The sporty new Corvette was introduced in 1953 at the Motorama display at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. Over 300,000 spectators came to witness the new automobile, and by the time the Motorama’s cross-country tour ended, over four million people reportedly saw the Corvette. Production commenced in Flint, Michigan at the dedicated production facility set up on Van Slyke Avenue, on June 30, 1953, just five months after its New York debut.

The Corvette was conceived by Styling Chief Harley J. Earl as a two-seat convertible and based on the EX-122 concept of 1952. The new show car had been known internally as ‘Project Opel’ and designated EX-122 as it quickly took shape. The production version was called the ‘Corvette’ in honor of the small and fast naval vessels of wartime fame

The Corvette was one of the GM Motorama designs with show-car styling and space-age design cues that were virtually unmodified for production. It was built by GM and designed to capture the small car market from manufacturers like Jaguar and MG. All 1953 Corvettes were convertibles with black canvas tops, Polo white with red interiors, and built by hand.

Earl had visited the September 1951 Watkins Glen sports car race where he was inspired by the sleek, small, and inexpensive European sports cars. He tasked his styling department to sketch a small sports car endowed with recognizably American charter. The basic layout was penned by Robert McLean, a recently hired Cal Tech graduate, who placed the passengers as close to the rear axle as possible, allowing the engine to be positioned low behind the front suspension. Another stylist named Duane Bohnsedt added several Earl styling cues such as the low-profile roadster body, flowing fenders, an oval front grille, wraparound windshield, rocket-inspired fins, and simple, yet elegant taillights.

Power came from an existing Chevrolet 235 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine with modifications that included a three carburetor design and dual exhaust, resulting in higher horsepower ratings. The 150 hp ‘Blue Flame Special’ engine was paired with a 2-speed automatic gearbox. Due to a shortage of wheel covers, the first twenty-five vehicles used the standard Chevrolet ‘baby moon’ passenger car wheel covers.

During the 1953 production year, 300 Corvettes were produced making it the rarest production Corvette – not including the racing variants, concepts, and specialty models. 255 are still in existence. In 1953 the base price for the Corvette was $3,498 with a heater and AM radio offered as optional equipment. The heater could be purchased for $91.40 and the AM Radio for $145.15.

Due to being rushed into showrooms, the early examples were rather crude in nature. Initially, five different methods of laying up the fiberglass body panels, comprising 30 major and 32 minor parts, was used, but eventually narrowed to the single best process. An eventual switch to steel bodywork was planned, but intense public interest in the show car’s fiberglass body prompted GM to continue with the revolutionary new material. Hand-built by the company’s most experienced technicians, craftsmen, and assemblers, the early Corvettes (about the first 150) were delivered only to high-profile celebrities and GM executives.

The interiors featured round dials and a curved dashboard with strong influences from aircraft design. Subtle pieces of chrome trim were placed judiciously and tastefully, enhancing the car’s overall appearance. It had a wrap-around windshield, longer slab-sided panels that ran the full length of the body, and a flat hood.

The 1953 model year production ended with serial number E53F001300 which was completed on Christmas Eve, December 24th of 1953.

Although the Blue Flame Six engine and 2-speed Powerglide transmission proved disappointing to true performance enthusiasts, the new American sports car rendered in fiberglass laid the foundation for what has become a uniquely American cultural icon. It represented a major leap of faith from top GM brass, including GM engineering chief Ed Cole and company president Harlow Curtice, who allowed the then-massive $1.5 million investment in the project by the time it was readied for its highly anticipated public introduction. Production problems, questionable pricing, sluggish sales, and marketing gaffes nearly brought the Corvette to an early demise.

by Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2019

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