Happy Birthday, Corvette!
The first public display of Harley J. Earl’s dream car – the Corvette – was in January of 1953 at the GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Based on enormously favorable public reaction, the Corvette went into production barely six months later, in Flint, Michigan, with the first car being completed on June 30.
All of the cars were Polo White with a red interior and black canvas convertible top. While two equipment options were listed for the Corvette, all were actually shipped with the AM radio and heater. The first Corvette drivetrain consisted of a 235 CI “Blue Flame” inline 6-cylinder engine, 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission and solid rear axle.
Despite the 150 HP, 6-cylinder engine, entirely respectable 0-60 MPH times of 11-seconds were recorded, with a top speed around 105 and 17.9 seconds in the quarter mile. With an independent front suspension and sway bar, conventional leaf spring rear suspension and curb weight of 2850 pounds, the Corvette was also found to handle reasonably well.
Unfortunately, it all went rather soft when it came to body assembly quality. There were a total of 46 fiberglass components that had to be fitted using wood jigs to create subassemblies. Fiberglass molding has come a long way since that time, so it should be no surprise that physical variation in the subcontractor-supplied base components was an issue.
Between the assembly quality issues and a major marketing blunder by General Motors, the Corvette would face a number of challenging, even threatening, years ahead. According to some, the only thing that saved the Corvette in those troubled times was the introduction of the two-seater Thunderbird by Ford.
By the time the second generation Corvette emerged, the Corvette’s long-standing future was assured, but Chevrolet had paid a price for attempting to turn a concept car into a production car in just six months.