The Rearview Mirror: The First, and Nearly Last, Chevrolet Corvette

The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette Motorama display auto.

Due to the fact the eighth technology Chevrolet Corvette debuted in 2019, it cultivated a newfound regard between car or truck enthusiasts and the typical public.

Many thanks to its new mid-engine layout, the latest iteration gives effectiveness that meets or beats the world’s mightiest tremendous autos at a portion of their rate. In that regard, it is actually a Chevrolet.

And it debuted its very first appeared 69 decades in the past this 7 days. But it just about did not endure.

It all began in Manhattan

The Chevrolet Corvette’s story begins right after Planet War II, when Typical Motors set on its to start with show of cars, the 1947 Motorama exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Technological know-how.

The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette concept motor vehicle debuts at Common Motors’ 1953 Motorama at the 1953 Walfdorf-Astoria in New York City.

The organization would extend the notion two decades later at “Transportation Unlimited” a similar show held at the Waldorf-Astoria Resort in New York City, and renamed the “Mid-Century Motorama” the subsequent calendar year. But the Korean War prevented GM from hosting it in 1951 or 1952. It was revived for 1953, opening in New York Town in January ahead of going on to Miami in February, Los Angeles in April, San Francisco and Dallas in May perhaps, in advance of wrapping up in Kansas Metropolis in June. 

Admission was cost-free, irrespective of the reality that the show cost GM a lot more than $5 million to make, or $58.1 million when altered for inflation. And that does not incorporate the charge of the principle vehicles, 1 of which was none other than the Chevrolet Corvette.

A growing market place for sports activities vehicles

The idea for the Chevrolet Corvette occured in 1951, when Harley Earl took the 1951 GM LeSabre notion motor vehicle to a sports car race in Watkins Glen. Earl knew sports autos ended up gaining in attractiveness, as young American consumers were snapping up MGs, Alfa Romeos and Jaguars.

Harley J. Earl and the 1951 LeSabre Idea that he drove to Watkins Glen, N.Y.

The only major American automaker providing 1 was Nash. But the 1951 Nash-Healey was an amalgamation of a Nash Ambassador driveline put in on an English Healey chassis with a system built and crafted in Italy by Pinin Farina. Other reduced-volume American producers were being in the marketplace as perfectly, which include Cunningham, Kurtis and Crosley. Earl realized he had to make a go.

Harley Earl’s desire

Developed below the moniker “Opel Passenger Auto Enhancement Challenge,” it was made to be as affordable as attainable, working with as numerous existing Chevrolet factors as attainable. The car’s proportions mirrored individuals of its continental opponents, as did its details. It lacked door handles and roll-up home windows, utilizing snap-in aspect curtains as a substitute.

In spring 1952, Chevrolet’s chief engineer, Ed Cole, Division Normal Manager Thomas Keating, and GM Executive Vice President Harlow Curtice took a glance at the new strategy motor vehicle, now identified as the EX-122. They agreed it would the Chevrolet aspiration car for the 1953 Motorama, with output to begin as before long as probable just after the exhibit.

Only 300 Corvettes were being built for the 1953 product calendar year as complications with the fiberglass bodies hindered creation.

The restricted deadlines demanded that car’s human body be created from fiberglass, relatively than conventional steel. Myron Scott, Chevy PR’s assistant director, settled on the identify Corvette, a course of little, rapid British warships.

A star is born, but not yet

In January 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette at the 1953 Motorama, with predictable results. Its reputation was so solid, VP Curtice introduced on the show’s next working day that GM would start off creation in June. They designed it, but just scarcely.

On June 30, 1953, generation began in Flint, Michigan, with anticipations of selling 10,000 units. But top quality complications with the fiberglass fabrication torpedoed that estimate. A mere 300 were being manufactured that to start with yr, not only because of fabrication challenges, but also because GM flubbed its marketing.

By the conclusion of 1954, only 1,000 Corvettes experienced been crafted since 1953, and GM pretty much killed it.

Chevrolet limited the car’s availability to VIP consumers. The outcome was that of the extra than 1 million Motorama people who saw the car, only 180 could acquire a person. Even if you could, the Corvette’s $3,490 (or $36,580 today) value price a lot more than a 1953 Cadillac Collection 62 convertible.

Certainly the younger consumer the vehicle was aimed at could not afford a single, while the purchaser who could chosen to have door handles and roll-up home windows, not to point out ample electrical power to overtake a Buick Century, which it couldn’t many thanks to its 150-horsepower “Blue Flame” inline 6-cylinder engine and 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.

GM throws a party but no one demonstrates

It all took a toll on the Corvette’s income. 

The 1955 Ford Thunderbird’s arrival persuaded GM executives to preserve the Corvette.

GM lifted its misguided restricted availability, anticipating profits to decide on up. They even moved Corvette assembly to St. Louis, in which the plant could develop 50 cars and trucks a working day. But the automaker was compelled to cut manufacturing. No matter what consumer enthusiasm GM had stoked swiftly cooled. By the end of 1954, only 700 had been developed. 

There was converse of dropping the motor vehicle, which proved to be an anathema to style chief Earl. 

But then arrived the 1955 Detroit Car Display in January 1955. It was a new design from Ford and it would adjust the equation: the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.

A new model can take flight

The Thunderbird task started in 1952, when Frank Hershey, Ford’s layout main, been given a photograph from a good friend at GM Style and design of the forthcoming Corvette thought vehicle. 

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Without the need of Ford’s 1955 Thunderbird, there wouldn’t be a 2023 Corvette.

“I flipped due to the fact it intended they were being heading to have some thing we did not have,” he recalled in the reserve, “Fins” by William Knoedelseder. “I experienced the authority to do no matter what I needed to, and I experienced an excess area, so I bought an XK-120 Jag, took the very same wheelbase, and roughed out a auto.”

Hershey hid the undertaking from higher management, who could not justify funding a automobile whose sector was approximated to be a mere 12,000 models per year at finest. But with the arrival of the Corvette, Ford executives agreed that the Thunderbird was wanted to challenge the Corvette. 

What emerged was a motor vehicle that went further than remaining basically a sports vehicle. It experienced additional course and consolation, and V-8 electrical power. And it would go on to market more than 16,000 models in its very first year — considerably extra than the 4,640 Corvettes did in a few. 

Ironically, the Thunderbird’s arrival convinced GM that it shouldn’t get rid of the Corvette, it must improve it. It verify to be its savior, not its executioner as Ford had hoped.

Shortly, the Corvette would acquire its 1st V-8 motor, the begin of a by no means-ending sequence of advancements and impressive styling that would at some point entrench it as America’s sports activities auto and deliver the 2022 C8 Corvette.