The catalytic converter was developed in the early 70's when severe air pollution was prevalent, but wasn't made mandatory by the US government until 1976. The catalytic converter or "cat" for short is one of your Corvettes main emission control devices. The name was derived from the operation the catalytic converter performs; it utilizes a catalyst and converts the unburned gases to burned gases, hence the name "catalytic converter". The catalyst is heated to excite the chemical (the catalyst its made of); this burns the unburned fuel making the catalyst even hotter furthering the effect (thermo reactor). In effect, the cat is an “afterburner”. Depending on the year, make and model of the car, the catalytic converter location can vary. On some vehicles the catalytic converter is built in to the exhaust manifold while others (like Corvettes that have dual exhausts) may have multiple catalytic converters.  The outside of a catalytic converter looks just like a car muffler. It is sort of oblong with an aluminum outer cove which houses a catalyst. This catalyst is usually made up of small pieces of palladin, a heat-reactive element that turns glowing hot when heated. As exhaust gas exits a catalytic converter and flows toward the car's tailpipe, the vehicle emissions are much lower than they were before entering the catalytic converter. Due to the heating and re-igniting effects of the catalyst elements on the exhaust gases, much of the unburned or improperly burned fuel is burned in the catalytic converter and prevented from exiting the car's tailpipe into the outside air. This greatly reduces vehicle emissions. All cars equipped with catalytic converters require the use of unleaded gas only. The catalyst elements inside a catalytic converter are highly sensitive and can be damaged by gas that contains lead.
Typical exterior appearance of a catalytic converter.