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53 and with the unbridled spirit of youth


Chevrolet’s Corvette was born in 1953 to provide Americans with a sports car of their own, and lure them away from the most successful sports car of the day in the United States, the British MG TD.

Sports car registrations in 1952 America were modest, only around 11,100, of which roughly 7400 were TDs and 3300 the much more potent Jaguar XK120.

The first Corvette went from sketch to production in 18 months, a mix of the radical, the fibreglass body, and the conservative, the 235 cubic inch Blue Flame inline six-cylinder motor from the Chevy parts box, but tweaked to provide 150bhp. It was hooked up to a two-speed PowerGlide automatic gearbox.

Fibreglass was chosen for the bodywork because it was easier to create tooling for, and it allowed the designers to use rounded shapes in the styling.

Performance was modest by modern standards but not sluggish in 1953 terms – 0-96km/h in around 10 seconds.

Production was modest, too – Chevy built just 300 Corvettes in 1953. In a reversal of Henry Ford’s famous Model T slogan, you could have a 1953 Corvette in any colour you wanted, so long as it was white (with contrasting red interior).

The 1953 Corvette retailed for a not-inconsiderable $US3498 (that dropped to $2774 in 1954 when Chevy built 3634 Corvettes).

It was a small beginning for what has become one of the most iconic and enduring American cars.

But the ‘Vette didn’t really come alive until a small block V8 was slotted into it in 1955.

A year later a V8 Corvette set a speed record of 150.583mph (241km/h) for the flying mile.

V8-powered, the Corvette began making a name for itself in SCCA sports car racing, and in the early 1960s, entered the world’s psyche, a duck-tailed, quad-headlight C1 Corvette playing a starring role in the hit television show, Route 66, in which two friends, Todd and Buzz, embarked on a picaresque tour of America’s most famous highway, racking up a string of adventures along the way.

The turning point in Corvette history came in the early 1960s, with the arrival of the Sting Ray, a car which the Corvette’s “father”, Zora Arkus Duntov, said could, for the first time, foot it with the world’s greatest sports cars.

Since the early tentative steps in 1953, the Corvette has become a symbol of power and performance, a true evocation of Chevy’s V8 slogan, “The Heartbeat of America.”

It has survived five decades of fluctuating economies, changing markets, and
tightening governmental regulations.

Unlike Ford’s first US sports car, the 1955 Thunderbird, which grew into a wallowing land yacht before being reined back to its origins with the retro-look T-Bird of the early 2000s, the Corvette has remained a pure
two-seat sports car with an emphasis on driving pleasure and sports car spirit. 

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