It has been almost 60 years since the first Chevrolet Corvette hit the streets. In the past almost six decades, interest in the Corvette has been unequalled. Subscriptions of Corvette magazines exceed the number of ‘Vettes ever built. There are Corvette clubs on every continent except Antarctica. The Corvette is considered by many to be America’s only true sports car. Our love affair with the Corvette started in 1953.
There were only 300 1953 Corvettes produces, all of which were hand-built. Production began on June 30th, 1953. The assembly process for the fiberglass body was still being perfected, so all 300 were made exactly the same – polo white with sportsman red interiors, black canvas tops and white wall tires. This was done to increase efficiency, while maintaining the high standards of quality that the Corvettes have continued to exhibit through the years. The 1953 Corvette is one of the rarest Corvettes with only about 225 left today.
The Beginning of the Corvette
It was Harley Earl who convinced General Motors that they needed to create a moderately priced two-seater sports car. Earl and his team began working on the Corvette in 1951 under the name Project Opel. Fiberglass was chosen for the body partially because there were still steel quotas from World War II. The EX-122 prototype Corvette, known as the oldest Corvette, was revealed on January 17, 1953 at the GM Motorama in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria. This Corvette is now on display in Atlantic City at the Kerbeck Corvette Museum.
The 1953 Corvette
Chevrolet sold 1,342,480 cars in 1953 but only 183 of those were Corvettes. Originally named the Corvair, the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line on June 30, 1953, to mixed reviews. Up until that point, no major American automaker had built a sports car although the public was clamouring for one. Many doubted Chevrolet’s ability to make a sporty two-seater despite the public’s enthusiasm for the Corvette prototype at the January 1953 Motorama.
America’s Criticism of the first Corvette Productions
The first production Corvette was driven by Tony Kleiber, an assembly worker. All 300 were produced at Chevrolet’s Customer Delivery Center in Flint, Michigan. Although there was a mostly positive reaction to the production Corvette, there were a few criticisms about the car. Many were upset that the Corvette only had an automatic transmission available, whereas most sports cars at the time had manual transmissions available. Some other inconveniences included the clip-in side curtains and the lack of exterior door buttons. The side curtains were used, instead of roll down windows, to save money in production. And without exterior door handles, the only way to open the car door was to reach inside the car for the release.
Specifications of the C1 Generation Vette
This C1 generation Corvette was powered by a 150 horsepower Blue Flame six-cylinder engine with a Powerglide 2-speed automatic transmission. It went from 0-60 in 11 seconds and 0-100 in 41 seconds. Its top speed was 105 mph. The front suspension is independent with upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, antiroll bar, and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers. The rear suspension is a live axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers. The standard axle ratio is 3.55 to 1.
Pricing, Then and Now
The base price for a new 1953 Corvette was $3,498 including the federal excise tax. This was more than the $2,000 the Harley Earl had suggested. There were two options for the ’53 – a signal seeking AM radio for an additional $145.15 and a heater for $91.40. The 254th 1953 Corvette is currently for sale in Tennessee for $239,995. This particular Corvette is in exceptional, original condition and is not ‘over restored.’ It received the National Corvette Homecoming Sapphire Award in 2007. It’s fresh out of a museum and is fully operational and drivable. The 1953 Corvette is known as the ‘holy grail’ for Corvette collectors.