There have been six generations of the Corvette produced so far, sometimes referred to as C1 through C6, and various versions with differing features within each generation; the current C6 generation includes the ZR1, which has the most powerful engine used in a production Corvette to date. Over the years, versions of the car have won awards from magazines such as Motor Trend and Car and Driver and from organizations like the Society of Automotive Engineers, and have been used from time to time as pace cars for the long-running Indianapolis 500 race since 1978.
While sold under the Chevrolet marque in the United States and other locations, it is sold under its own Corvette marque in Europe and Japan. The car is built in coupé and convertible versions; the possibility of a sedan version has also been considered by GM executives.
General Motors hired designer Harley Earl in 1927. Earl loved sports cars, and GIs returning after serving overseas in the years following World War II were bringing home MGs, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, and the like. In 1951, Nash Motors began selling a two-seat sports car, the Nash-Healey, that was made in partnership with the Italian designer Pinin Farina and British auto engineer Donald Healey. Earl convinced GM that they also needed to build a two-seat sports car. Earl and his Special Projects crew began working on the new car later that year, which was code named "Opel." The result was the 1953 Corvette, unveiled to the public at that year's Motorama car show. The original concept for the Corvette emblem incorporated an American flag into the design, but was changed well before production since associating the flag with a product was frowned upon.
Taking its name from the corvette, a small, maneuverable fighting frigate (the credit for the naming goes to Myron Scott), the first Corvettes were virtually hand-built in Flint, Michigan in Chevrolet's Customer Delivery Center, now an academic building at Kettering University. The outer body was made out of then-revolutionary fiberglass, selected in part because of steel quotas left over from the war. Underneath the new body material were standard Chevrolet components, including the "Blue Flame" inline six-cylinder truck engine, two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, and drum brakes from Chevrolet's regular car line. Though the engine's output was increased somewhat, thanks to a triple-carburetor intake exclusive to the Corvette, performance of the car was decidedly lackluster. Compared to the British and Italian sports cars of the day, the Corvette was underpowered, required a great deal of effort as well as clear roadway to bring to a stop, and even lacked a "proper" manual transmission. Up until that time, the Chevrolet division was GM's entry-level marque, known for excellent but no-nonsense cars. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Corvette. A Paxton supercharger became available in 1954 as a dealer-installed option, greatly improving the Corvette's straight-line performance, but sales continued to decline.