In the beginning of 1951, GM’s Chevrolet arm was floundering. Sales were dropping and consumers were losing interest. At the suggestion of a friend, GM Design Chief Harley Earl changed his focus. Sports cars were all the rage in Europe and Earl wanted a part of the excitement. Later that year, he assigned a small team of GM designers to work on a Eurostyle two-seater, bringing in a Jaguar XK120 for study. Dubbed “Project Opel,” the team worked on a multitude of designs.
In early 1952, the concepts devised by Engineer Bob McLean were adopted by Chief Engineer, Ed Cole and Chevrolet General Manager, Thomas Keating. They brought the idea to GM President Harlow Curtice and the design was given the green light. The Chevrolet Corvette prototype debuted in 1953 at GM’s Motorama in New York and stole the show. The fanfare surrounding the car led to its production and on June 30, 1953, the first Chevrolet Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint.
Named by Myron Scott, GM Assistant Director of Public Relations, after the fast and powerful warships used in WW2, the 1953 Corvette was a sensation in show only. Of the first model, only 300 were produced and only 183 were sold, mostly to special persons and celebrities. All models came painted Polo White with a red interior. Three more color options were added the next year – blue, black and Sportsman Red. In order to create more fanfare for the name, GM debuted the Corvair and Nomad in 1954. GM expected to sell 10,000 units but badly overshot, selling only 3,640. The concept was in danger of being canceled.
Finally, in 1955, the breakthrough came. The true American sports car was officially born when GM introduced a 4.3-liter, V8 engine to the line. Soon, Americans were going crazy for the car and Chevrolet was back on top. In the time since, the Chevy Corvette has been called the most successful concept car and most popular sports car in history.
In Flint, its birthplace, a special place is held for the Corvette and it is much celebrated. During Flint’s Back to the Bricks celebration, enthusiasts from all over the country converge on the city to meet other ‘Vette aficionados and to show off their beloved cars.
Here’s to Flint and America’s Sports Car – the Chevrolet Corvette!
GM Heritage Center – Photo Gallery 60th Anniversary Corvette
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