C2: 1963-1967
Between various concept and racing cars—the Mako Shark and Stingray among them—and the Vette’s rear-end redesign in ’61, Chevrolet stylists had been dropping hints for years about the future of Corvette styling. As had happened 10 years before with the very first Corvette, the dream cars became reality for the ’63 model year. But this time there were some significant engineering changes that went along with the Vette’s new look.

Sting Ray
Like a lot of overnight sensations, the groundbreaking redesign of the ’63 Corvette was years in the making. As far back as 1957, Chevrolet stylists penned a design study called the Q-Corvette, a coupe whose sleek silhouette had all of the ’63’s major styling elements. The concept was revised over the years through several iterations; the final version was designed by Larry Shinoda, who had also drawn up Bill Mitchell’s Stingray and the Mako Shark show car.

As had been the case with previous Corvettes, Mitchell incorporated some of his own design ideas into the body, most notably the pointed “stingers” at both ends of the car. A sharp-nosed bulge that flowed across the top of the hood was carried over the roof as a crease that continued down to the car’s trailing edge, where the boattail-like roofline came to a pointed end. To ensure the continuity of the roof crease, the back glass was split in two pieces, leaving a channel in the roof for the crease to flow through.

This design element was controversial to say the least, both within and outside of Chevrolet. Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette’s chief engineer, reportedly hated it, critical of its negative effect on rearward visibility. Motor Trend called it “designed more for looks than practicality” and said, “Any decent view to the rear will have to be through an exterior side-view mirror.” The split window generated enough negative response that it was replaced with a conventional single window backlight for the ’64 model year.

Under the skin things were more harmonious—and far more advanced than in previous years. To improve the Corvette’s handling, Duntov had been experimenting with independent rear suspension designs on several concept cars, including his CERV I and II engineering prototypes. The IRS setup finally came to a production Corvette for ’63. Though Duntov wasn’t thrilled with the use of a transverse-mounted leaf-spring pack under the differential (in concept form, the IRS incorporated coilover shocks), he was very happy with the new Vette’s chassis design, calling the car, “a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe.”

The redesigned Corvette sat on a smaller wheelbase—98 inches, down from 102—and its ladder-style frame allowed passengers to sit lower in the car. For the first time, power brakes were offered as an option, as was power steering.

“We thought the old model cornered darn well, but there’s no comparing it to this new one,” wrote Motor Trend’s technical editor Jim Wright in the May 1963 issue. “It does take a little different technique, but once the driver gets into it, it’s beautiful.”

Mark IV and L79
Chevy kept changes to the Corvette to a minimum for the ’64 model year. Mitchell’s split rear window disappeared, as did the faux louvers in the hood. New cylinder heads and a more aggressive cam brought the output of the top carbureted 327 from 340 hp to 365, while the fuel-injected version jumped from 360 hp to 375.

Much bigger underhood news would come for the ’65 model year, with the introduction of two landmark Corvette engines: the L78 big-block and L79 small-block.

The 396ci Mark IV big-block was a descendant of the “Mystery Motor” 427 that Chevy campaigned in NASCAR in 1963. Nicknamed the “porcupine” engine because of the unusual valve configuration in the heads, the L78 was rated at 425 hp in the Corvette—though that was likely a conservative estimate on GM’s part.

Duntov and his team had labored hard to optimize the Corvette’s front/rear weight balance in the second-generation Vette, work one would think would be negated by the 396’s extra 150 pounds over the nose. But reviewers liked how well you could steer the Corvette with the throttle, thanks to the motor’s 415 lb-ft of torque. The eye-bleeding acceleration offered by the big engine seemed to offset any complaints of heavier steering effort and some understeer.

Buyers who didn’t need all that power and preferred a better-balanced Corvette could now opt for three variations of the 327-inch small-block, including the new L79. Essentially a hydraulic-cammed version of the L76, it produced an honest 350 hp while proving to be more livable on the street than the solid-lifter L76. At the top of the small-block heap was the fuel-injected 327, but not for long; this was the last year for the fuelie motor.

Not every performance upgrade for ’65 was underhood. This was the first year the Corvette came standard with four-wheel disc brakes. Motor Trend’s Bob McVay called them “just great—the final component that gives an already good sports car stopping power to match its go power.”

On the outside, the easiest way to tell a ’65 from a ’64 is to look at the front fenders: The ’64’s two horizontal louvers became three vertical louvers for ’65. This also marked the first year for the optional side pipes.

More Power
Following the “more is always better” rule, GM’s powertrain engineers bored out the 396 to 427 cubic inches for the ’66 model year, so the L78 option gave way to the mighty L72. With big ports in the heads, a solid-lifter camshaft, 11:1 compression, and a 780-cfm Holley carb, the L72 was conservatively rated by Chevrolet at 425 hp, identical to the L78. Those in the know, though, realized that further up in the rev range, the motor was making more like 450 hp.

Jerry Titus, who tested an L72 coupe with the close-ratio four-speed in the December 1965 issue of Sports Car Graphic, made the 0-60 sprint in 4.8 seconds and hit 100 mph in 11.2. He didn’t post a quarter-mile time, possibly because he borrowed the car from a local dealer and didn’t take it to a track. But according to his article, he didn’t need to: “All you need is a two-block-long straight. From a 70 mph cruising speed you can accelerate to the redline in top gear (140 mph) in roughly a mile. Sixty to 100 mph in top gear takes a mere 7.2 seconds. Tell us you’d like a hotter performing road machine than this and we’ll call you some kind of nut!”

(Motor Trend put a 427 convertible—also with the close-ratio four-speed and 4.11 gears—through its full battery of tests, and in its March 1966 issue reported a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds and a 13.4-second quarter-mile at 105 mph.)

Less-nutty Corvette buyers had several other engines to choose from. The standard engine in ’66 was the 300hp L75 small-block; the L79 remained, and a 400-horse 427, the L36, was also available.

The ’66 model saw a few exterior changes, too, including new wheels covers, a new egg-crate grille behind the bumper, a “Corvette” badge on the hood, and the removal of the vents on the coupe’s B-pillars.

One More Year
Chevrolet originally planned to introduce the all-new, Mako Shark II–based third-generation Corvette in the ’67 model year, but the new car just wasn’t quite ready in time. So the second-gen model hung on for one more year. That didn’t mean, though, that Chevy made do with a carry-over ’66 Vette. No, Duntov and his crew made enough changes to vault the ’67 model from mere epilogue status to a car that is widely considered the best of the C2 generation.

Externally, the badges were shaved off the fenders, the hood script also disappeared, and a new set of fender louvers—five louvers raked forward—gave the car a more purposeful look. This year marked the first appearance of the five-slot steel Rally wheel, while the optional multi-blade cast-aluminum wheel lost its knock-off hub and bolted on conventionally. A new “stinger” hood was used on big-block models, some with stripes that either matched or complemented the car’s interior color.

Under that stinger hood beat a 427-inch heart, but Chevy’s powertrain engineers yet again upgraded the big-cube mill. The ’66 L72 gave way to the L71, which replaced the single four-barrel carb with three Holley two-barrels. Tri-power induction had been a mainstay of GM muscle cars for years, and in the Vette it boosted the 427’s rated output to 435 hp. (An L68 version of the 427, essentially the L36 with triple carbs, was rated at 400 hp.)

But Duntov wasn’t yet finished with the 427. Late in the model year came the L88, which topped the Mark IV four-bolt block with aluminum cylinder heads that offered big intake and exhaust ports and, working with the forged aluminum pistons, squished the compression ratio up to 12.5:1. A high-rise aluminum intake manifold was home to an 850-cfm Holley carb, which was topped by an unusual-looking air-cleaner assembly that sealed to the stinger hood (made functional for L88 applications). Again, Chevrolet conservatively rated the L88’s output at 430 hp, but its actual power peak was likely more than 500 horses.

RPO L88 was intended as a race-only option, and it came with the M22 “Rock Crusher” Muncie four-speed, heater and radio deletes, heavy-duty suspension, Positraction, and metallic brakes. Just 20 Corvettes were sold with the L88 package in ’67, and many of these early cars were plagued with connecting-rod failures, a design flaw that was fixed for the ’68 model year.

The C2 was the shortest-lived Corvette generation of them all, yet the cars produced during those seminal years truly brought the marque up to world-class sports car status. By the close of C2 production, the Corvette was able to run with the best Europe had to offer, and it finally made Duntov proud.

Z06 and Grand Sport
Officially, Chevrolet adhered to the ban on factory support of racing instituted by the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association. But Zora Arkus-Duntov, a hot-rodder and racer to the core, would not be denied. He circumvented the ban as best he could, offering full-race parts to private buyers and also developing competition cars despite the corporation’s no-race edict.

In the fall of 1962, as Chevrolet unveiled the first of the ’63 Corvettes, Duntov made ready RPO Z06, an option package that would turn the Corvette into a SCCA production-class racer. It included stiffer springs and shocks; a bigger front sway bar; and a dual-circuit, vacuum-assisted brake package with ducts, scoops, and holes designed to keep the brakes cool. A 36.5-gallon fuel tank was initially part of the Z06 option, as were knock-off wheels, but both were deleted from the package a few months later (though the tank was still available as a stand-alone option). “Mandatory options” with the Z06 included the 360-horse fuel-injected L84 small-block, close-ratio four-speed, and Positraction axle.

Just 199 Z06 coupes were built. It was an expensive option for the time, with a $1,818 price tag that was more like $2,500 with the mandatory options factored in. The Z06 also had a hard time keeping up with Carroll Shelby’s Cobras, which were quite a bit lighter.

Duntov had Shelby in his sights when he proposed a lightweight competition version of the ’63 Vette that would become known as the Grand Sport. Based around a tubular frame, the Grand Sport featured super-thin fiberglass bodywork (with giant wheel openings to clear fat racing tires), a reinforced version of the production IRS, and disc brakes at all corners. Though initial plans called for the Grand Sports to be powered by a 377-inch aluminum small-block, the engine wasn’t ready for the car’s debut, so the cars first raced using an all-aluminum version of the fuel-injected 327.

Duntov had grand plans for the Grand Sport, hoping that 125 would be built. But just five were finished before GM’s brass clamped down and forbade further production or development. Before the hammer fell, though, three of the Grand Sports raced at the Nassau Speed Week in 1963 and handily beat Shelby’s Cobras. The five then went to privateer racers, with two losing their roofs in an effort to improve their aerodynamics.

In the end, the Grand Sports weren’t afforded enough development time to live up to their potential, potential that was lost when GM opted to follow rules that other factories ignored.

Mako Shark II
Bill Mitchell, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and others on the Corvette team believed the 10-year lifespan of the car’s first generation was far too long. So just a little over a year after the debut of the Sting Ray, Mitchell had Larry Shinoda start work on a show car that would incorporate some of the major design elements for the Vette’s third iteration.

Though the styling is show-car exaggerated—the nose looks a little too long, the fender bulges too high—Shinoda’s Mako Shark II clearly foreshadowed the C3. The first prototype—a roller with no engine inside—made its debut at the New York Auto Show in April 1965. By October, a running version was built, using a 427 for power.

A quick note about the Mako Shark names: What we now call the Mako Shark I received that name only after this car was built. This car was originally called the Mako Shark, but the powers-that-be decided to go back and rename the earlier car the Mako Shark I, and dubbed this version the Mako Shark II.

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