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Corvette: The Beginning

In the year 1951, Harley Earl’s group of “Special Projects” crew started to work on a GM sports car.  It was originally named “Opel” and was designed by Bob Mclean.  The bow tie logo was inspired in a Paris hotel in 1908 when William Durant, the founder of GM visited the place and saw the wallpaper pattern. Myron Scott whom at that time was Chevrolets’ chief photographer was the one responsible for naming the sports car into what we call now as Corvette.  He said the idea of the corvette name was drawn the small, fast warships of the “Corvette” class.  It is believed that Jaguar XK120 is where the first corvette was inspired.

January of 1953, Corvette was displayed as a show car for the very first time in GM Motorama in New York City.  The Chevrolet Corvette is America’s version of a sports car dominated by Europeans. At that time Corvettes had one color combination:  polo white with a red interior.  It was created to compete with European cars such as Jaguar and MG.  Corvettes had been assembled in three different cities, Flint, Michigan, St. Louis, Missouri, and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The Motorama show car was a big success, they got positive response from the audience and so by June of that same year production began in Flint Michigan.  The new 1953 Corvette is made up of a fiberglass body, chrome-framed grille with 13 heavy vertical chrome bars, rounded front fenders with recessed headlights with wire screen covers, no side windows or outside door handles, a wrap around windshield, and protruding, fender-integrated taillights.  The interior featured a floor-mounted shifter for the powerglide two-speed automatic transmission and oil pressure, battery, water temperature, and fuel gauges, plus a tachometer and clock.  Its other features include special valve covers, a one-piece carburetor linkage and a small trunk mat.  It was also provided with a black oilcloth window storage bag to protect its removable plastic side windows when stored in the trunk. Though Corvette was not the first to be made with a fiberglass body, but it was the first to be built by a company the size of Chevrolet.

The first person that was able to drive the first Corvette was Tony Kleiber; he has the honor of driving the first Corvette off the assembly line. Corvette is said to be the first dream-car to become a production model, and first series-production car with a fiberglass body.

The first two years of the production was good, sales climbed to 3640 units in 1954, however expectations of the sports car buyers were not meet, some where disappointed with it and as a result in 1955, sales fell off to just 700 units. Rumors were then spread that Corvette might not last longer than expected, and that it’s just a short-lived automotive experiment, making it more badly.

Thanks to Zora Arkus-Duntov, an engineer on the Corvette team since 1953 and a former European road racer, who never lose hope, he believe that Corvette could still be the sports car that everyone wanted, instead of giving up he find ways to make Corvette a success by adding a better performance and better handling to it, thus his ideas made it possible for Corvette to last up to now and be the sports car that everyone wanted.

        In 1955 Corvette evolve into a true sports car when a 265-cu. –in.  V8 that generated 195 horsepower was offered; and a 3-speed manual transmission was also made available by the end of the model year.  The first major styling update that Corvette was able to experience was in 1956.  Some of its changes included an all-new body with “scooped out” sides, outside door handles, roll-up windows and an optional removable hardtop.  In 1957 along with its styling Corvette got a performance boost.  Corvette was made one of the first cars in the world to mate a fuel-injected V8 engine with a 4-speed manual gearbox because of the 283 –cu.-in. V8 that was modified with a fuel injection that produces an unprecedented 283 horsepower, and a new 4-speed manual transmission that was offered as a $188 option.  The year 1958, the streets were lit up with Corvette in many ways.  The fuel-injected 283-cu.-in. V8 was now producing up to 290 horsepower and four headlights were the new body design that Corvette features.

People Behind Corvette

Bill Mitchell - Head of General Motors Design Staff

David C.  Hill - Corvette Chief Engineer and Vehicle Line Executive

David R.  McLellan - Corvette Chief Engineer from 1975 to 1992

Larry Shinoda - Corvette Designer most known for the design of the 1963 “split-window” coupe.

Myron Scott - The man responsible for naming the Corvette.

Harley Earl - The “Father” of the Corvette

Zora Arkus-Duntov - The “Godfather” of the Corvette

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