This article is about the first generation Chevrolet Corvette (C1). For general Corvette information, see Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette (C1) is the first generation of the sports car by the Chevrolet division of General Motors introduced late in the 1953 model year and produced through 1962. It is commonly referred to as the "solid-axle" generation, as the independent rear suspension did not appear until the 1963 Sting Ray. The Corvette was rushed into production for its debut model year to capitalize on the enthusiastic public reaction to the concept vehicle, but expectations for the new model were largely unfulfilled. Reviews were mixed and sales fell far short of expectations through the car's early years. The program was nearly canceled, but Chevrolet would ultimately stay the course and Harley Earl and company would transform the Corvette into a true world-class sports car.
In 1927 General Motors hired designer Harley Earl who loved sports cars. GIs returning after serving overseas in the years following World War II were bringing home MGs, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, and the like. In 1951, Nash Motors began selling an expensive two-seat sports car, the Nash-Healey, that was made in partnership with the Italian designer Pinin Farina and British auto engineer Donald Healey, but there were few moderate-priced models. Earl convinced GM that they needed to build a two-seat sports car, and with his Special Projects crew began working on the new car, "Project Opel" in late 1951. The result was the hand-built, EX-122 pre-production Corvette prototype, which was first shown to the public at the 1953 GM Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on January 17, 1953. Production began six months later. The car is now located at the Kerbeck Corvette museum in Atlantic City and is believed to be the oldest Corvette in existence.
Design and engineering
During the last half of 1953, 300 Corvettes were to large degree hand-built on a makeshift assembly line that was installed in an old truck plant in Flint, Michigan while a factory was being prepped for a full-scale 1954 production run. The outer body was made out of then-revolutionary fiberglass material, selected in part because quotas, left over from the war, limited the availability of steel. A 55 degree raked windshield was made of safety glass, while the license plate holder was set back in the trunk, covered with a plastic window. Underneath the new body material were standard components from Chevrolet's regular car line, including the "Blue Flame" inline six-cylinder engine, two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, and drum brakes. The engine's output was increased however from a triple-carburetor system exclusive to the Corvette, but performance of the car was decidedly "lackluster". Compared to the British and Italian sports cars of the day, the Corvette lacked a manual transmission and required more effort to bring to a stop, but like their British competition, such as Morgan, was not fitted with roll-up windows; this would have to wait until sometime in the 1956 model year. A Paxton centrifugal supercharger became available in 1954 as a dealer-installed option, greatly improving the Corvette's straight-line performance, but sales continued to decline.
The Chevrolet division was GM's entry-level marque. Managers at GM were seriously considering shelving the project, leaving the Corvette to be little more than a footnote in automotive history, and would have done so if not for three important events. The first was the 1955 introduction of Chevrolet's first V8 engine since 1919. Late in the model year, the new 195 hp (145 kW) 265 small-block became available with a three-speed manual transmission, coupled to a 3.55:1 axle ratio, the only one offered. The engine was fitted with a single 2366S WCFB four-barrel (four-choke) Carter carburetor. The combination turned the "rather anemic Corvette into a credible if not outstanding performer". The second was the influence of a Russian émigré in GM's engineering department, Zora Arkus-Duntov. The third factor in the Corvette's survival was Ford's introduction of the 1955 two-seat Thunderbird, which was billed as a "personal luxury car", not a sports car. Even so, the Ford-Chevrolet rivalry in those days demanded GM not appear to back down from the challenge. The original concept for the Corvette emblem incorporated an American flag into the design, but was changed well before production since associating the flag with a product was frowned upon.
1953–1955 (See Wikipedia)
Chevrolet Corvette Transistorized "Hybrid" Car Radio-1956 option
1957 Corvette Convertible with fuel injection
There was no doubt Chevrolet was in the sports car business with the release of the 1956 model. It featured a new body, a much better convertible top with power assist optional, real glass roll up windows (also with optional power assist), and an optional hardtop. The 3-speed manual transmission was standard. The Powerglide automatic was optional. The six-cylinder engine was gone. The V8 remained at 265 cubic inches but power ranged from 210 hp to 240 hp. The volume was 3,167, a low number by any contemporary standard and still less than 1954's 3,640, meaning this was the third lowest-volume model in Corvette history. Rare options: RPO 449 special camshaft with the 240 hp engine (111), power windows (547).Delco Radio transistorized signal-seeking (hybrid) car radio, which used both vacuum tubes and transistors in its radio's circuitry (1956 option).
Visually the 1957 model was a near-twin to 1956. Engine displacement increased to 283 cu in (4.6 L), fuel injection became optional, and a 4-speed manual transmission was available after April 9, 1957. Fuel injection first saw regular use on a gasoline engine two years prior on the Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing". Although the Corvette's GM-Rochester injection used a constant flow system, as opposed to the diesel style nozzle metering system of the Mercedes', the Corvette's engine nevertheless produced about 290 hp (216 kW) (gross). This was underrated by Chevrolet's advertising agency for the 283 hp (211 kW) 283 small-block V8 one hp per in³ slogan, making it one of the first mass-produced engines in history to reach 1 hp/in³. Pushed toward high-performance and racing, principally by Zora Arkus-Duntov who had raced in Europe, 1957 Corvettes could be ordered ready-to-race with special options. Fuel injection was in short supply and 1,040 Corvettes with this option were sold. Rare options: RPO 579E 283 hp (211 kW) engine with fresh air/tach package (43), RPO 684 heavy-duty racing suspension (51), 15" x 5.5" wheels (51), power windows (379), 4-speed transmission (664).