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The American Sports Car

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  • The American Sports Car

    The highlight of the General Motors Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on January 17, 1953 was the EX-122 prototype concept vehicle. The outer body was made out of a then-revolutionary, experimental glass fiber reinforced plastic material (purely as an expedient to get the job done quickly, in order to get a car rolling for chassis development work).

    The Corvette was rushed into production for its debut model year to capitalize on the enthusiastic public reaction to the pre-production show car and just six-months later, Chevrolet introduced the new sports car on June 30, 1953, late in the model year. You could order any color you wanted, as long as it was Polo White.

    Designers were actually concentrating body design on a steel body for the projected production of 10,000 units during the 1954 model year. It was some time later that management realized the practicality of fabricating reinforced plastic body parts for automobiles on a large scale and decided to manufacture the car in this material for production quantities.

    Only 300 units were produced and each car was hand-built on a makeshift assembly line that was installed in an old truck plant in Flint, Michigan. Techniques evolved during the manufacturing cycle, so that each car is slightly different.

    To keep costs down, GM mandated off-the-shelf mechanical components, and used the chassis and suspension design from the 1949-1953 Chevrolet passenger vehicles. So, underneath the new body material were standard components from Chevrolet's regular car line, including a rigid "solid-axle" rear end supported by longitudinal leaf springs for suspension and drum brakes.

    Engineers used the 235 cu. in. "Blue Flame" inline six-cylinder engine, but increased the standard 136 hp output to 150 hp with; a higher-compression ratio, three Carter side-draft carburetors, mechanical lifters, and a higher-lift camshaft, that were exclusive to the Corvette. Because there was currently no manual transmission available to Chevrolet rated to handle 150 horsepower, a two-speed Powerglide automatic was used.

    Unfortunately, expectations for the new model were largely unfulfilled. The quality of the fiberglass body as well as its fit and finish was lacking and was not fitted with roll-up windows. Although the engine's output was increased, performance of the car was decidedly "lackluster" and without a manual transmission, it was not what sports car enthusiasts expected. Reviews were mixed and sales fell far short of expectations.

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  • #2
    I've driven other sports cars from that era (english and italian), and the C1 was equal with all of them, not just that but you could put an Olds V8 in them and knock the socks off the competition through brute hp (130 hp)....

    Anyone else tired of magazines being the last word on this stuff? their bias comes through as 'reporting' when the facts are often not even in the same country. The Corvette has been eating imports lunch for decades now - but all you hear is they're cheap inside.... which, from an English sports car perspective (or italian for that matter) isn't a bad thing since you spend so much time sitting in them waiting for the tow truck.....

    So here it is: the world according to SBG.

    English cars, sometimes, handle very well but will continue to rust even though their undersides are bathed in oil. Thankfully the electronics will die long before they break in half with rust.
    German cars, the only manufacturers on the planet who make fastidious their marketing response. Their stuff breaks frequently due to needless complexity. The German response is "but we're precise".... yeah, they surgically removed your financial stability.
    Italian cars make the owners the alpha tester, then come out with a new design rather then a Beta.
    Japanese cars - it baffles me how they can proclaim reliability when their stuff is nothing more then recycled beer cans and stolen tech.

    And none of this will you ever see in the magazines who convinced you that germans were reliable, that japanese were clever, and that the english were quirky..... none of these things are wrong for a people, but utterly suck when they're included in your car purchase.
    Last edited by SuperBuickGuy; June 10th, 2019, 09:00 AM.
    silver_bullet likes this.
    Doing it all wrong since 1966


    • #3
      The 1954 Corvette began production in December, 1953 and Chevrolet built the first fourteen or fifteen in Flint, Michigan, while they shifted production to a newly renovated and equipped assembly plant in St Louis, Missouri. The new factory was designed to produce more than 10,000 Corvettes a year.

      There were not any body design changes from 1953, but the use of a new camshaft increased total engine horsepower to 155 bhp and three new external paint colors were available; Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red and Black, in addition to Polo White. Order forms listed several options, but they were all "mandatory", so all 1954 Corvettes were equipped the same.

      However, negative customer reaction in 1953 and early released 1954 models caused sales to plummet. Only 3,640 were built in 1954 and at year’s end the division found itself with a surplus of 1,500 cars still sitting, unsold, in dealerships across the country.

      Despite the initial, overwhelmingly positive response to the Corvette at the 1953 Motorama, it was becoming clear that Chevrolet’s sports car experiment was a failure. It wasn’t long before the rumors began circulating the Corvette was on the verge of extinction as corporate management argued about the car’s commercial viability.

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      • #4
        The Chevrolet division was General Motors entry-level marque and GM managers were seriously considering discontinuing the Corvette project indefinitely, and would have done so, if not for one thing, emerging from the unlikeliest of places - the Ford Motor Company.

        Historically, it is well known that General Motors and Ford Motor Company have always shared more than a friendly rivalry. In many instances, the actions of one company were often guided, sometimes even dictated, by the actions of the other. So it was with the Chevrolet Corvette.

        Ford Motor Company introduced the Thunderbird on September 23, 1954 and this car, like the Corvette, was a two-seater that was being marketed as more of a “personal car” than an actual “sports car”. Thunderbird had a lot of personality and flair. It was a car that had handsome lines, and came standard with a V-8 engine and the option for either a manual or an automatic transmission. Compared to the competition, the Ford Thunderbird was plush, and far more luxuriously appointed – yet still managed to carry a price tag less expensive than the Corvette. Ford had planned out their new model with painstaking effort, and the results would show in their numbers.

        General Motor’s corporate pride was on the line. While there had been some question as to the long term viability of the Corvette, the arrival of the Thunderbird ended any discussions of terminating Chevrolet’s sports car. Instead, fueled by the natural competitiveness between the two companies, General Motors executives and engineers were bound and determined to let the Corvette become the car it was meant to be.

        The 1955 introduction of Chevrolet's new 265 cu. in. V8 small-block engine, fitted with a single Rochester four-barrel carburetor, capable of 195 hp at 5,000 rpm and 260 lbs. ft. at 3,000 rpm. The inclusion of a short-stroke crankshaft allowed the engine to rev to 6,000 rpm, then, in the middle of the production year, a manual 3-speed transmission became available and coupled with the 3.55:1 axle ratio, the combination turned the rather "anemic" Corvette into a credible, outstanding performer.

        Despite all this, with a large inventory of unsold 1954 models, GM limited production to 700 units for 1955 (of these, only 674 were actually sold). As a whole, 1955 marked a pivotal year for the Corvette, despite the fact that sales continued to be an overwhelming failure.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by SuperBuickGuy View Post
          I've driven other sports cars from that era (english and italian), and the C1 was equal with all of them, not just that but you could put an Olds V8 in them and knock the socks off the competition through brute hp (130 hp)....

          Anyone else tired of magazines being the last word on this stuff? their bias comes through as 'reporting' when the facts are often not even in the same country. The Corvette has been eating imports lunch for decades now - but all you hear is they're cheap inside.
          You might believe I don't like the Corvette from the content of my posts, but that's not true. Actually, it is the only vintage vehicle I own from the last century, but facts are the facts.

          One of the biggest on-going issues that faced the early Corvette had nothing to do with the mechanical, structural or cosmetic short-comings of the car itself, at least not directly. The bigger issue was an indirect combination of all these items and the general public perception of the car as a whole.

          Simply put, Corvette was not a pure "sports car". Some considered it a boulevard tourer that lacked the performance and handling of a true, out-and-out roadster. Purists sneered at the automatic 2-speed transmission and the limited performance of the six cylinder engine, especially when comparable cars offered a V-8 and a 4-speed manual transmission for less money.

          In the October 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics there was an extensive survey of Corvette owners in America. The surprising finding was their opinions in comparison to foreign sports cars. It was found that 36% of those taking the survey had owned a foreign sports car, and of that, half of them rated the Corvette as better than their previous foreign sports car. Nineteen percent rated the Corvette as equal to their foreign sports car and 22% rated the Corvette as inferior. While many were well pleased with the Corvette, they did not consider it as a true sports car. The principal complaint of the surveyed owners was the tendency of the body to leak extensively during rain storms.


          • #6
            There was no doubt Chevrolet was in the sports car business with the release of the 1956 model, which featured a newly designed 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 and the Powerglide automatic was optional. The six-cylinder engine was gone and the V8 power increased to 240 hp with an upgraded special camshaft.

            The bodyside "Coves", elliptical concave section at the rear of the lower bodysides that was swept back from the front wheel wells, were areas which gave the Corvette a truly unique styling personality and would eventually be recognized as signature trademarks of the Corvette.

            While the body styling of the 1953-1955 Corvettes had led the car to become mockingly called “the plastic bathtub”, this new look helped to correct the long, blocky look of the original design Corvette body and gave the new design an aggressive look and flow that was clean and attractive. To further accentuate the overall styling of the car, the coves were outlined in chrome and were often painted a different color than the rest of the car.

            Many criticisms of the first generation body style was that the headlight screens gave the Corvette’s face a veiled look, which was considered inappropriate for a “man’s” car, and the 1956 Corvette design corrected this issue by bringing the headlights forward and uncovering them.

            Rear end styling revisions to the Corvette were also performed. The 1953-1955 fenders and jet-pod tail lamps were minimized to more attractive French curves contoured to match the rear deck curvature. New taillights were neatly added above a vertical bumperette on each fender. The trunklid “shadow box” was discarded and the license plate was moved to below the trunk opening. In all, the result was a smooth, gently curved backend with slightly protruding fenders.

            Finally, Corvette began to emerge with growing acceptance from both consumers and critics alike. The consensus was that Chevrolet had finally presented a Corvette that was no longer “half finished” but rather offered genuine sports car performance with smart new styling and a full compliment of options and amenities. Enthusiast magazines generally praised the new Corvette, stating that it’s manual shifter was race worthy and that the car’s handling was “good to excellent compared to other cars in it’s class”.

            There was no doubt that the true American sports car had come of age and a total of 3,467 Corvettes rolled off the line that year.

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            • #7
              In the period of just two short years, Corvette had evolved from a car that was facing the very serious threat of extinction to one that showed real promise for a long and healthy life. While General Motors still recorded only modest sales of the Chevrolet Corvette in 1956, it was apparent to everyone that it was also beginning to be taken seriously as a sports car.

              Even after the immense structural, physical and mechanical facelift it received in 1956, Corvette saw some major improvements in 1957. Visually the 1957 model was a near-twin to 1956, but things got serious in the performance department.

              The engine was bored out 1/8-inch (to 3.875 inches), which increased displacement to 283 cu. in. with a range of power options; 220 horsepower (250bhp) when coupled with a four-barrel carburetor, dual four-barrels took it to 245 horsepower (270bhp) and customers could now also purchase GM-Rochester division's newly developed “Ramjet” fuel injection system, which yielded 259 horsepower (290 bhp).

              Available as early as April 9, 1957 a 4-speed manual transmission was available, which was essentially the existing three-speed Borg-Warner transmission with the reverse gear moved into the tailshaft housing to make room for a fourth forward speed.

              “Positraction” was Chevy’s new limited slip differential, another, separate option that was available with several different final-drive rear axle ratios which included; 3.70:1, 4.11:1 and 4.56:1. It was intended to help get the most performance out of the new engines and transmissions regardless of the car’s intended purpose - be it racing or street driving.

              Pushed toward high-performance and racing, 1957 Corvettes could be ordered ready-to-race with special options, such as; an engine fresh air & tach package, 15" x 5.5" wheels and to provide greater handling and stability, a heavy duty racing suspension package (this option, included heavy duty springs, a thicker front anti-sway bar, the new Positraction rear end, larger piston shock absorbers, a tighter steering ratio that reduced turns lock-to-lock from 3.7 turns to only 2.9, and ceramic/metal brake linings with finned ventilated drums).

              When the 290 hp “Ramjet” fuel injection system was mated with all these other high-performance options, you truly had a race car you could purchase directly from the showroom floor. In total, only 240 of the entire 6,339 Corvettes produced in 1957 came with fuel injection and only 51 had the heavy duty racing suspension package.

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              • #8
                Despite the fact that the Corvette had yet to be profitable, GM management was certain that the design changes implemented in the '56 redesign would continue to be the basis of design for future model years. Also, Corvette had managed to completely dominate on the racetrack and had proven nearly unbeatable in it’s class.

                As far as the 1958 Corvette was concerned, the car would have to settle for a facelift and in an era of chrome and four headlamps, the Corvette succumbed to the look of the day. From the standpoint of appearance, the 1958 Corvette was far more excessive than any of it’s predecessors. While the car still reflected the design changes implemented in the 1956 and 1957 models, the ‘58 Corvette now sported simulated louvers on it‘s hood, non functional air intake scoops on either side of the grille and phony vents in the bodyside “coves”. It also featured twin, chrome “suspenders” that ran from the base of the rear window down the trunk lid, before ending abruptly at the rear fender. Another notable departure from the earlier models was the addition of quad headlamps wrapped in a thick chrome bezel.

                Much like the chrome “suspenders” featured on the trunk lid, chrome stripran along the tops of the fenders, accentuating the appearance of the headlamps and giving an overall “swept back “ appearance. Lastly, the chrome “teeth” in the front grille itself were reduced from thirteen (as had been the standard in all Corvettes prior to 1958) to only nine. The 1958 Corvette not only looked heavier with it’s many new additions and design changes, but it had actually gotten heavier.

                While the exterior revisions to the 1958 Corvette exuded excess from almost every angle, the interior revisions to the car were no less substantial. After repeat criticisms of instrument placement in earlier models, a significant redesign of the instrument cluster resulted in all of the gauges to be placed directly in front of the driver in a binnacle.

                The new cluster consisted of a 160-mph speedometer which dominated most of the dashboard, while a smaller 6000 rpm tachometer was placed ahead of it on the steering column. Flanking the tachometer on each side was a pair of standard instrument gauges that monitored fuel levels, oil pressure, engine temperature and battery charge. Emerging from the dashboard and mating with the center console was a narrower, vertical console which housed the heater controls, the clock and an optional “Wonder Bar” signal-seeking radio.

                In spite of the extreme changes to it’s body styling, the 1958 Corvette was the first model to turn a profit for General Motors, selling 9,168 in the year.

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                • #9
                  The 1959-60 model years had few changes except a decreased amount of body chrome and more powerful engine offerings.

                  In 1961, the rear of the car was completely redesigned with the addition of a new "duck tail" or "boat tail" rear end (later used on the C2) and four round taillights, a treatment that would continue for all following model year Corvettes until 2014. Engine displacement remained the same, but power output increased for the two fuel-injected engines to 275 and 315 hp. This was the last year for contrasting paint colors in cove areas, and the last two-tone Corvette of any type until 1978.

                  With the second-generation Corvette now just one model year away, there were few within Chevrolet who did not view the 1962 Corvette as anything other than a transitional model between the classic styling of the C1 roadster and the far more competitive and edgy lines of the next generation Corvette.

                  Engine displacement increased with the introduction of the larger 327 cu in V-8 engine, which produced power and torque that was unparalleled with anything seen prior to its emergence. Hydraulic valve lifters were used in the base 250 hp and optional 300 hp engines, solid lifters in the optional carbureted 340 hp and fuel-injected 360 hp versions. Equipped with a four speed and fuel injection, the '62 could regularly run the quarter mile in under fifteen seconds and achieve speeds in excess of 100 mile per hour while doing so.

                  While it’s styling was beginning to look a bit dated as it moved into it’s second decade of existence, this final variation was stripped of any of the remaining excesses that had plagued it’s earlier counterparts. The most obvious of these deletions was the removal of the chrome outlines that had framed the body side coves since 1956. Further, the chrome accent spears (that had accentuated the side vents within the coves) were also removed, replaced instead by more conservative aluminum blades that were finished in black.

                  This was also the last year for the wrap around windshield, convertible-only body style and solid rear axle. Rocker panel trim was seen for the first time, exposed headlights for the last, until 2005. The trunk lid did not reappear for many decades.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Monster View Post
                    Despite the fact that the Corvette had yet to be profitable, GM management was certain that the design changes implemented in the '56 redesign would continue to be the basis of design for future model years. Also, Corvette had managed to completely dominate on the racetrack and had proven nearly unbeatable in it’s class.
                    ahem.... as I was saying.... utter failure that beats everyone.....
                    Doing it all wrong since 1966


                    • #11
                      I just don't like Corvettes. You can't make me.
                      My hobby is needing a hobby.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by RockJustRock View Post
                        I just don't like Corvettes. You can't make me.
                        If there's a better recommendation; I don't know what it is....
                        Doing it all wrong since 1966


                        • #13
                          I'm not sure the point of this in general discussion. Seems more like front page fare . You seem to have written alot ajs gone thru alot ot trouble unless you cut and paste this from somewhere else like SBG did of the whale suburban story . That I even thought was a lot of trouble . But carry on .
                          Previously HoosierL98GTA


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Dan Barlow View Post
                            I'm not sure the point of this in general discussion. You seem to have written alot and gone thru alot ot trouble unless you cut and paste this from somewhere else. That I even thought was a lot of trouble.
                            I just like Corvettes. You can't stop me.

                            Also, I was doing my own research and wanted to share some little known stuff, which was a good way to practice my writing skills. Some of it was C'nP, if someone said what I wanted to, but better. It's only plagiarism if you take credit for others work and I don't.

                            But I wrote some too, with documented facts. The origins of the Corvette weren't all fame and glory. And it was not any trouble at all .. actually it was fun !


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by RockJustRock
                              I'm not even sure if there's a Ferrari or Porsche museum.
                              Everyone has a museum, even AMC..

                              Ferrari museum:

                              Porsche museum:

                              Camaro museum:

                              Mustang museum:


                              Audi museum:

                              BMW museum:

                              Jaguar museum:

                              Honda museum:

                              Maserati museum:

                              Mazda museum:

                              MG Museum:

                              Toyota museum:

                              The list goes on..

                              America has 2 'supercars', the Corvette and the GT40. One is a production car, one is a purpose built racecar.
                              I'm not a huge Corvette fan, but I do like C1's 53-55. Same with GTO's I love 64's which isn't the 1st choice for most people.
                              There's nothing wrong with celebrating a car you like. I like AMC's, and someday I'll visit the AMC museum in Kenosha.