1963 is the most
significant Corvette model year.
There is a lot to back up that bold statement. The changes seen were revolutionary. About the only thing
up for debate is which is the most significant: The chassis engineering or the body style.
The styling changes alone were earth shattering. If a UFO landed next to a Corvette when it was introduced in 1963 it could have
garnered more attention, but maybe not. It had an aggressiveness that still would not be considered brutal, all the while
featuring improved aerodynamics.
The chassis also saw significant changes, so there was a lot more going on in 1963 than just an updated shape. The new independent
rear suspension made a huge difference in every performance area, with improved ride and driving experience as part of the
Under the direction of Bill Mitchell,
the new Corvette was penned by Larry Shinoda. It was based on Bill Mitchell's 1959 Stingray racer and the 1961 Mako Shark.
Revealed to the world on June 1962, two models - a coupe and a convertible - were introduced. Both were a radical departure
from anything sold to the public at the time. They were lower (almost three inches) narrower (3½ inches) and shorter by two
inches than the previous generation. Their sleekness was indisputable. If you compare it to the other domestic offerings,
it is easy to understand the impact it had. Wherever their owners took them, racetrack, boulevard or rally, the new Corvette
looked like it belonged.
Like many great works of art, the 1963 Corvette
was controversial. One of the signature elements of the '63 coupe was the split rear window. Bill Mitchell pushed for it,
insisting that it was needed to complete the lines started with the pointed hood bulge. It was known as the "stinger" concept
and in his mind the ridge that ran through the roof needed to be emphasized. But Zora Arkus-Duntov was against it; his engineering
sense told him that the rear visibility sacrifice made it a bad idea.
The critics and customers sided with Zora and so the split window became a conventional one piece style in 1964 and
subsequent years. The collector car market has a definite opinion on the subject however as prices for split window coupes
are much higher than for their conventional counterparts. Part of this can be attributed to the limited availability since
the split window had only a one year gig; also the needs are different since collector cars are driven much less than when
they were new.
Designer Larry Shinoda was not
a tall man, but he did accommodate them by supplying a cut out in the roof to make entry / exit easier for taller enthusiasts
in the low slung Corvette.
The hood of all 1963 Corvettes
had faux vent grills. The story is that originally they were functional but the hot air escaping from the engine found its
way into the passenger area via fresh air venting in the cowl.
1963 saw the introduction of "Sting
Ray" as a Corvette moniker. It would continue into the C3 generation, be retired occasionally and even shortened to "Stingray".
Amazingly enough, the one thing
that didn't change in 1963 was the engine selection, which was the same as 1962. The
327 cubic inch fuel injected mill continued as the top performer with 360 hp, well beyond the one hp / cubic inch milestone.
The air cleaner and Plenum chamber (affectionately known as "the doghouse") were updated.
Like the body and the chassis,
the interior was all new for 1963 and it was also a radical change. Aeronautics was in fashion at the time, so the inside
of the new Corvette had a basis in airplane cockpits. There was a strong separation between the driver and the passenger.
It was both good looking and easy to use. The
passenger "grab bar" was carried over from the C1 Corvettes and considering the performance increase, was needed more than
The new Corvette featured full
instrumentation and a telescoping steering wheel. Center: As in previous years, the dashboard center included a clock, heater
/ ventilation controls and radio. Air conditioning (RPO C60; $422) was available for the first time in a Corvette, although
only 278 were so equipped for 1963. Another first for 1963: power steering. Right: Seats were reasonably comfortable, especially
considering the other domestic offerings of the time. If "Saddle Tan" interior was ordered the seat material was leather,
also a Corvette first.
Hide-away headlights made their
Corvette debut in 1963 and were a rare site at that time. They contributed to the sleek advanced styling of the Sting Ray.
Exposed headlights would return in 2005, 42 years later. In 1963 they offered a number of advantages, as the headlights of
the time were large and a problem to designers looking for an aerodynamically efficient design. The drawbacks included added
complexity, cost and weight.
The early headlights featured
fiberglass buckets; metal buckets were used later in the year and on the balance of the mid-years production. The mechanical
action was via an electric motor and rotation was on the transverse center.
Initial 1963 Corvette production
was mostly coupes, fulfilling the demand for a fixed roof 'vette which had not been previously available. Requests for convertibles
came later in the model year and at the end topless car quantities edged out the coupes 10,919 to 10,594.
The brochure and the option list
promised the availability of a knock-off wheel, but none were delivered due to sealing problems. Middle: Standard steel wheel
with cover. Right: When they were commonly available in 1964 and later, the knock-offs were the best looking wheels ever.
Both two and three "eared" spinners were available.
The biggest reason why the 1963 Corvette is the
most significant in the history of the Marque is only visible from below the car.
Designed by Zora Arkus-Duntov, a independent rear suspension (IRS) was part of the new chassis. This was a bold move
on the part of GM. To put it into perspective, consider this. It wasn't until 1992 - 29 years - after the introduction
of the 1963 'vette that a car with an IRS designed by Chrysler (the 1992 Viper) was available to the public.
Almost all cars of the time, including the C1 Corvettes, used a live rear axle as the major part of the rear suspension.
It's a simple and economical solution that works well in most cases. But the live axle has two problems when used in high
performance handling applications.
- It is heavy. When designing a performance handling car, engineers will
go to great lengths to reduce unsprung weight; that is the weight of the wheels and the associated suspension parts that they
are connected to. Less weight means that it is easier to control the wheels which means that the tires contact the road surface
more consistently. A live rear axle has the heavy differential connected to the wheels. With an IRS the differential is bolted
to the frame and not part of the unsprung weight.
- The IRS deals with rough surfaces better. When a bump or surface irregularity
is encountered by a wheel, it does not affect the other wheel. The result is that the tire on the side that did not hit the
bump maintains a consistent contact with the road.
The new IRS was a three link design. Two of the
links, the strut rods and the axle half shafts, can be seen in the above drawing from the 1975 brochure and in the photo on
the right. The remaining link, a radius arm running from the frame to the rear spindle support, is visible in the drawing
to the right.
The extra complexity adds to the manufacturing costs, so keeping it simple was a necessity. An ingenious single multi-leaf
transverse spring accommodated both wheels, kept costs under control and featured low unsprung weight. Overall weight was
down by about 100 lbs. when compared to the previous straight axle design.
New for 1963, the transverse leaf spring in the
rear suspension was all things: economical, innovative, efficient, high performing and weight saving. Photograph is of a 1968
chassis which included disc brakes.
The chassis was shortened to 98 inches which
aided handling. The front suspension was essentially the same as in previous years with detailed changes to improve ride and
handling. The steering ratio was adjustable via a simple reconfiguration in the steering arm. Also possible: adjustment of
the steering wheel with an underhood change. Power steering was an available option, a Corvette first for 1963. The brakes
were enlarged, but the one real improvement - four wheel disc brakes - would have to wait for another time.
The IRS was a radical move and
positioned the Corvette as a serious road car. The improvement was dramatic and car enthusiasts from all backgrounds took
notice. Overall, the handling was much better and so was the feel. The new Corvette was not only faster on the race track,
it also felt better. By comparison, the earlier Corvettes felt more cumbersome. The steering feel, agility, responsiveness
and "fun to drive" factor was such that even foreign car aficionados took notice.