 327 “fuelie,” 3m)
Sub-5: 4.4 seconds (1990 ZR1, 6m)
Sub-4: 3.8 seconds (2006 Z06, 6m)
Slowest 0-60: 11.6 seconds (1956 “265,” 2a)
Quickest 0-60 of all time: 3.0 sec (2019 ZR/1ZR/ZTK package, 8a)
Quickest 0-60 for a production car: Same as above

60-0 mph

Longest stop: 195 ft (1960 “283” with drum brakes)
Shortest: 88 ft (2019 ZR1/1ZR/ZTK)
Biggest model-year improvement: 147 ft to 120 ft (1981-1984)

Grip & Handling:

Skidpad (measured mid ’80s-present), figure eight, elapsed time (measured 2010-present)

Lowest lat-g: 0.75 g (1967 427 tested in 1997)
Highest lat-g: 1.17 g (2015 Z06/Z07)
Slowest Fig-8 lap: 25.2 seconds (2015 Z51)
Quickest F-8 lap: 22.3 sec. (2017 Grand Sport, 7m)

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