The 1953 Corvette, the automobile that gave birth to generations of American performance cars. I found this absolutely perfect example at a parking lot car show in Mooresville, North Carolina. Since there were only 300 of these built, that was quite a surprise.
The legend didn’t get off to a good start. Harley Earl, the General Motors Chief Designer got his start doing custom cars for Hollywood stars. That flamboyant Hollywood sense of style, along with plenty of chrome, was a hallmark of GM design for decades. Harley Earl invented the concept car in 1938. but Post war Earl wanted to build a dream car, a two-seat convertible sports car. The idea was to make an American sports car, and make it cheap. So the chassis and running gear was straight out a 1952 Chevrolet sedan. It would be kind to say that performance was not it’s strong point. But GM sold every one they could build and by 1955 the small block V8 came along, and buyers could get manual transmissions instead of the Powerglide.
Unlike most “concept” cars the Corvette was designed from the very beginning to be a production car that could be built for a price. Pushing the cockpit back allowed at 53 / 47 weight distribution which was much better than any other American car at the time. In an effort to improve performance, the compression ratio of the “Blue Flame” inline 6 cylinder engine was increased and triple Carter side draft carburettors were fitted. That got power up to 150 bhp. The higher horsepower caused the engineers some concern about the existing manual transmissions, so Powerglide automatics were the only options for the fist few years of production.
The basic combination of old school chassis sporting a solid rear axle with leaf springs below a fiberglass convertible body was the Corvette trademark until 1963. A decade with just evolutionary changes. The next revolution came about when the new Chief Designer, Bill Mitchell, and one of the great American designers, Larry Shinoda created the second generation Corvette, the Stingray. But that’s another story.