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Thread: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette - The Start Of Something Great

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    1953 Chevrolet Corvette - The Start Of Something Great



    1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    By Pete Dunton

    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...4&Itemid=10784

    There's an old saying - "you have to start somewhere", for the Corvette it started from very humble beginnings as Chevrolet?s answer to those little European 2-seat sports cars that were popping up all over the US after WWII (World War II). After WWII, America was embarking on its greatest economic boom, one that would last for a few decades until the downturn of the 1970s. Most American cars right after WWII were mundane and boring, like a shoe salesman convention in Cleveland. However coming from war torn Europe was the emergence of a new type of car - the two-seat sports car. These were a new breed of cars, which were small, with good handling, and good performance. Automakers like MG, Ferrari, Porsche, etc. were beginning to forge their own little niche into this emerging market. Chevrolet saw this new emerging market, and decided on a course that would make automotive history.

    Taking a jaunt back in time to the early 1950s, Chevrolet even thinking about producing a 2-seat sports car was nothing short of a miracle or insanity depending on your point of view. Chevrolet?s main mission since its inception was to produce reliable cars for a reasonable price. Not where you would expect a 2-seat sports car to emerge. Chevrolet was bound and determined to make a 2-seat concept sports car for the 1953 GM Motorama show. Haley Earl and his design team came up with a futuristic 2-seater body design for this car, it was made using a new material called fiberglass. GM had never produced a car with a fiberglass body before so this was new territory. The advantage of using fiberglass was that it weighed less than metal body panels.

    In January 1953 at the GM Motorama show the EX122 Corvette concept car was unveiled to much better than expected fanfare. This prompted Chevrolet to green light the production of a limited number of EX122 Corvettes for the 1953 model year. Chevrolet would drop the EX122 designation for production and the car would be simply be called - Corvette. The name Corvette was derived from a type of small fast warship used during WWII, it seemed to be the perfect name for a car that would in few short years become a legend.

    The 1953 GM Motorama show debut of the EX122 Corvette not only allowed for the production of the Corvette, but also would in an unexpected way ensure its future as a performance car. What many don't know is that Zora Arkus-Duntov was among the many in attendance at the 1953 Motorama show to view the Corvette. Duntov instantly fell in love with the car, and soon thereafter began working for GM, in a role as chief Corvette engineer. Duntov was responsible for cultivating the Corvette during its early formidable years and shifting its focus to a high performance sports car giving it a permanent niche that the Corvette still fills even today. This all started with Duntov insisting that the 1955 Corvette be equipped with the new for 1955 - 265 CID V8. From then on things for performance oriented buyers would only get better. The EX122 Corvette show car had under the hood a modified Blue Flame straight 235 CID 6 cylinder motor. The Blue Flame by today's standards seems very anemic, however back in 1953 it was Chevrolet's best and hottest motor.

    The modified Blue Flame motor from the Motorama show EX122 Corvette would make it into the production 1953 Corvette. The modified Blue Flame motor made an impressive 150 horsepower when compared to the standard 115 horsepower Blue Flame. The extra power came from three Carter side-draft carburetors, a high performance cam, and a split exhaust manifold. The 1953 Corvette's Blue Flame had a compression ratio of 8.0:1 which for its day was very performance oriented. Helping in performance was a solid rear axle with a 3.55 ratio.

    The only transmission available on the 1953 Corvette was the 2-speed Powerglide automatic. Fortunately the shifter for the automatic transmission was on the floor between the two seats and not on the column, so at least it looked sporty. And Chevrolet did not forget about handling it gave the Corvette in the front - coil springs, a stabilizer bar, and tubular shocks. The rear had leaf springs and tubular shocks. Helping to keep the Corvette planted when cornering were 6.70x15 tires which had the famous wide white walls. Adding to the look of the tires were stylish chrome plated hubcaps with painted red accents.

    The body of the 1953 Corvette was a head of its time, it was sleek and aerodynamic and its space age looking wrap-around windshield, front-end with wire-mesh headlights, and futuristic taillights made the car a real looker. The Corvette was truly a piece of fine art even the reverse flip-up front hood and the finely sculpted interior were testaments to this fact. However art sometimes forgets about functionality, and one of the 1953 Corvette's shortcomings was it was built as a roadster with no rollup windows and no removable hardtop option. There was only a black canvas top with side curtains to keep the rain out. Only 315 1953 Corvettes were produced all of these were painted Polo White and had Sportsman Red colored interiors.

    The interior was very futuristic and the main overall design theme would stay with the Corvette through 1962. The steering wheel was smaller than most cars and looked liked it belonged in a sports car. The body panel piece that separated the back of the two seats was a nice touch. The finely sculpted dashboard seemed like it had more instruments than a DC-6 airliner and even included a standard tachometer, something that was unheard of back in 1953. The seating position was very low which gave the driver and passenger the feeling of sitting in a race car.

    Chevrolet never expected to produce the Corvette. It was merely a concept car but when it proved much more popular than expected at the 1953 Motorama, Chevrolet realized that it needed to produce the car. Since Chevrolet had such a short time to get a concept car into production there were a few shortcomings this first year of the Corvette. The first of which was that it was a low volume car. Chevrolet fixed this problem by mandating that dealers only sell 1953 Corvettes to VIPs, this would give the Corvette a mystique of being a car of distinction but it ensured that ordinary buyers were left out in the cold in 1953. Another problem was that the fiberglass body that was new territory for Chevrolet and GM, which meant experienced outside help was needed to produce the fiberglass panels. This job of producing all 46 fiberglass pieces of the 1953 Corvette fell on the lap of the Molded Fiber Glass Company of Ashtabula, Ohio. Combining all these above factors it comes as no surprise that there were some quality control problems and fit and finish problems related to the new fiberglass panels. This however was a short-lived problem that was corrected by 1954. Even with all these things considered and a hefty base price of $3498, the 1953 Corvette was in high demand.

    In retrospect the Corvette had a great start in 1953, with each successive year for many years having a continued improvement in looks, performance, handling, and sales numbers. Duntov took care of the performance for many years while Bill Mitchell and his cohorts kept improving Harley Earl's original Corvette design. The end result is the Corvette is now referred to as - America's sports car. Nobody can deny what the 1953 Corvette can be summarized as, is - the start of something great.

  2. #2
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    I like early T-Birds a lot more than early 'Vettes - but the reverse as the '60s got under way.

    '64-67 Corvettes are styling pinnacles, in my view. And the '68-72 Sting Rays were also gorgeous. These cars were also on the cutting edge of design, functionally speaking - with such things as mechanical fuel injection, IRS, four-wheel-disc brakes, etc. After 1972, Corvettes stagnated and became cartoons of their former selves. No major technical advances until the 1984 model year. During the mid-late '70s, they were outclassed (and outgunned) by the Trans-Am (domestically) and easy prey for imports like the Porsche 911.

    '84-up Corvettes can't be faulted for their performance or their technology; but I have never liked them much. The new ones are not even close to as distinctive, stylistically, as their 'Vettes of the '60s and early '70s. If GM gave me one, I'd have an ad in the paper tomorrow - and would use the cash to re-spray my Trans-Am!

  3. #3
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    I like early T-Birds a lot more than early 'Vettes - ...
    Just for looks, maybe - but the first T-brds didn't handle nor corner so they weren't competitive with the Corvette, and then Ford gave up completely in 1958 with this blah barge they dropped the T-bird name onto.

    GM hit a homer; Ford struck out.


  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    Quote Originally Posted by D_E_Davis
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    I like early T-Birds a lot more than early 'Vettes - ...
    Just for looks, maybe - but the first T-brds didn't handle nor corner so they weren't competitive with the Corvette, and then Ford gave up completely in 1958 with this blah barge they dropped the T-bird name onto.

    GM hit a homer; Ford struck out.

    Did the original Corvettes handle well? I have never driven one myself, but from the specs. (basically, truck suspensions) it doesn't look they were especially capable... now I know the second-gen cars with IRS and other improvements were a huge improvement and considerably better than other cars of the era. But by the mid-70s, Corvettes were far from being at the top of the class. I have driven a few mid-late '70s Corvettes and they are no great shakes. In fact, a mid-late '70s Trans-Am with the WS6 package will outcorner a Corvette of the same period - despite having a solid axle rear suspension!

  5. #5
    mrblanche
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    For the time, it was just fine. Maybe better than fine. When it was used as a race car, it often had improved suspension.

    At the time it was built, for Chevrolet to produce the stamping molds, etc., to make the beautiful compound curves in steel would have taken too long, so they stuck with fiberglass for the first year, planning to switch to steel in succeeding year. The switch never happened.

  6. #6
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    Did the original Corvettes handle well?
    Yes and no. Compared to the present-day, not well at all. But, after GM finally put a 4-speed tranny in the 'Vette, in mid-57 they were becoming dominant over the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing in all the local club races. By 58 the winner of that class was a Corvette, it was just a question of which one. So I conclude the answer is: they handled well as compared to their peers.


  7. #7
    mrblanche
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    The year I've always wanted was 1958. Any drivable version is over $30,000 today.

    Zora had previously worked at Ford, and was responsible for the Ardun heads that were designed to up the power of the flathead to make it suitable for truck use.


  8. #8
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    Oh, beautiful pic, Mike, and beautiful car.


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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    I personally did not think the Corvette came into its own until 1955 when the 265 V8 was the standard engine option and the blue flame bit the dust. The 1955-1957 T-bird is a better looking car in my opinion than the same year Corvettes. The 1957 supercharged T-bird was a very good performer and did a good job of matching up with the best the Corvette had for 1957. However this was short lived since when the 1958 2+2 McNamara T-birds were released. In the short term it was a great idea but in the long term it was bad since it left Ford without a 2 seat sports car to compete with the Corvette. Ford tried to fill the 2-seat sports car void with the mid 1960s Shelby Cobra and later with the Pantera. I personally like the 1961- 1963 "bullet" T-birds they were so aerodynamic, luxurious, sporty, great styling, and the 390 V8 was not too shabby.

    Eric,

    I would have to say that the Corvette has always handled with the best of its competition. The 1965 - 1967 big block 427 Corvettes did not handle as well as the more well balanced 1965 - 1967 small block 327 Corvettes. The same was true with the 1968 - 1974 big block Corvettes vs. the better handling 1968 - 1974 small block Corvettes. The big block just weighed too much in the light Corvette and put too much weight over the front wheels to be a good handling car (the big block Corvettes were made to be more 1/4 mile cars). The Shelby Cobras (260/289/427/428) handled better than the small block Corvettes but the Cobras were essentially race cars.

    mrblanche,

    Thanks for posting the picture and the info on Zora and his heads. I never understood why Ford did not pick up Zora as a lead performance engineer like Chevrolet did later. Zora turned the flat head V8 into a real performer with his performance heads. He did modifications to the flat head Ford that Ford engineers could not even dream of. I Ford had picked him up and he would have beefed up the performance of the '55- '57 T-bird, the T-bird may have stayed around and the Corvette may have died.


  10. #10
    D_E_Davis
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete
    I would have to say that the Corvette has always handled with the best of its competition. The 1965 - 1967 big block 427 Corvettes did not handle as well as the more well balanced 1965 - 1967 small block 327 Corvettes. The same was true with the 1968 - 1974 big block Corvettes vs. the better handling 1968 - 1974 small block Corvettes. The big block just weighed too much in the light Corvette and put too much weight over the front wheels to be a good handling car (the big block Corvettes were made to be more 1/4 mile cars). The Shelby Cobras (260/289/427/428) handled better than the small block Corvettes but the Cobras were essentially race cars.
    Quite right. The big block was a mistake for competition, probably OK for drags.


    I never understood why Ford did not pick up Zora as a lead performance engineer like Chevrolet did later. Zora turned the flat head V8 into a real performer with his performance heads. He did modifications to the flat head Ford that Ford engineers could not even dream of. I Ford had picked him up and he would have beefed up the performance of the '55- '57 T-bird, the T-bird may have stayed around and the Corvette may have died.
    From my personal observations at the time it wasn't engine work but suspension changes needed to make the early T-bird a contender. While watching a T-bird trying to compete at Willow Springs an onlooker remarked "The only way to make a T-bird corner is to disassemble it and carry the pieces around by hand."


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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette ? The Start Of Something Great

    D_E_Davis,

    Very good point, the '55-'57 T-birds handled like three wheeled wheel barrows. Ford did not know what the words - "good handling" were until Shelby came along and showed them. Handling was one area where GM was way ahead of Ford during this time.

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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette - The Start Of Something Great

    Here's one on Ebay

    A man's greatest mistake is to think he is working for somebody else.

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    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette - The Start Of Something Great

    Ardun heads were available from the factory? I thought they were an aftermarket speed part??

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    Re: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette - The Start Of Something Great

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    Ardun heads were available from the factory? I thought they were an aftermarket speed part??
    Ardun heads were aftermarket heads for the Ford flathead V8, these heads converted the Ford flathead to a OHV (overhead valve) design and also were hemispherical in design (in other words it was a Hemi design a few years before the first Chrysler Hemi was introduced in the 1950s), notice the spark plugs on the valve covers which is a big tip off. These heads first were sold in 1947 as I recall.

    Here's a closer look at the Ardun heads/valve covers on a flathead Ford V8 - looks a lot like the 1950s and especially 1965 - 1971 Chrysler 426 Hemi V8 heads (which had visible round spark plug holes in the valve covers, they were covered up on the smaller 1950s Hemi blocks with a rail on each valve cover):




    Here's a 426 big-block Hemi V8:




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