Light Makes Right – 60 Years of Corvette Weight Reduction Tech

Corvette Body Timeline:

  • 1953 – Fiberglass layup
  • 1968 -Fiberglass press-mold
  • 1973 – Sheet Molded Composite
  • 1997 – Advanced SMC
  • 2004 – Carbon Fiber components
  • 2014 – Hand-laid unicorn hair/Chuck Norris tears composite
We take it for granted that Corvettes are “made from fiberglass,” but back in 1953 when the model was first introduced, it was an exotic choice for a production car body. While we give full marks to designer Harley Earl for thinking outside the box in terms of selecting this lightweight and durable material, the real reason the 1953 Corvette used composite body panels was because nobody knew if it would be a success, and even if it was, tooling up for fiberglass molding was far cheaper than creating conventional steel stamping dies.

Today, many cars use composite body panels that are lightweight and durable, but late-model Corvettes continued to lead the way with innovation in materials, design, and “added lightness” – the C5’s hydroformed steel frame rails, floor sections made with a sandwich of materials around a balsa wood core, and the C5 Z06’s titanium exhaust combined with the all-aluminum LS powerplant to make this generation actually lighter than the C4 that preceded it. The current C6 Z06 took things a step farther with aluminum replacing steel in the frame, magnesium in the roof structure, and carbon fiber fenders.

“Corvette has never been focused on an exclusive material – be it aluminum, carbon fiber, or fiberglass,” said Corvette Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. “Instead, we are constantly looking for the best materials structure, powertrain, and chassis to improve the performance of Corvette.”

For more information on the history of Y-body materials and design, be sure to check out Fiberglass to Carbon Fiber: Corvette’s Lightweight Legacy.

The 1984 C4 Corvette had "stage coach" springs, if your stage coach happened to use a lot of high-tech composites...

About the author

Paul Huizenga

After some close calls on the street in his late teens and early twenties, Paul Huizenga discovered organized drag racing and never looked back, becoming a SFI-Certified tech inspector and avid bracket racer. Formerly the editor of OverRev and Race Pages magazines, Huizenga set out on his own in 2009 to become a freelance writer and editor.
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