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Chevrolet Corvette C1 1953-1962

1953 was the first year the Corvette was produced, originally envisioned by Harley Earl, the Corvette was Chevy's first entrance in the 1953 GM Motorama. The GM Motorama was GM's "dream car" show and had been used in the past to showcase the new Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and Buick. Chevrolet had been shunned from the show because it was percieved as a car for the masses and didn't need a show. Earl had decided that the Corvette could be built using parts from existing passenger cars. It was decided that the Motorama car would be built from fiberglass because of the ease of manufacture and the production car would be built from steel. Originally the Corvette was to be a 1954 model, because of the popularity at the Motorama show it was decided to start production early.

Robert Morrison had inherited a small fiberglass reinforced plastics factory in the early 50's. He met with GM purchasing agent Carl Klein on February 5, 1953 to talk about producing the Corvette parts in fiberglass. After meeting with Chevy engineers at his plant Carl thought that they might have a deal. After not hearing from them for two weeks he got a phone call setting up a meeting to plan the production of 12,300 sets of the 103 parts needed for each Corvette. Due to a scheduling mix-up the men he was supposed to meet were not there. When he was leaving he met Elmer Gormsman getting off the elevator, Elmer was the boss of the two men who weren't there and hadn't been told about the decision to use fiberglass over steel. He told Morrison that Chevrolet had made the decision to go with steel for the Corvette. After a long night Morrison arrived home at around 1:30 AM, his wife told him someone from Chevy had called and to call anytime he got home. It was Gormsman, he told Morrison to rent the empty building he had been looking at so they could start manufacturing the first Corvette.

Harley Earl wanted to use a V-8 from Cadillac, Oldsmobile or Pontiac but none of them would allow Chevrolet to use one of their engines. The standard Blue Flame Special six cylinder engine produced a meager 115 horsepower. Harry Barr had joined the Chevy team from working on the Cadillac V-8, he started work on the Blue Flame Special. By adding mechanical valve lifters, a new aluminum intake manifold for three Carter carburetor and a split exhaust manifold leading to split exhaust pipes at the back. All these improvements got the Blue Flame Special up to 150 horsepower, a far cry from the competition Jaguar's 180 horsepower.

Only 315 1953 Corvettes were built and all had the same options. The first production car ever made with a fiberglass body. Each one was basically hand built. Because of the passenger car heritage of most of the parts handling and performance left something to be desired. The styling was well recieved but the 6-cylinder Blue Flame Special engine only produced 150 horsepower and the two-speed automatic transmission wasn't what sports car enthusiasts were looking for. 301 1953 Corvettes were built in Flint, Michigan at a temporary facility in the rear of Chevrolet's customer delivery garage on Van Slyke Ave.

The first 50 cars were delivered to hand-picked celebrities, athletes and corporate executives. When the other 250 cars became available, Chevy found there weren't 250 more A-List buyers who wanted to pay a high price for such a crude car. Water leaks from the windshield and top and the performance didn't rate for such an expensive car. Production of the 1953 Corvette in Flint ended on December 24, 1953 with a total of 315 Corvettes, all Polo White.

Production started in the new St. Louis plant December 28th 1953, Corvette would be built in this plant until 1981. The last 14 1953 Corvettes were built in the new plant before January 1st. 1953 production ended at 315 total cars.
Zora Arkus-Duntov had been hired by Chevrolet and joined the Corvette staff during 1953. He had seen the Corvette at the Motorama show and wanted to work on it. He started in on the Corvette as soon as he could. One of the changes modified the camshaft to get the Blue Flame Special up to 155 horsepower. During the 1954 production two new colors were introduced, black and Sportsman Red, all corvettes still had red interiors. Later in the year Pennant Blue Corvettes showed up as well. More advertising produced more buyers but even though Chevy built 3,640 they only sold 2,780 during 1954.

During 1954 the major complaint about Corvette was the lack of horsepower. Ed Cole had been hired from the Caddilac division and conviced Chevrolet brass that a new 265 cubic inch V-8 was needed. After hiring hundreds of engineers bringing his staff to over 2,900. They had a new engine designed and running in 15 weeks.

1955 Corvettes didn't change much, the new engine wasn't ready and money wasn't available for new body or interior changes. Pennant Blue was replaced with Harvest Gold and Sportsman Red became Gypsy Red. Near the end of 1954 the engineering team installed the new engine in the original engineering development car 002. After taking it out for 25,000 flawless miles of driving. After the testing it was decided to use the new engine in the 1955 Corvette with the two-speed powerglide as well as a new 3-speed manual. The new engine dropped 0-60 times by a full 3 seconds to 8.0 seconds in late 1955 cars with the 3-speed transmission.

Ford announced it's new Thunderbird sports car in March 1954 for delivery in September. It had 160 horsepower, roll-up windows and was made of steel. It was also priced at $2,695. By the end of 1955 Ford had sold 16,155 Thunderbirds while the 1955 Corvette production was halted in mid-year after only 700 Corvetts were built some including the 3-speed transmission. The Corvette was on the line and the thing that saved it was the Ford Thunderbird, Alfred Sloan and the GM board decided that there was a market for Corvette because the Thunderbird had sold so well. They just needed to get the car right.

For 1956, Jaguar was no longer the competitor. Mercedes had introduced the SL which inspired Clare MacKichan. Stylist Bob Cadaret added bulges to the hood, MacKichan thought they said "power". They also added a long scallop along the side of the car inspired by Cadillac La Salle Dream Car. 1956 Corvettes got roll-up windows (power available), outside door handles and an optional power lift for the convertible top. This was about the time that Zora wrote the memo that had woken up Chevrolet, he wanted to include performance parts as regular production options (R.P.O.). He had been reading sports car magazines and all they talked about was the Ford performance options. With the new V-8 engine, which weighed 45 pounds less than the Blue Flame Special, handling and performance were coming together for Corvette. The V-8 was also shorter and lower which also improved handling. Two versions of the V-8 were available. A single carbureter version with 210 horsepower and a dual-carb with 225 horsepower. A significant change at Ford moved the Thunderbird towards the "personal" car market and away from the sports car market.

1957 increased the cylinder bore from 265 cubic inches to 283. Three versions were available, the base dual-carb version with 245 horsepower, a 270 horsepower version and a 283 horsepower version using the new RamJet Fuel Injection. The fuel injected cars are now known as "Fuelies". In May of 1957 a four-speed transmission was made available, most "Fuelies" were not built until the 4-speed was available although 1,040 cars were built with the fuel injection while 664 were built with the 4-speed. Road and Track tested the "Fuelie" and recorded 0-60 times of 5.7 seconds. The Corvette body was not changed much for 1957 because of resource availabity. Corvette was changing internally and other Chevy cars and trucks were getting body changes, the big changes planned for Corvettes body had to wait until 1958.

During this time racing had been getting a bad reputation becase of a series of horrific crashes. GM Chairman Harlow Curtice proposed a ban on "participation in automobile racing or other competitive events involving tests of speed". Every large car manufacturer signed on. Although GM signed on it still produced 51 Corvettes in 1957 and 144 in 1958 with RPO 684. It included heavy-duty brakes and suspension as well as ducting for the front and rear brakes to direct fresh air over them for cooling.

1958 was a quick face-lift on the earlier model. Design for a radically new car had progressed to the clay model stage but was scrapped. The car grew 9.2 inches in length and 2.3 inches in width. The new bumpers were actually attached to the frame of the car giving true protection. Acrylic lacquers replaced the nitrocellulose paints and the dash was redesiged to put all the gauges in front of the driver. New chrome and trim pieces were added to the hood and trunk. A new version of the fuel injected engine increased horsepower to 290. Even though GM was fully participating in the AMA racing ban customers could still order a car that could compete directly from the factory. Jim Jeffords was an advertising executive and ordered a Corvette with all the racing options. He painted the car purple and named it the "Purple People Eater" after a popular song. He won the SCCA B-production championship with the car.

On December 1st 1958 Bill Mitchell took over as Vice President of styling from Harley Earl. He removed much of the trim on the trunk and the louvers for the 1959 Corvette. Corvettes base price for 1959 climbed to $3,875.

The basic body was carried over to 1960 while Zora continued to come up with new options that made the Corvette go faster, stop faster and go around corners like a real race car.

1961 and 1962 brought bigger engines and body refinements but the big change would come in 1963 with the introduction of the C2.
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