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 EX-122 – THE MOTORAMA CORVETTE
The year was 1951 and Harley Earl, head of styling at General Motors, was impressed by the level of sports car competition he witnessed at a rally in Watkins Glen, NY. Sports cars were quite popular with returning GIs after World War II who had gotten acquainted with the low, nimble and fast two-seaters during their tours of duty in Europe. Earl was determined to create a new breed of American car that could compare favorably with Europe's Jaguars, MGs, Alfa Romeos and Ferraris. His goal was to have a stylish two-seat convertible design ready for the company's January, 1953 Motorama Exhibit at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. These Motoramas were show events that GM ran from 1949 through 1961. Open to the public, they were used to showcase new models and styling ideas, and they visited major cities around the country. There was a general feeling of optimism throughout the country with the American victory of World War II still fresh in everyone’s mind. The United States was the best place in the world to live and life here was good. Baseball, mom’s apple pie, a strong work ethic and a “can do” attitude prevailed. Americans were looking forward to new and better products, including automobiles, now that rationing and the war effort was behind them. Folks were ready to see exciting styling, things that would bring smiles to their faces. Harley Earl was already working on a car that would make hearts thump, pulses quicken and produce ear-to-ear grins. The prototype roadster was secretly developed in Earl’s private studio at GM under the code name “Project Opel”. Inside GM the prototype vehicle received the official designation of EX-122, which denoted its Experimental vehicle status, and that was the serial number assigned to the car. Earl, however, wanted to have a name for the car that was catchier than EX-122. His preferences were for a name that began with “C”, since it was going to be showcased as part of the Chevrolet lineup at the General Motors Motorama exhibit. But he was adamant that he didn’t want it to be the name of an animal. Myron Scott, a photographer for GM’s advertising agency, came up with the name “Corvette”, which described a small, fast and maneuverable warship that frequently functioned as a destroyer escort during the war. Corvette was the moniker that stuck. EX-122 - the Corvette "dream car" - was an immediate hit at the show and GM management gave its blessing along with the green light to start manufacturing the car at Chevrolet's Flint, MI plant. A scant 6 months later, on June 30, 1953, the first production Corvette rolled off the assembly line with a sticker price just over $3,000. The hand-assembled car had a molded fiberglass body and was powered by a modified version of Chevrolet’s straight six-cylinder engine that had been used since 1941. Rechristened as the "Blue Flame Special”, the engine generated 150hp and was coupled to a high-capacity two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission with floor-mounted shifter. Many of the car’s other basic components were standard, off-the-shelf items from Chevrolet's inventory. And, you could get one of these spiffy new Corvettes in any color you wanted, as long as it was Polo White with a Sportsman Red interior – just like the EX-122 Motorama show car.
IT ALL STARTED WITH THIS ONE
by TOM BENFORD