We just wrapped up our seven-week countdown of the best Corvette from each decade by naming the 2019 ZR1 the greatest example of America’s Sports Car from the 2010s.
Grouping Corvettes by decade was a new approach that added intrigue to an activity that many of us have pondered and often forced us into some tough choices. Still, just like everything else that gets posted online, there were readers who voiced their displeasure with the setup. If you were one of those who think that Corvettes should be categorized by generation only, we are here for you! Below is our official list of the best ‘Vette(s) from each redesign. Enjoy!
First generation Corvettes could easily be split into four different groups which makes them some of the most difficult ‘Vette cohorts to rank. Sticking with our original premise of “which Corvette is best?” though, the following are our choices:
#2. The 1957 Corvette
The second-place spot could have gone to any ‘Vette between ’57 and ’60, depending on your personal preference for number of headlights and amount of chrome but as we said in our countdown, the ’57 gets the nod from us because it is the first time that the Corvette was everything that we currently expect it to be.
The Best of the Best: Look for examples outfitted with RPOs 684 and 685. In layman’s terms, those are the four-speed manual transmission (first featured on ‘Vettes in ’57) and the heavy-duty suspension package. There are 664 four-speed ’57s and just 51 cars were built with the HD suspension. The top engine was the 283 horse “fuelie,” the first Corvette engine to ever make one pony per cube; it is the one you want! There were originally 756 units fitted with the fuel-injected 283/283.
#1. The 1962 Corvette
A good rule of thumb to follow with Corvettes is; if you want the best of a generation, the last year is usually a safe bet. The C1 kicked off this not-quite hard and fast rule when the ’62 hit the streets with a new range of 327 cubic-inch V8s. The ’62 feels more like a C2 with a straight axel than a true C1. The styling is even a hybrid, with classic C1 good looks up front and a C2’s “ducktail.”
The Best of the Best: The one to get, again, is the fuel-injected model. This version of the 327 made a remarkable 360 horsepower. By this point in time, word was out about the superiority of the “fuelies” and 1,918 were ordered at a cost of $484.20 on top of the base ‘Vette’s $4,038 base price. If you are looking for even further rarity and desirability, look for RPO 687, the Heavy-Duty Brakes and Special Steering option AND the 24-Gallon Fuel Tank, RPO 488. There were only 246 cars built with “687” and the “Big Tank” was even scarcer with a production total of 65.
The “Midyear” generation is often considered the ultimate run of Corvettes by collectors. Each of the five model years has things that make them significant, unique, and desirable, but our top choices are as follows:
#2. The 1963 Corvette
The ’63 was very similar to the final C1 mechanically, except for the adoption of an independent rear suspension which increased handling in America’s Sports Car.
The Best of the Best: A coupe was available for the first time ever and the ’63’s distinctive split rear window has led to it being the choice for collectors. Also, with an unlimited budget, look for the first-ever usage of RPO Z06, the full-on racing package for the first-year Sting Ray. Just 199 such cars were built. A massive, 36-gallon, fuel tank was also available and “Big Tank” ’63s are exceedingly rare with a production number of 63. Just like in ’62, the engine to get is the 360 HP fuelie.
#1. The 1967 Corvette
While our founder drives a ’66 and your author is a fan of the ’65 model year, it is hard to argue against the 1967 as the pinnacle of C2 production. The final C2 almost didn’t exist but when they decided upon one more year, they pulled out all of the stops and created a legend.
The Best of the Best: There are a few different ways you could go when looking for a ’67. Any big-block is going to be special but we recommend the L71 or L88s if they are in your price range. The L71, or 427/435, was the highest-rated of the range of 427s (up ten horses from its ’66 counterpart) and it is far more streetable than the race-bred L88, not to mention more affordable. The L88 was the fastest Corvette the world had ever seen up to that point in time but with total production of only 20 units, they are exceedingly hard to find and eye-wateringly expensive. Every time a ’67 L88 has changed hands in the past ten years, it cost the buyer more than $3 Million! So, unless you are an extremely wealthy collector, we would go with the L71. They go for $150k all day and were designed to do more than blitz the dragstrip.
The first incarnations of the “Shark” generation were worthy successors to the excellent C2s. An extended life cycle saw ever-tightening regulations choke most of the life out of the once-proud Corvette. Later examples can still be fun and collectible but if you are able, we think you should stick to the first four years of C3 production. The 1968 did suffer from some production issues (and have a few hard to find parts that are exclusive to them) but the legendary L88 continued in ’68 with production up to 80 units and power was down across the board in ’71. That fourth year C3 was saved in our initial ranking by the appearance of the mighty LS6 454 V8, the last truly great big-block found in a Corvette, but because of its rarity (just 188 total C3s got LS6 power) and the downhill trajectory that was started in ’71, our top two C3s are:
#2.The 1969 Corvette
The final Corvette of the ’60s might be the best vintage of C3 from top to bottom. The powertrains from 1967 were all still there and any issues that plagued the ’68s had been ironed out, more or less.
The Best of the Best: Just like in ’67-’68, the L71 is the best all-around choice. The 435 HP motor was popular enough to be made in significant enough numbers (2,722) to hit that sweet spot between rare/desirable and quazi-affordable. The L88 was in its final year of production and was optioned by more customers in ’69 than any other year at 116 but getting one will still break the bank. Between the L88 and L71 is the L89, basically an L71 with aluminum cylinder heads. There were 390 of these beasts built and while they will bring a premium over a “regular” L71, they won’t approach L88 money (the L89 was also available in ’67 but wasn’t mentioned as only 16 were produced). While we are on the topic of cars that are so rare that they almost aren’t worth mentioning, two (2!) examples of Chevrolet’s most famous 427, the all-aluminum ZL1 found their way under the hood of 1969 Corvettes. These two cars could be the crown jewels of any collection but, like the five 1963 Grand Sports, are next to impossible to acquire, even if you have Jeff Bezos money.
#1. The 1970 Corvette
Some readers may think that we have our C3 rankings backward but we chose the ’70 as the best C3 because it is made up of a lot more uniquely third-generation components than the ’69 which was still, largely, using midyear running gear.
The Best of the Best: Anything with an LT-1. The 370 HP mill is widely considered the greatest Gen I small-block in existence. Unfortunately, 1970 was a shortened production year with only 17,316 Corvettes being manufactured before the changeover to detuned ’71s (the ’71 LT-1 lost 40 horses), leaving just 1,287 LT-1 Corvettes with full potency on the market. For the collector looking for the ultimate version, look for one of the 25 ZR1s produced in 1970.
C4’s were revolutionary in their day but looking back now, seem like they picked up right where the C3 left off in the malaise era. Even the most cynical critics of the first modern Corvette have to admit that by the end of its run, the C4 had returned the Corvette, and American performance cars as a whole, to relevance! The best of the breed are…
#2. The 1996 Grand Sport
We shouted out every ’96 with an LT4 in our decade countdown and the smart money might be on a “regular” 330 HP ’96, but if we are all being honest, the GS is, by far, the most desirable!
The Best of the Best: Convertibles might be rarer, but we’ll take one of the 810 coupes with the wider tires and crazy fender flares, please! Of those 810, 217 were equipped with our preferred Torch Red and Black interior. Another 276 Coupes had the Z51 performance suspension. If you are looking for the perfect combination of red interior and Z51 package for your coupe, there are 86 cars out there for you to try and get your hands on.
#1. The ZR-1
The Dual Overhead Cam LT5 ZR1 is still a marvel of engineering 30 years later. We gushed about it in our piece naming it the greatest ‘Vette of the ’90s and we recommend it again here.
The Best of the Best: Not only did ZR-1s from model years 1993-1995 receive a power boost from 375 HP to 405 HP, but they also had their production limited to 448 units per year. Get one of these rarer and more powerful examples if you can; there are no bad ZR-1s but these 1,344 are the ones to have.
Click here to see our complete list of the Best Corvettes of each Decade.