First Corvette Built
On this day in 1953, the first production Corvette is built at the General Motors facility in Flint, Michigan. Tony Kleiber, a worker on the assembly line, is given the privilege of driving the now-historic car off the line.
Harley J. Earl, the man behind the Corvette, got his start in his father’s business, Earl Automobile Works, designing custom auto bodies for Hollywood movie stars such as Fatty Arbuckle. In 1927, General Motors hired Earl to redesign the LaSalle, the mid-range option the company had introduced between the Buick and the Cadillac. Earl’s revamped LaSalle sold some 50,000 units by the end of 1929, before the Great Depression permanently slowed sales and it was discontinued in 1940. By that time, Earl had earned more attention for designing the Buick “Y Job,” recognized as the industry’s first “concept” car. Its relatively long, low body came equipped with innovations such as disappearing headlamps, electric windows and air-cooled brake drums over the wheels like those on an airplane.
After scoring another hit with the 1950 Buick LeSabre, Earl headed into the 1950s–a boom decade for car manufacturers–at the top of his game. In January 1953, he introduced his latest “dream car,” the Corvette, as part of GM’s traveling Motorama display at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The sleek Corvette, the first all-fiberglass-bodied American sports car, was an instant hit. It went into production the following June in Flint; 300 models were built that year. All 1953 Corvettes were white convertibles with red interiors and black canvas tops. Underneath its sleek exterior, however, the Corvette was outfitted with parts standard to other GM automobiles, including a “Blue Flame” six-cylinder engine, two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission and the drum brakes from Chevrolet’s regular car line.
The Corvette’s performance as a sports car was disappointing relative to its European competitors, and early sales were unimpressive. GM kept refining the design, however, and the addition of its first V-8 engine in 1955 greatly improved the car’s performance. By 1961, the Corvette had cemented its reputation as America’s favorite sports car. Today, it continues to rank among the world’s elite sports cars in acceleration time, top speed and overall muscle.
The Chevrolet Corvette, known colloquially as the Vette, is a sports car manufactured by Chevrolet. The car has been produced through seven generations. The first model, a convertible, was introduced at the GM Motorama in 1953 as a concept show car. Myron Scott is credited for naming the car after the type of small, maneuverable warship called a corvette. Originally built in Flint, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri, the Corvette is currently manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky and is the official sports car of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
(Source Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
First generation-C1 (1953–1962)
Second generation-C2 (1963–1967)
Third generation-C3 (1968–1982)
Fourth generation-C4 (1984–1996)
Fifth generation-C5 (1997–2004)
Sixth generation-C6 (2005–2013)
Seventh generation-C7 (2014–present)
The Corvette is unique in automotive history. No other car has ever achieved 57 years (and counting) of production, and no other car has come close to the romantic reputation of Chevrolet's powerful two-seat sports car. The first Corvette rolled out of the Chevrolet factory in Flint, Michigan on June 30, 1953. The most recent Corvette was built today in the dedicated Corvette manufacturing facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In between those two cars, about 1.5 million Corvettes have been made in America and sold around the world. The Corvette was invented in 1951 by GM designer Harley Earl, who was inspired by the great European sports cars of the day and wanted to create an American sports car that could compete and win at the race track. The name "Corvette" was borrowed from a line of small, fast navy ships used in World War I
Entering the 1950s, no corporation even came close to General Motors in its size, the scope of its enterprise or its profits. GM was twice as big as the second biggest company in the world, Standard Oil of New Jersey (forefather of today's Exxon/Mobil), and had a vast conglomeration of businesses ranging from home appliances to providing insurance and building Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, GMCs, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and locomotives. It was so big that it made more than half the cars sold in the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust division was threatening to break it up. In the diversified 21st century, it's almost hard to imagine how overwhelmingly concentrated corporate power was in GM back then. But it didn't make a sports car. The idea of a car coming from stodgy GM that could compete with Jaguar, MG or Triumph was almost absurd.
Still, there was room inside GM for dreams even if there wasn't any room for whimsy. Harley J. Earl, GM's chief designer (formally the head of the Art and Color Section) and the man who invented the "concept car" with the 1938 Buick Y-Job, was in charge of the corporation's ambitious musings. In the fall of 1951, Earl began ruminating about an open sports car that would sell for around the price of a mainstream American sedan: about $2,000. His ideas were rather nebulous, but he handed those notions over to Robert F. McLean, the concept came into focus and a car based upon that emerged. Determined to keep costs down, McLean used off-the-shelf Chevy mechanical components. The chassis and suspension were for all intents and purposes the 1952 Chevy sedan's, with the drivetrain and passenger compartment shoved rearward to achieve a 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution over its 102-inch wheelbase. The engine was essentially the same dumpy inline-6 that powered all Chevys but with a higher compression ratio, triple Carter side-draft carbs and a more aggressive cam that hauled its output up to 150 horsepower. Fearful that no Chevy manual three-speed transmission could handle such extreme power (there were no four-speeds in GM's inventory), a two-speed Powerglide automatic was bolted behind the hoary six. And to keep tooling costs in line, the body was made out of fiberglass instead of steel.
While the car was conceived with rigorous attention to the bottom line and production feasibility in mind, it was still only intended to be part of GM's Motorama exhibit at the 1953 New York Auto Show. That is until Ed Cole, Chevy's recently appointed chief engineer, saw it. Cole, then immersed in development of the world-changing 1955 "small-block" V8, is said to have literally jumped up and down with enthusiasm for the Motorama car. So before it even got to New York, and after some corporate machinations, the engineering to put it into production began. But first Cole needed to name it. So he called Myron Scott, founder of the All-American Soap Box Derby and an assistant advertising manager for Chevrolet, into a special meeting of executives researching the name. Scott suggested "Corvette," Cole loved it and the rest is history. The public at the New York show loved the 1953 Motorama Corvette almost as much as Cole did. Thousands of potential buyers wanted to know when they could buy one. Just six months later, they could. The 1953 Corvette, virtually identical to the Motorama prototype, entered production on June 30, 1953, in Flint, Michigan. GM has been making them ever since.