The Corvette arrived in the US in the early 1950s as a response to the popularity of European sports cars, so loved by US military personnel who began to ship them en masse from Europe after World War II.
This legendary rear-wheel-drive muscle car appeared at the 1953 New York Auto Show. Its serial production, initially, was not planned, as the Chevrolet Corvette was presented as a show car. The very first roadster model was produced at the Flint, Michigan plant on June 30, 1953. However, the close attention of visitors forced the management of General Motors to reconsider their plans and in the first year, three hundred two-door two-seater convertibles were produced. Remarkably, every 1953 Chevrolet Corvette was hand-built and produced in white with red trim.
A wide interest in sports cars from Europe made Harley Earl, head of General Motors Corporation’s design department, dream about them. On the other hand, as a father to college students, he witnessed how American youth was crazy about European sports coupes. Earl knew it was time for an affordable vehicle for careless and post-war young people. The designers were asked to create a sporty, easy-to-drive, and maintain roadster, and cheap to be affordable for any student. The first sketches of a short-wheelbase roadster were created from a standard Chevrolet. Finally, design engineer Robert McLean figured out to move the engine 180 mm back and lower it by almost 80 mm. The result was a low silhouette of the car and an axle load distribution similar to European sports cars. To not increase the cost of the project, they took units and assemblies from cars that were in production and started creating a full-size plasticine model. In 1952, the prototype was introduced to GM President Harlow Curtis, Chevrolet division general manager Tom Keating, and new chief engineer Ed Cole. The project was immediately approved. Keating commissioned Ed Cole to make the landing gear as soon as it was possible to introduce the car at the Motorama GM exhibition in 1953. However, the decision to launch the series was postponed until the public reaction to the new model was known. After 10 days, a preliminary design of the chassis, code-named “Opel”, very close to the final decision, was ready.
The Chevrolet engine for a sports car was weak, and it had to be modified: they put in a new camshaft and valve lifters, increased the compression ratio, and installed a new carburetor. After installing an aluminum intake tract and twin silencers, the power of the power unit rose from 105 to 152 horsepower. The transmission was also revised. As a result, the automatic transmission “Powerglide” with a lever on the floor was installed as standard. The body for the demo version was made from fiberglass, a recent introduction and very suitable for piece production.
Source: Mecum Auctions
On the Motorama of 1953, the Corvette was a resounding success, and the Chevrolet administration began to think about putting it into mass production. By autumn, Chevrolet’s management realized all the advantages of fiberglass bodies, and the decision to create a department for the production of this model at the Flint plant was finally made. The serial car almost did not differ from the exhibition sample. The exception was the increased side moldings. The 1953 model received a fiberglass body that was mounted on a tubular frame, a 3.8-liter six-cylinder inline engine with 152 horsepower with triple carburetors, higher compression, solid lifters, and a high lift camshaft, and a two-speed automatic transmission Powerglide gear. All 1953 cars were painted white and had a base price of $3,513. The appearance and design of the newly-launched sports car were the most innovative. The designer Harley Earl, known as the founder of the legendary fin theme in car design, did everything in his power to apply aerodynamic styling to this model. The car of the 1953 release had no handles on the doors, the glass was without a window, and the wings behind it gracefully shimmered into graceful fins. Inside, everything was no less attractive: the instrument panel looked very compact, and most of the gauges were located directly in front of the driver. The 3-spoke steering wheel was another breakthrough. No wonder, the first Corvette model today is very rare and desirable for collectors: about 200 hundred are still in private collections around the world. Remarkably, VCC owned production 299 and sold it before it came out of the paint spray booth. The approximate cost for a 1953 Corvette at the moment is $180,000.
GM made a limited collection of the first Corvettes with a unique fighter jet-like canopy from a transparent top. These models were owned by Eugene Kettering, chief engineer of GM’s Electro-Motive Division and son of GM engineer Charles Kettering. Others included Dwight H. Green, former governor of Illinois, and R. H. McWilliams, president of the Royal Crown Bottling Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri.
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