1953 Corvette – The Story of the First C1 Corvettes

Dateline: 5.15.12

A look back 60 years ago to how the first Corvette came to be.

I call the Corvette the “The American Automotive Horatio Alger Story.” It’s the ultimate automotive rags-to-riches story. You could also call it an automotive Cinderella story. While the C6 has taken more flack than it deserves, it’s good to look back to the very beginning to get a really clear picture of how far the Corvette has come in 60 years.

Since we’re rolling into the C6’s final year and looking forward to the new 7th generation Vette, the next several installments of my VETTE Magazine monthly column looks back at the “first” of each generation Corvette. So, let’s go back to the beginning. - Scott


In September 1951, GM’s chief of design, Harley Earl took his Le Sabre dream car to Watkins Glen for a little GM-style show’n tell.  Earl was impressed with the “sports cars” he saw there and went back to work with a new car concept for General Motors – an American sports car.

Post WW II saw the birth of plastics and glass-reinforced plastic, or “fiberglass” and Earl saw a new way to build prototypes and production cars. In February ‘52, Life Magazine presented the new space age material in a story titled “Plastic Bodies For Autos.” By March, GM was reviewing the Alembic I, a fiberglass bodied Jeep. Impressed with the new material, Earl decided to start moving on his sports car idea. Engineer Robert McLean designed a chassis layout and by April a full-size plaster model was shown to GM’s management. The following month, Ed Cole was promoted to Chief of Engineering for Chevrolet and was onboard with Earl’s project. Earl pitched his concept to GM’s president, Charles Wilson and Chevrolet general manager, Thomas Keating in June and got the approval to build a functional prototype for the GM Motorama in January 1953. The car’s working name was… “the Opel Sports Car.”

Two bodies were built for the project (one finished and one test body) and two fiberglass full-size Chevy bodies for testing of the drive train layout. Chevrolet’s ad agency, Campbell-Ewald came up with a name to replace the working “Opel” name. After 1,500 suggestions, ad man Myron Scott came up with “Corvette.”

By the end of October ‘52, the parts Fabrication Group completed the very first Corvette body that weighed 200-pounds less that a steel version. The following month, the full-size Chevy fiberglass bodied car was tested, and rolled with very little damage. Just before Christmas, the Motorama car was completed at a cost of between $55,000 and $60,000. A new ‘52 Chevy Bel Air cost $2,006! When the Corvette was shown to GM’s management before the Motorama, only two changes were requested – replace the American flag on the nose and horn badges with a Chevy bow tie and a fleur-de-lis. That was IT! Four days later, on January 16, 1953, the press got their first look at the Corvette. The following day, the Motorama was opened to the public. The response was so overwhelming that the next day, GM’s president announced that Chevrolet would build 200 to 300 Corvettes by the end of June as a test run, followed by full-production IF there was enough demand.

An American classic was born in an era of “more is better and bigger is best.” To really appreciate the Corvette, one only has to look at typical cars of 1953. Dream cars are the easy and fun, it’s the implementation that can be a bear. A makeshift assembly facility was setup at the Customer Delivery Building on Van Slyke Avenue in Flint, Michigan to build the first cars. Quotes came in for 12,300 bodies – 300 for the ‘53 Corvettes and 100 per month for the ‘54 Corvettes from Fisher Body and from vendor Molded Fiber Glass. But management decided that neither company would be up to the challenge, so the St. Louis plant was told to prepare to start making STEEL Corvette bodies! But Molded Fiber Glass successfully argued their case and won the $4 million dollar contract to build bodies. St. Louis was then informed that they would be the only Corvette plant.

Finally, on June 29, 1953 the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line with line worker Tony Kleiber receiving the honors of driving the very first production Corvette. What happened to cars 001 and 002 is not known, but 003 was tested on GM’s Belgian Block stress test and passed with only minor chassis damage. Cars 004, 005, and 006 were sold to Du Pont executives. By the end of September, 50 Corvettes had been delivered and in October, actor John Wayne got car 055. The chassis of the Motorama Corvette was ordered to be used to make the ‘54 Nomad show car and the body used for a burn test. Also, work had begun for the installing the small-block Chevy V8 for the ‘55 Corvette. 1953 Corvette production ended December 24 at the Flint plant and on December 28, production of the ‘54 Corvettes began in St. Louis.

Zora Arkus-Duntov joined GM on May 1, 1953 specifically to work on the Corvette. The Corvette dream team was in place – Earl provided the beauty, Ed Cole was the car’s corporate guardian angel, and Duntov would make it all go fast. The Corvette project went from idea to show car in just 17 months and then to real car in another five months. Now that’s a modern American automotive miracle. - The End

 

Related:
Myron Scott’s Wiki page, HERE.

Vette Videos: The Life & Times of Harley Earl, HERE.

Happy Birthday Harley Earl, HERE


The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


The above 11×17 Laser-Etched Print is available for just $49.95 + $8.00 S&H. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.


Here’s the BEST way to keep up with K. Scott Teeters’ Corvette blog!

Enter your email address:

Comments are closed.

FREE Updates



Choose Your Size Print, Color Mat & Frame


--------

K. Scott Teeters Color Corvette Art

Nostalgia Muscle & Drag Car Art

2-Drag-Racing-Art-721-Muscle-Car-Art-72
BasicBizSiteMakers.com