Many European sports cars were imported into the United States after the war and some of them, like Jaguar XK120 or Nash-Healey enjoyed great popularity. However, many did not meet the requirements of the Americans – they needed cars for long, straight roads, who can provide a certain degree of comfort.
It was obvious demand for a true American sports car and a response from General Motors did not take too long – in 1953 they launched the Chevrolet Corvette. That’s how born America’s first production sports car, a real legend and as American as 'Hot Dogs, Baseball, Mom, and Apple Pie'. By the way, it is the oldest US sports car still in production.
Interestingly, it debuted as a concept car EX-122 for the 1953 GM‘s Motorama autoshow, but the car got an incredible response and GM started production just six months later. It was named after a small, manoeuvrable warship and followed in the tradition of the European roadsters.
According to the initial idea, it must be as long as Jaguar, but broad, flat and with a panoramic windshield. The Vette pioneered revolutionary new composite material – glass fibre – on a production car. Such bodywork gave the model significant weight-saving advantages over the rivals.
Its design highlights were the chrome-toothed mouth and the bullet taillights. The original Corvette's logo had incorporated American flag, but later it was dropped, since associating the flag with a product was disapproved. However, Harley Earl, chief designer at General Motors, who convinced GM to build a two-seat sports car, acknowledge that open-tooth style of the grill was copied from Ferrari models of the time.
Despite its racy styling, six-cylinder 3.9-liter 150 hp engine was seen as insufficient for Americans, and car turned out to be a flop at first – just 300 hand built units were sold in its first year, all had white exteriors with red seats. Customers were power-hungry, their expectations were largely unfulfilled and the model, which price in 1953 was $3,490, was in real danger of disappearing. Luckily, the addition of powerful engines and some design changes in 1956 helped ensure successful sales.
Replacing the Corvette’s straight-six engine with a small-block V8 turned it into a superb racer and it became one of America’s hottest automobiles. In 1955 it debuted as 4.3-liter 195 hp output engine, but year by year it was improved and in 1962, the final Mk1 years, Corvette was offered with V8 5.4-liter 360 hp engine. At a time when speed and horsepower counted most, these figures rocketed Corvette to the next level in terms of sales and popularity. Thus began the transformation of the pure sports car that is still known today.
1953-1962 GM produced 68,915 units of Chevrolet Corvette Mk1, which is also known as C1. Today their prices start from around $50,000 and easily climb to $100,000 or even more. Models made in 1953 are among most valuable collectors’ items, for example, one of them was sold for $660,000 at 2014 Scottsdale auction.