We start our countdown exactly where this whole Corvette thing started. Yes, third place on our countdown of the best Corvettes of the ’50s is the 1953 model. We went back and forth on whether the ’53 should be #1 or just off the podium for the fabulous 50s countdown. When the dust settled, we decided that our list was about “best,” not “most significant” and the ‘Vette’s genesis wasn’t without its flaws.
Harley Earl’s beautiful Corvette concept wowed its first 45,000 visitors when it debuted at the 1953 New York Motorama prior to traveling the country where it would be admired by 1.4 million new fans.
The public’s enthusiastic reaction to the car led to a “fast tracked” production of 300 1953 Corvettes. These first-year machines were assembled by hand in a temporary delivery garage in Flint, Michigan. As it was the first car to ever feature fiberglass construction, the production process contained a staggering amount of trial and error leaving no two ’53s exactly the same.
The original ‘Vette was motivated by a 235 cubic inch “Blue Flame” Inline-6 good for 150 HP. This was, for its day, fairly and briefly respectable. The fastest car in the world at the time was the 124.6 MPH Jaguar XK120 that made 160 HP from a 3.4L (207 ci) Straight-6 and could reach 60 MPH in 9 seconds flat compared to the original Corvette’s 11.0 second 0-60 and 108 MPH top-end (by 1955, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL continued the rapid march of progress with its 140 MPH top speed, 8.5 second sprint to 60, and 215 HP).
You could have any color and transmission you wanted as long as it was Polo White with a Sportsman Red Interior and a two-speed automatic. The original MSRP was $3,490.00; almost $600 more than a V8-equipped 1955 model and just $455 less than the, previously mentioned, “World’s Fastest” Jag.
Those first 300 Corvettes have proven to be the least ever produced in a single model-year for America’s Sports Car (unless you count 1983) and that rarity leads to high transaction prices whenever any of the approximately 225 surviving ’53s changes hands in the 21st century.
As compelling as the original show car was, the rushed production version ended up being a half-baked rookie effort. It was (and remains) pricy, had questionable build quality, and an uninspiring (especially by the standard that its descendants were about to set) powertrain. Even so, we owe the 1953 Corvette a huge debt of gratitude for kickstarting what would become a national obsession and our heartfelt appreciation also has to go out to GM Brass of the time for sticking with the ‘Vette and allowing the vision of a true, American sports car time to take shape, growing pains and all.
Which ‘Vette is next on the list and which model could possibly take the top spot on Corvette Bloggers ’50s countdown? Stay tuned in to this space as we continue to unveil all of the answers in the coming days and continue on to our list of the best Corvettes of the Swinging 60’s next week!
See all of our Corvette of the Decade Features:
Happy Birthday Corvette! America’s Sports Car Turns 66 Today
Former Owner of a 1953 Corvette Reunited with the Car After Selling it in 1974
[VIDEO] 1953 Cutaway Corvette Chassis #003 Now Showing at the National Corvette Museum