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Book Review: The Complete Book of Corvette

Published on Sun, Dec 20, 2020

By: Don Taylor

The Complete Book of Corvette is a brilliantly expansive journey through the enduring legacy of the 'Vette - America's Sports Car.

The Complete Book of Corvette

Author: Mike Mueller
Format: Hardback, 304 Pages
ISBN: 9780760345740
Publisher: Motorbooks, 2020
$55 US | £40 UK
Photos courtesy of Motorbooks
Review by Don Taylor

___________________________________________________________________

Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

There I was, standing in line at Trader Joe’s.

Like many people, I like what they have to offer, for among other things, the price/value equation.  So it’s worth the wait. Still not moving forward much, and tired of flicking through texts from the editor, my mind wanders back to the new Corvette book sitting at home: The Complete Book of Corvette, by Mike Mueller. This book is the 2020 revised edition, which now covers the new C8, mid-engined version of the marque.

With many folks ahead of me at six feet apart, it looks like a long time to go. My mind is now playing the unlikely game of “Trader Joe’s and Corvette: Compare and Contrast”. I’m always looking for unlikely connections. Maybe there is some existential connection between the two, not quite separated at birth, but still somehow similar.

Bear with me please as I go down that path...

Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

How are they alike? First of all, both Corvette and “TJ’s” have been around since the 50’s/60’s. Both have offered a unique great-value-for-the-price sales proposition throughout their lives. And each offers something aspirational, adventurous, and exciting to its customers’ lives.

And ... after all these years, each brand has its own established identity which still works, and of which we don’t tire. TJ’s has its tropical island shtick, with exotic edibles for those “over-educated and underpaid”, and Corvette is perennially known America’s Sports Car, a car that little boys still dream of owning some day. (Please note here that Barbie has already owned several at this point in time).

In the meantime, Thunderbirds, Vipers and Cobras have come and gone.

The L84 327 V8. Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
The L84 327 V8. Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

The Corvette is a wonderful American success story that shows every sign of continuing.  Mueller’s book covers that full history of Corvette to date within its three hundred plus pages. Like the typical Joe’s meal, this book seems to be the right size. Not too big, like an overwhelming Costco portion, but big enough to fill you up with Corvette.

And, just like TJ’s is able to satisfy your appetite with its limited SKU count, this book has just about all the basics you need to know about Corvette. It has design sketches, tech specs, cutaways, year-by-year option choices, and the insider stories of engineering, design, and politics.

It is the latter that makes the book most appealing. It really focuses on the ‘story’ of Corvette, with its internal political ups and downs, the pressure to make a business case for the car, and the critical engineering decisions determining its course.

This author has been following Corvettes, and writing about them, for a long, long time. He knows many of the colorful personalities behind the car, like Corvette Chief Engineers Dave McLellan, Dave Hill, Tom Wallace, and Tadge Juechter, plus talented stylists including John Cafaro, Tom Peters, Kip Wasenko, and Jerry Palmer.

Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

Author Mueller had great access to GM’s photographic archives for his book. But, he also inserts comments from auto journalists along the way, to make this much more than a corporate-told tale.

Like that ragu sauce, it’s all in there.  Staying true to its title, the book stays on the year-by-year roadmap of the car’s journey, with a by-year directory to options in the appendix.

Sure, there are a number of Corvette books that go down the road of pretty photos, or including more technical details, while others deep dive into certain years, or the topics of buying and restoration.  But this volume gives the reader a great overview all in one place.

The golden thread of continuity in the Corvette story is how it has stuck to its same formula for more than five decades, as has Trader Joe’s.

Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

Corvette has offered the same layout, (almost) since the beginning: a V-8 powered, front engine, rear drive car, coupe and convertible, with the performance to match much higher priced sports cars, while maintaining an “affordable” price.  And they have stuck with it: no AWD, no rear seat, no four-door variant, no turbo four-cylinder option, and no talk of an SUV version.  (Even though the redoubtable Corvette enhancer, Reeves Callaway, actually built a pretty cool looking hatchback “bread van”-style Vette called the “AeroWagon” a few years ago.  -Ed.)

And now, with the performance limit of the front engine configuration having been reached, the Corvette has become mid-engined.  In its eight generation, appropriately called the C8.

Few would say it was a big surprise, as it was forecast with at least fifty years of terrific mid-engined concept cars, all nicely woven into the book, starting with the CERV 1.

Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

The surprise was that they actually did it, while holding “popular pricing” too. Referring to the “Father of the Corvette” and its first Chief Engineer, Zora Duntov, early advocate of mid-engines, “Makin’ the ‘Ol Man’s Dream Come True” is the title of the 2020 chapter describing the newborn machine. Mueller devotes more than a dozen pages to the recently debuted, flagship Chevrolet.

The introduction of the C8 also means that the era of the front-engine Corvette is over. I’m sure some of the fiercely Corvette-loyal will miss it, and perhaps worry about having a space for their golf bags.

Ferrari can offer both front and mid-engined variations, but Corvette needs the higher volume of just one configuration to keep the price in check. The engine location may have changed, but all the other Corvette elements are still there, including many of C7’s Stingray styling cues.

In a way, tweaking the Vette’s formula is like Trader Joe’s practice as well. The Trader Joe’s look stays familiar, but as old favorites are dropped, more trendy items like Indian Korma Fish Curry and Korean Bulgogi Beef have stepped in.  It’s like saying good-bye to the manual, lever shifted transmission, and hello to the double clutching, paddle shifted trans.

Rest assured that my comparison ramblings are not meant to imply that the Corvette is “the Trader Joe’s of cars”. Surely, it is not.  Although each of their customer bases are equally committed and passionate about their respective brands, the demographics and psychographics of each group have very little overlap.

Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020
Photo courtesy of Motorbooks, 2020

Other differences? Corvettes have a long racing history, which is well covered in the book, by the way. Meanwhile, the fastest moving competition entered by Trader Joe’s is annually putting its float in the Pasadena Rose Parade.  And when is the last time you saw a Corvette cruise night gathering in a TJ’s parking lot? Or a Corvette Pumpkin Spice Edition?

But back to the book … I think Mueller did a wonderful job of telling the complete story, a well-balanced, complete banquet of Corvette history, nicely printed on high quality paper, and handsomely bound, at an affordable price. 

Like that certain store’s offerings, and the Corvette itself, the book, with a list price of $55, is a great value. It’s a fine reference and excellent overview of the brand for the Corvette fan* on your holiday gift list. -DT

*which is perfectly alright even if that fan just happens to be you.

Featured photo by Gabe Rebra

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