Article contributed by Dave Salvatore / Kerbeck Corvette
On this day in 1953, a prototype Chevrolet Corvette sports car (EX-122) makes its debut at General Motors’ (GM) Motorama auto show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The Corvette, named for a fast type of naval warship, would eventually become an iconic American muscle car and remains in production today.
In the early 1950s, Harley Earl (1893-1969), the influential head designer for GM, then the world’s largest automaker, became interested in developing a two-seat sports car. At the time, European automakers dominated the sports car market. Following the debut of the Corvette prototype at the Motorama show in January 1953, the first production Corvette was completed at a Flint, Michigan, plant on June 30, 1953.
The car featured an all-fiberglass body, a white exterior and red interior, a relatively unremarkable 150-horsepower engine and a starting price tag of around $3,500 (not including taxes or an optional AM radio and heater). In an effort to give the Corvette an air of exclusivity, GM initially marketed the car to invitation-only VIP customers. This plan met with less-than-desirable results, as only a portion of the 300 Corvettes built that first year were sold. GM dropped the VIP policy the following year; however, Corvette sales continued to disappoint. In 1954, GM built around 3,600 of the 10,000 Corvettes it had planned, with almost a third of those cars remaining unsold by the start of 1955.
There was talk within GM of discontinuing the Corvette; however, GM rival Ford launched the sporty two-seat Thunderbird convertible in 1955 and the car quickly became a hit. GM didn’t want to discontinue the Corvette and look like a failure next to its Big Three competitor, so the car remained in production and performance enhancements were made. That same year, a Belgian-born, Russian-raised designer named Zora Arkus-Duntov became head engineer for Corvette and put the car on a course that would transform it into a legend. Duntov had applied to work at GM after seeing the Corvette prototype at the 1953 Motorama show. According to The New York Times: “Once hired, he pushed through the decision to turn the Corvette into a high-performance sports car with a succession of more powerful engines. Chevrolet offered a 195-horsepower engine on the 1955 Corvette, a 240-horsepower engine on the 1956 Corvette and a 283-horsepower engine on the 1957 model.” During the second half of the 1950s, Corvettes began setting speed records on the racing circuit.
After taking the tour with the GM Motorama, the EX-122 became a plaything for the engineering department. The 6-cylnder engine was removed and an 8-cylinder engine was installed, and it was used for various performance demonstrations. It gave such a good account of itself that immediately it was decided to abandon the 6-cylinder engine in regular Chevrolet Corvette production and supplement it with the new 8-cylinder as standard equipment.
The car was then purchased by a member of the engineering team for his daughter to drive to school. He sold the car in 1959 when his daughter left for college. The new owner was the one who realized how special the car was and began to accumulate documentation about the car.
In 2002, Kerbeck Corvette of Atlantic City, purchased the EX-122 from his estate. They began an exhaustive restoration to take the car back to its original Motorama condition with one exception. The 8-cylinder engine installed by Zora and his team was left in the car making EX-122 not only the world’s oldest Corvette but the first ever 8-cylinder Corvette as well.
Although the car does travel the country many times a years for shows as well as being on loan for special events for General Motors, most days it can be seen at Kerbeck Corvette’s Atlantic City showroom where Corvette enthusiasts are welcome to stop by and see the car and take pictures with it. You can also get more information about the World’s oldest Corvette on the Corvette EX-122 webpage.
This article was contributed by Dave Salvatore of Kerbeck Corvette, the world’s largest Corvette dealer since 1994. Looking for a new 2012 Corvette or would you like to get on the list for the new 2013 427 Convertible? Call Dave at 877-537-2325 or visit them on the web at www.Kerbeck.com.