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Review by Doug Stokes
CORVETTE SIXTY YEARS
Hardcover 256 pages
Illustrations: 246 color & 142 b/w
From the spectacular color shot of the interior of a vintage ‘Vette sprawled across the inside cover and first page, to the final wide screen shot of and invitingly empty late model waiting patiently on the beach for its occupants to return from whatever they’ve been up to off-camera, this new book is fully committed to the lore and legend of the fabled fiberglass-bodied All-American sportscar.
As he has done for other marques (most notably Porsche), author Randy Leffingwell here takes readers on a remarkable journey that could have ended a couple of times way short of the sixty years that his book celebrates.
Begun as a design and materials use feasibility study and named after a small fighting ship, the Corvette somehow took on a life of its own. Timing is…(you know the rest). And the timing of the Corvette could not have been better.
Rife with pent-up needs, wanderlust, and finally shaking off almost ten years of “post war” booms, busts, fads, and fallacies; people were more than ready to relax, put the top down, couple up, shag the heavy luggage, and blow town in a car that made no sense and perfect sense at the same time.
At one time not too very long ago, when he was a shooter for a large metropolitan daily called “The Los Angeles Times,” Randy Leffingwell was widely known for his lensmanship. Not simply with cars, but with hard news pieces that he illustrated with photos that added his vision to the stories with a precision that saw his journalistic collaborations honored with several Pulitzers over the years. That said about his work with images, the same can now be said about his work with words. Leffingwell’s light, but learned text here is equally as informative as it is easy to read.
In Corvette Sixty Years, the author has gathered together a stunning selection of archival photos, illustrations, drawings, and diagrams related to the odysseys that the ever-iconic ‘Vette traveled from beautiful-but-weak-kneed to world-class/world-beater.
As it was when he only had one or two shots to frame a news story, he uses every shot to maximum advantage. This is a true history book, with historic photos matching every word of the text. Page fore and aft as you may in a book that will soon be on many a coffee table, and you’ll never find one photo that’s redundant or in place just because the text ran short.
And the looks at all the dream Corvettes never to be (or yet to come) alone are worth the price of admission here! I’ll here go on record right here as not being a hardened Corvette nut. However, some of the design studies, particularly the rear-motored, and (weirdly) the station wagon exercises, are fully capable of stopping me on a page for what seems decades at a time. Stand by for some stunning (and sometimes scary) Astros, CERVs, Indys, SSes, Qs, XPs, Mako Sharks, Turbo Vettes and more!
Yeah, you’ve got to know that any reader who gets their hands on this book is NOT going to start on page one and faithfully read the text and look at the photos in ANY sort of sequence. No way, now how. In fact I don’t even think that author Leffingwell would mind that one was not following his concise chronology of the birth and long life of this machine. Breezing through this book, catching an eye on a particular photo and stopping to read that section first is no sin here, it’s a wonderful blessing that flows from a well-written book. You can come in the middle of this movie and read either way!
In fact for fun, and if you were born any time in the last sixty years, go to your era first and see what was going on in Corvetteville. Roll the clock backward or forward as you may and see who the players were when your Corvette was in the pipe.
And speaking of players, the cast of characters that has intertwined itself into the history of the Corvette is as colorful and remarkable as the car itself. In numerous cases, as Leffingwell points out in this book, they are the people, all in their own their times and ways, who challenged and championed the Corvette to become not only a looker but a doer.
You’ll read about the good old/bad old times here, have to take off your shoes to enumerate how many times the damn bean counters at GM told the tower to shut the Corvette line down and stop buying that damn smelly resin.
The best part is how they all stood up to the calculator jockeys and the Corvette just got better and better, with (almost) nary a back step. Zora Arkus-Duntov, Dr. Dick Thompson, Harley Earl, Chuck Jordan, Bill Mitchell, John Fitch, Dave McClleland, John Greenwood, Tommy Morrison, Dick Guldstrand, Reeves Callaway, Roger Penske, Jim Perkins, Doug Hooper, Dave Hill, Larry Shinoda, Jerry Palmer, Bob Bondurant, Bunkie Kundsen and a hundred others. You’ll meet them all along the way in this easy to see/easy to read saga of a truly great sportscar (American or otherwise).
And then there’s the immortal Chevy Corvette engine itself. Well worthy of a thick coffee table book all its own and lots of full-bore cult-like obeisance, what resides in the Corvette’s engine compartment has become at least as iconic as the car’s ever sleeker composite bodywork. With dealer-available factory HP now topping 600 and tuner guys like Reeves Callaway gilding the lily with 50-60 more, the venerable V-8 seems nowhere near the end of road, if anything the engine seems to just be coming into its own. I sincerely believe that there are more hot rods, and hot street cars out there “with Corvette engines in them” than ever there were Corvettes. But that’s perfectly okay with this broad-shouldered power plant. Even that is to be admired and celebrated here.
Sure, there’ve been other iterations of nice books about Corvettes, some more photo-packed, some more fact-packed. But right now, right here, this book stands for me as the one that any ‘Vette follower really needs to have, both for their own satisfaction as well as to have on hand to show to others the gospel as written by a true disciple of the brand.
A million and a half is a large number in some circles, but when one knows that only 1,526,389 Corvettes were ever produced at the time of this book’s publishing (2012) one sort of gets the idea that these plastic-fantastic-bodied, two-seater American sports cars truly are as special as we all think they are.
Iconic is a frequently overused word that’s totally comfortable in use here. And, if anyone ever needed reason to use that term with a Chevrolet product, this is it friends. -DS
To purchase this book on Amazon, click here.