Picking the greatest Corvettes is like picking the greatest Picassos: Even the least of them are pretty great.
But in the Corvette world, there are those that stand above the rest for any number of reasons, usually performance, but there are also models we love just because they hit the spot.
So for National Corvette Day here are eight all-time favorites listed in chronological order, though not including purpose-built race-track models:
1957 283 Fuelie — With its immaculate styling (the last year before quad headlights), the ’57 Corvette had a Rochester fuel injection available as an option, which boosted the power of its 283cid small-block V8 to around 290 horsepower, or as Chevrolet crowed at the time, more than one horsepower per cubic inch. Performance options included a race-ready package of fresh-air box, gauges and heavy-duty suspension.
1962 327 Fuelie – The last year of the first-generation Corvette marked the appearance of the iconic 327cid small block, which in this option package incorporated fuel injection, solid lifters and an 11.25:1 compression ratio, raising its horsepower to 360 and making it a formidable competition contender on road courses and drag strips.
1963 Stingray – The clean-sheet redo of the Corvette was a watershed moment for the fiberglass sports car, with attention-grabbing styling that included those iconic hideaway headlights. An important innovation was independent rear suspension that vastly improved ride and handling. And a coupe version was added for the first time, which for this year only featured the impractical but strikingly evocative split rear window. The Z06 option added a stiffer suspension, bigger drum brakes and a huge 36.5-gallon fuel tank.
1967 L88 – At the other end of the C2 era was the car that wasn’t supposed to be; the third-generation Corvette had been scheduled to roll out this model year but legendary Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov held it back for more aerodynamic testing. The side effect was the most-powerful C2 of all, the L88 with its monster 427cid V8 tuned to a claimed 450 horsepower, though contemporary testers found it to put out well above 550. The engine’s combustion chambers under their aluminum heads ran 12.5:1 compression, necessitating 103 octane gas and making it more compatible with the track than the street.
1970 LT-1 – Though overshadowed by its big-block cousins, the LT-1 hit the sweet spot of performance with a 350cid small-block V8 with solid lifters, 11.0:1 compression and a 850 CFM four-barrel Holley carburetor, along with transistorized ignition, that was conservatively rated at 370 horsepower, although it was really more like 400. The well-balanced, high-revving engine made the LT-1 a track favorite.
1990-95 ZR1 – This was a unique and unexpected Corvette that used the only twin-cam V8 in the brand’s long history. The LT-5 engine, designed for the Corvette C4 by the legendary performance engineers at Lotus of England, initially was rated at 380 horsepower, following the power doldrums of the ’80s, climbing to 405 horsepower by the end of its six-year run. Along with Lotus-tuned suspension tweaks, Corvette found itself for the first time in the company of the higher-priced European exotics. The ZR1’s nickname, coined by Chevrolet marketeers, was King of the Hill.
2000-2004 ZO6 – Corvette started out the millennium with a model that set new standards for performance and styling. Bringing back the Z06 nomenclature, the coupe had a 365-horsepower V8, later increased to 405, stiffly tuned suspension and unique styling features that included, for the Z16 package, a carbon-fiber hood.
2009 ZR1 – The return of the ZR-1 marked another first for Corvette: its first factory supercharged V8, the 6.2-liter LS9 engine that produced a stunning 638 horsepower, putting it solidly in the major league of the world’s supercars. Zero to 60 happened in just 3.5 seconds and the top speed was rated at 205 mph. The latest ZR-1 also scored another first for Corvette: a price tag of more than $100,000.