Sixty-eight years ago today, the first Corvette rolled off a temporary assembly line in Flint, Michigan and an American Legend was born!
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, and Ferrari. Codenamed “Opel”, designers shrugged off a traditional steel body in favor of using a new technology consisting of molded fiberglass for rapid prototyping and the very first example made its debut in January 1953 at the GM Motorama show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
The car was a hit and Corvette production was originally slated to start in 1954 in St. Louis. However, company officials decided to fast track the Corvette into production based on the great reviews and public acclaim, and so 300 Corvettes were scheduled to be built in the second half of 1953.
The first Corvettes to come off that temporary line took several days to complete as workers bonded the various body panels together. The uniform design of the 1953 helped greatly with all cars being Polo White with the Sportsman red interior and a Black canvas top. Each new Corvette came with a 2-speed automatic transmission mounted on the floor, a Delco signal-seeking radio, a 5,000 RPM tachometer, and a counter for total engine revolutions.
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’s Corvette is completely different than the first model, yet they are connected with the same sportscar DNA that started with Harley Earl’s project “Opel” and progressed with Zora’s belief that the car could (and should) dominate the world. The tradition of building a world-beating yet affordable sports car continues on today through Tadge Juechter and the 8th generation Corvette, and it all started 68 years ago today.
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