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ABRIDGED & ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE CORVETTE
1951: Harley Earl, GM’s chief designer, drives the Le Sabre concept car to Watkins Glen, where he falls in love with the Jaguar XK120. The wheels begin to turn. 1953: Chevrolet reveals the Corvette dream car on January 17, 1953, at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, as part of the kickoff to that year’s GM Motorama. Named after small, highly maneuverable naval escort ship, the show car is also known as the EX-122. On June 30 of the same year, the first production 1953 Corvette rolls off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. Production is capped at 300 units, all in the now iconic Polo White/Sportsman Red exterior/ interior color scheme and powered by the 150-hp, three-carb “Blue Flame” inline-six and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. The only options are a heater and an AM radio. 1954: Corvette production begins at GM’s St. Louis, Missouri, facility on January 1. Chevrolet expands the exterior color choices to include Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Black. Beige is added as an interior option. The straight-six engine gets bumped to 155 hp. Just 3,640 Corvettes are produced by year’s end. 1955: The small block Chevy V-8 makes its first appearance between a Corvette’s fiberglass fenders, and a three-speed manual appears as an option. The year closes with the six-cylinder bidding farewell. Pro- duction totals 700 units. 1956: Factory-installed removable hardtops are offered for the first time, and the exterior gets exposed headlamps, sculpted side coves, and roll-up windows. Seatbelts make the scene as a dealer-installed option, and one-hundred and eleven buyers drop $188.30 on a high-lift cam (order code: RPO #449). Head Corvette engineer (and future legend) Zora Arkus-Duntov tells the brass to go racing, but his pleas for a racing program fall on deaf corporate ears. Two four-barrel carbs enhance the 265-cubic-inch (4.3- liter) V-8, and automotive pundit Karl Ludvigsen deems the ’56 credible: “Without qualification, General Motors is now building a sports car.”
AUGUST 2018