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Chevrolet Corvette C1 (1953)


The Chevrolet Corvette C1 is a sporty automobile produced from 1953 through 1962. It is the first generation of Chevrolet Corvettes built and marketed by Chevrolet.

Design

While the style of a car may be just as important to some as to how well the car runs, automobile manufacturers did not begin to pay attention to car designs until the 1920s. It was not until 1927, when General Motors hired designer Harley Earl, that automotive styling and design became important to American automobile manufacturers. What Henry Ford did for automobile manufacturing principles, Harley Earl did for car design. Most of GM’s flamboyant “dream car” designs of the 1950s are directly attributable to Earl, leading one journalist to comment that the designs were “the American psyche made visible.” Harley Earl loved sports cars, and GIs returning after serving overseas World War II were bringing home MGs, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos and the like. Earl convinced GM that they needed to build a two-seat sports car. The result was the 1953 Corvette, unveiled to the public at that year’s Motorama car show. The original Corvette emblem incorporated an American flag into the design; this was later dropped, since associating the flag with a product was frowned upon.

Taking its name from the corvette, a small, maneuverable fighting frigate (the credit for the naming goes to Myron Scott), the first Corvettes were virtually handbuilt in Flint, Michigan in Chevrolet’s Customer Delivery Center, now an academic building at Kettering University. The outer body was made out of a revolutionary new composite material called fiberglass, selected in part because of steel quotas left over from the war. Underneath that radical new body were standard Chevrolet components, including the “Blue Flame” inline six-cylinder truck engine, two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, and drum brakes from Chevrolet’s regular car line. Though the engine’s output was increased somewhat, thanks to a triple-carburetor intake exclusive to the Corvette, performance of the car was decidedly lackluster. Compared to the British and Italian sports cars of the day, the Corvette was underpowered, required a great deal of effort as well as clear roadway to bring to a stop, and even lacked a “proper” manual transmission. Up until that time, the Chevrolet division was GM’s entry-level marque, known for excellent but no-nonsense cars. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Corvette. A Paxton supercharger became available in 1954 as a dealer-installed option, greatly improving the Corvette’s straight-line performance, but sales continued to decline.

GM was seriously considering shelving the project, leaving the Corvette to be little more than a footnote in automotive history, and would have done so if not for two important events. The first was the introduction in 1955 of Chevrolet’s first V8 engine (a 265 in³ {4.3 L}) since 1919, and the second was the influence of a Soviet emigre in GM’s engineering department, Zora Arkus-Duntov. Arkus-Duntov simply took the new V8 and backed it with a three-speed manual transmission. That modification, probably the single most important in the car’s history, helped turn the Corvette from a two-seat curiosity into a genuine performer. It also earned Arkus-Duntov the rather inaccurate nickname “Father of the Corvette”.

The first generation is commonly referred to as a solid-axle, based on the fact that independent rear suspension (IRS) was not available until 1963.

Fuel injection

The first generation started in 1953 and ended in 1962, with the noteworthy addition of optional fuel injection in 1957. This new induction system first saw regular use on a gasoline engine two years prior on the Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” roadster. Although the Corvette’s GM-Rochester fuel injection system used a constant flow style fuel injection system as opposed to the diesel style nozzle metering system of the Mercedes’ six cylinders, the system nevertheless produced about 290HP. The number was derated by Chevrolet’s advertising agency for the 283HP/283 in³ (4.6 L) one hp per in³ slogan, making it one of the first mass-produced engines in history to reach 1 hp/in³. In 1962, the GM Small-Block was enlarged to 327 in³ (5.4 L) and produced a maximum of 360 hp (268 kW). Other early options included Power windows (1956), hydraulically operated power convertible top (1956), four speed manual transmission (mid 1957), and heavy duty brake and suspension options (1957).


November 23, 2015