Vette News - Corvette: Milestones & More - C1

Over its 60-odd-year run, the Corvette has largely stuck to its original objective of providing homegrown performance wrapped in a stylish, two-seat package. Its journey has at times been an uncertain one, but now in its seventh generation, it's safe to say the hits have outnumber the misses. Here's our look at the Corvette story from conception to the C7. This is article one in a series of seven.

C-1: 1953 - 1962

1951: Harley Earl, GM's chief designer, drives the Le Sabre concept car to Watkins Glen, where he falls in love with the Jaguar XK120. The wheels begin to turn.

1953: Chevrolet reveals the Corvette dream car on January 17, 1953, at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel, as part of the kickoff to that year's GM Motorama. Named after small, highly maneuverable naval escort ship, the show car is also known as the EX-122. On June 30 of the same year, the first production 1953 Corvette rolls off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. Production is capped at 300 units, all in the now iconic Polo White/Sportsman Red exterior/interior color scheme and powered by the 150-hp, three-carb "Blue Flame" inline-six and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. The only options are a heater and an AM radio.

1954: Corvette production begins at GM's St. Louis, Missouri, facility on January 1. Chevrolet expands the exterior color choices to include Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Black. Beige is added as an interior option. The straight-six engine gets bumped to 155 hp. Just 3640 Corvettes are produced by year's end.

1955: The small block Chevy V-8 makes its first appearance between a Corvette's fiberglass fenders, and a three-speed manual appears as an option. The year closes with the six-cylinder bidding adieu. Production totals 700 units.

1956: Factory-installed removable hardtops are offered for the first time, and the exterior gets exposed headlamps, sculpted side coves, and roll-up windows. Seatbelts make the scene as a dealer-installed option, and one-hundred and eleven buyers drop $188.30 on a high-lift cam (order code: RPO #449). Head Corvette engineer (and future legend) Zora Arkus-Duntov tells the brass to go racing, but his pleas for a racing program fall on deaf corporate ears. Two four-barrel carbs enhance the 265-cubic-inch (4.3-liter) V-8, and our own Karl Ludvigsen (back when we were known as Sports Cars Illustrated) deems the '56 credible: "Without qualification, General Motors is now building a sports car."

1957: The V-8 grows to 283 cubic inches, and can be ordered with fuel injection and a four-speed manual transmission. (Our original June 1957 test says the setup "works very well indeed.") So equipped, the small block produces up to 283 horsepower, propelling the fiberglass wonder to a reported 132 mph. An optional column-mounted tach makes its first appearance on fuelie Vettes.

1958-1962: A redesigned hood with louvered vents and 160-mph speedo appear for 1958, while 1960 brings an aluminum radiator option. 1961 marks the Corvette's first use of four round taillights, and the aluminum radiator becomes standard. That year's mild styling tweaks mean the exhaust no longer exits through the bodywork. The engine grows to 327 cubic inches (5.4 liters) in 1962, which was also the last year for the solid rear axle and (until the C6) exposed headlamps. We note in our 1962 test that "rear-axle bounce is a problem on standing starts, in spite of the torque arms above the axle."

Credits: Internet article/series by Andrew Wendler and Kevin Wilson

Submitted by Phil Ellison