Corvette: 40 and looking to the future

DETROIT — DETROIT -- 'Vette lovers, rev your engines.

A fifth generation of the Chevrolet Corvette will thunder into dealer showrooms for the 1997 model year, Chevrolet General Manager Jim Perkins said.


"Some have speculated that the Corvette would leave us for the great boneyard in the sky, but that just ain't so," Mr. Perkins said. "There were plenty of skeptics when the first Corvette rolled off the line."

That happened 40 years ago yesterday in Flint, Mich. Nearly a year ago, workers at General Motors' Bowling Green, Ky., plant completed the one-millionth Corvette.


The first one carried a sticker price of $3,250, which was considerably more than most Americans' annual salary. Today, the top-of-the-line ZR-1 Corvette retails for a base price of $66,278.

The car has become a cultural icon. In the early 1960s television show "Route 66," Martin Milner and George Maharis drove a Corvette on their cross-country adventures, forever imprinting its "dream car" image in the consciousness of a generation.

GM's top management and board of directors waved the green flag on the Corvette's make-over to take the car into the 21st century after Mr. Perkins convinced them the classic American sports car can be built and sold at a profit.

And you can put the accent on American. Mr. Perkins quashed any rumors that the Corvette will be built in Quebec, in the same plant where GM assembles the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. Most likely, GM's Bowling Green plant will continue to build the Corvette.

Like every previous incarnation, the 1997 Corvette will have a fiberglass body, a rear-wheel-drive transmission and a high-performance, front-mounted V8 engine.

"It will remain a true sports car," Mr. Perkins promised.