It was fifty-seven years ago today that the first Corvettes rolled off a temporary assembly line in Flint, Michigan and into the hearts and dreams of Americans. By the end of the year, 300 of the Polo White with Sportsman Red interior Corvettes were produced making Corvette the first mass-production car to use body panels made from fiberglass.
In the early 1950’s, Harley Earl, GM’s head of styling, envisioned a low-cost American sports car that could compete with Europe’s Jaguar, MG’s and Ferrari. Codenamed “Opel”, the very first prototype made its debut in January 1953 at the GM Motorama show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The great reviews and pubic acclaim for the little white roadster prompted GM to fast track the Corvette into production and the first retail models were hand assembled in the back of the Chevrolet’s Customer Delivery Center in Flint, Michigan just six months later.
Underneath the fiberglass were standard Chevrolet components. The 250 cubic inch Blue Flame Special 6-cylinder engine came from the truck line while the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission and drum brakes were also found on various Chevrolet passenger cars. A triple-carb intake on the Corvette gave the 2-seater a bit more power but overall performance was lacking.
Chevrolet built 300 Corvettes over the course of the 1953 model year. A uniform design allowed the workers to concentrate on putting the bodies together without being distracted by trim and equipment variations. Therefore, all 1953 Corvettes were Polo White with Sportsman Red interiors and equipped with a canvas soft-top, 6.70 x 15 whitewall tires and a Delco signal-seeking radio. Also standard was a 5,000-rpm tachometer and a counter for total engine revolutions.
Although some sports car purists took exception to the Corvette’s only available transmission – the 2-speed Powerglide automatic, the Corvette was still a decent sports car with well-tuned examples running 0-60 mph in 11 seconds and having a top speed near 105 mph.
The Corvette’s original base price was set at $3,498.00. However the general public was hard pressed to get one as most of the production was doled out to project engineers, GM executives and other high profile customers including Hollywood movie stars like John Wayne. In fact a dealer notice issued in July ’53 from the Central Office proclaimed: “No dealer is in a position to accept firm orders for delivery of a Corvette in 1953.”
Today, the 1953 Corvette is one of the most sought after Corvette models by collectors. Examples have recently sold as high as $440,000 while the oldest 1953 VIN# 003 was purchased by collector and Chevy dealer Dave Ressler for $1 million.