2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, dollar for dollar: Motoramic Drives
Upon its launch in 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette's sticker price of $3,490 was high but not outlandish for a two-seat sports car — slightly more than a median family's annual income, and well below the Cadillacs and Imperials of the era. In the six decades since, that relationship between how much Americans earn in a year of toil and how much it takes to buy the nation's oldest sports car has stayed surprisingly consistent. Today, the median U.S. family of four earns $51,000 a year, and lo and behold, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray starts at $52,000.
But what Corvette buyers get for their money has varied wildly. In the '60s, they bought an uncivilized street race car wrapped in one of the most attractive fiberglass bodies ever made. In the '70s and '80s, they drove home smog-choked big blocks and the first digital dashboards. In more recent times, those loyal Vette shoppers often came home feeling like they'd snagged a bargain, since the aging Vette needed rebates to motivate its aging fans.
So what does the new 2014 Stingray offer a public that's tuned out all things Corvette over the past decade?
Here's one insight into how much this car means around General Motors: For the launch in California, Chevy decided to arrange test drives of every generation of Corvette, from a 1955 model through the outgoing 2013 edition. GM has its own museum, but its Corvettes from before the current model year were too rare and valuable to risk at the hands of people like me. Instead, GM North American chief Mark Reuss had Chevy staffers buy gently used examples of five generations of Vettes with his own money — which helped explain why a couple were never left with us alone.
Driving those cars back to back reveals a Sisyphean struggle against cost cutting and maximum performance. The 1955 version I sampled felt like wheeling a tugboat around, with a steering wheel the size of a Prius tire. The 1966 Sting Ray 427 had a monster under the hood that we could only poke at, and never unleash. By the 1970 LT-1 edition, the chassis had started to feel stable, and by 1985 the shape of the modern Corvette took hold, even if it would take another three decades to save the interior from the budget cutters. And after driving all six preceding generations, it's correct to say the 2014 Corvette Stingray marks the greatest advancement of the Chevy sports car since its launch 60 years ago.