Design Analysis: Chevrolet Corvette C3 (1968-1982)

January 9, 2013—The third generation Chevy Corvette had a difficult task from a design perspective. The ‘Vette, now fifteen years old, was essentially the only American sports car at this point (yes, Ford had the GT40 and Cobra, but they were hardly mainstream sports cars). Furthermore, the styling on the C2 had been so successful that attempts to improve it would likely fall flat.

Whether you believe that the C3 is better or worse looking, it is inarguable that it’s more exaggerated and flamboyant than the second gen. Mechanically, the Corvette’s performance kept climbing until the 1973 gas crisis and one gets the sense that the engineers’ exuberance spilled over into the styling department.

1968 Corvette Sting Ray

1968 Chevrolet Corvette (photo: © General Motors)

Proportionally, the doors moved closer still to the rear tires. Also, the rear fenders crept further into the doors visually moving the greenhouse back. It retained the C2’s beltline but pushed it visually lower and accentuated the fenders, which on the ‘63-’67 were like small fins peaking above a waterline.

The gesture of the C3 relies on the curvy profile of its fenders to make a statement, this car is all about its fenders. Looking down at the Corvette, one sees much more section with the rear fenders becoming the ‘hips’ and front fenders the ‘shoulders’ of this body. The car has a waistline both horizontally and, with the wheels visually pushed away from the centerline, in plan view.

1968 Chevy Corvette top

1968 Chevrolet Corvette (photo: © General Motors)

If the first generation ‘Vette was voluptuous then the third gen was positively pornographic. Additionally, the C3 grew more peaks and curves as time passed including a pointed (in side view) rear bumper that integrated with the beltline, a chin spoiler up front and a spoiler out back. And befitting its namesake, it received a proper prow.

C3 Corvette rear

1968 Chevrolet Corvette rear (photo: © General Motors)

Cartoon-y surface treatments aside, the C3 existed in an era of tumult: strict emissions and fuel economy requirements were foisted on the auto industry, the convertible was killed due to safety concerns and both customer tastes and manufacturing changed dramatically. The evolution of the manufacturing sector and consumer desires led to the virtual disappearance of chrome on the ‘Vette during its third generation. Bumpers went from chromed steel to formed plastic covering stamped steel beneath. Taillight bezels and exterior door sills disappeared completely. The “plastic fantastic” now looked the part too. [kiWO]