Dream cars are such a regular and normal part of every car guy and gal’s life growing up. Waiting for that license, dreaming about the wild places you will go and friends you might meet. For generations of enthusiasts until the 1950s, however, such dreams were so unattainable they were foolish.
Such was the gulf between the rich and poor at the time that it makes today’s 99-percent protests seem as ridiculous as they are. In those days, the ratio was more like 99.99999 percent versus the 0.00001 percent.
You can probably guess which group we and most young car shoppers would fall into. And it is not the one with the nines.
For a generation of hot-shot former military officers, pilots and engineers: coming home from the battle fronts of Europe and the Pacific had whet their appetites for speed. The enormous volume of men and women enchanted by steel machinery during wartime was unprecedented.
But coming home, the cars these speed demons found were lumbering, great heavy beasts with no power and little cornering ability whatsoever. These men were chasing the rush they felt in fighter bombers - but in a stylish and affordable package.
The Corvette from 1953 was the answer to these wishes and much, much more. Initially just a throw-away concept for the Motorama events, such was the demand that Chevy had no choice but to produce the car for sale.
But those shapes could never be made in steel! And never made in time to get the car to eager buyers. So a stop-gap solution was born to make the panels out of fiberglass over a ladder frame chassis. Little did the fabricators know, this template would underpin America’s sports car for the next 75 years or more.
The Chevrolet Corvette C1 is a very special automobile. Collected here are three incredible examples of this ground-breaking achievement for affordable dream cars ever since.
Click past the jump for this debrief of the 1953-1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1.
The exterior of the Corvette was its biggest selling point. Such a swoopy roadster was unseen even from Chevy during this period, as the 1953 sedans, coupes and wagons were all far taller and more truck-like in their styling (and driving demeanor).
The Corvette roadster of 1955 is the perfect example of the C1 generation of cars. The bubble canopy style for the windshield was even matched with a one-piece glass roof as an option, seen below in the detail graphic.
The nose of the Corvette and its lower grille were the most adorned features on the car, and some of the only areas that the Corvette shared a family look with other Chevrolet models.
Moving away from the toothy grille, almost completely smooth and featureless flanks and fenders were a revolution in an era that saw hundreds of chrome trims on most car bodies. Such a smooth design contributed to the belief that the Corvette was one of the fastest cars on the roads, and definitely the prettiest.
A convertible roof is actually included in both cars, folding up around that wrap-around windshield glass pretty effectively versus some English roadster tops.
Corvette C1 - Exterior Styling Detail Bubble Hardtop
Corvette C1 - Exterior Styling Detail
1958 - 1961 Corvette C1 - Exterior Styling Updates
The updated Vette brought some exaggerated styling cues to battle the popular Ford Thunderbird. A scalloped body side was joined by quad lamps up front, but the essential proportions and surfaces stay the same for the entire C1 generation.
Gallery Chevrolet Corvette C1
Inside, the strangest aspect was a dedicated twin cockpit with the full rear bulkhead right behind the front seats. The car was wide and low, with a far lower seating position than previously ever used in a production car.
It was also extremely luxurious and well-finished. For a fiberglass car, the whole body shell is basically just a few pieces. So the interior is built right atop the rolling chassis before the bodywork is lowered on top.
This style created a painted body around the cockpit, emphasizing how new and special this car was versus boring sedans or sedan coupe’s.
A twin-binnacle dash was a safety feature versus a metal dash face, and the rearview mirror is mounted right on the dash-top, versus the roof for most cars. This was before the mirrors were mounted to the glass itself, and the cool look of a free-standing mirror in the middle of the dash was popular.
Among the options offered were a Powerglide two-speed automatic or the three-speed manual transmission. The auto is by far the most popular, as are the red vinyl seats versus the light tan.
A fun fact is that the windshield washer was manually-operated using a foot pump in the floorboard.
Powertrain, Suspension and Brakes
Under the hood of the first C1’s sits Chevy ’s hottest-available straight-six of the time, the Blue Flame 3.9-liter that produced 155 horsepower in the 1953 and 1954 cars.
1955 Powertrain Updates Bring Small-Block V-8 To Life
1955 brought the upgraded small-block V-8 packing 195 horsepower through its 4.3-liters of displacement.
The small-block engine was specially designed to be extremely low versus the tall carbureted V-8’s that were the only option until this point (Or the expensive side carb’s of the Ferrari V-12).
Such a small OHV design allowed the engine to fit under the Corvette’s one-piece shell, which was difficult to change as easily as a steel hood shape. This engine is a real advancement, and its power outputs continued to grow every other year for the entire Corvette series (excluding the 1970s).
Performance was actually pretty relaxed versus the hardcore battle machines that drivers said they wanted. But even so, the Corvette was nimble and had a low center of gravity on its side.
Many modifications came in a flurry in 1959 after racing experience taught the Chevy teams some hard lessons about handling and reliability. A hardtop soon became standard on the C2 series.
The debut corvette checked in at $3,498, which equals out about $31,000 today. The three Corvette’s featured in this article were all recently sold by RM Auctions. The white 1953 car is from the Don Davis collection and achieved the highest total of this collection, at $346,500 on April 27th, 2013.
Most other examples hover in the $100,000 to $250,000 range, and are therefore quite affordable versus similar 1950s Ferrari’s or other desirable classics.
The Corvette was so accurate at nailing buyer dreams when it came out that there was nothing to take it on until 1955 with the Ford Thunderbird .
Right about then, most of these hotshot pilots and tank gunners were having kids and the Corvette had to go back on the shelf of dream cars for "some day."
But for thousands of collectors across the world, that "Some Day" is today, tomorrow and every day of owning a classic C1 Corvette.
- Such lovely details in the rear bumpers and brake lighting
- That windshield and a cabin that had painted body all around it was unseen and caused a sensation
- Yes, the Corvette was the GT-R of the 1950s for pilots and skilled engineers returning from war
- But then those heroes got fat and bald, with kids and less time for the Vette
- Image problems are temporary for the Corvette, however
- Always seems an engine upgrade or facelift away from legendary greatness
Gallery Chevrolet Corvette C1
1953 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster - Sold for $346,500 Saturday, April 27, 2013
150 bhp, 235.5 cu. in. “Blue Flame” OHV inline six-cylinder engine, three 1-barrel Carter carburetors, Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with unequal length A-arms and coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 102 in.
- The original and iconic Corvette
- The 274th of only 300 built
- Restored by a Corvette expert and not yet shown
In the early-1950s, a team of GM engineers, headed up by Harley Earl, went to work trying to create a fiberglass-bodied car that had the appeal to compete with European sports cars. Harley Earl had excelled at swooping design since the 1920s and designed aircraft-looking features into the car, including round dials blended into a curved dash, all of which was sheltered under a roofline that stood just under 47 inches tall. The six-cylinder engine was positioned farther toward the rear, which gave the flat hood a long sleek appearance. By the time it was ready to be unveiled, it is reported that GM had spent over $1.5 million on the project.
Dubbed the Corvette “Dream Car,” it debuted at the GM Motorama show held at the stylish Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City with astounding results. Following the first weekend of the Motorama event in New York, over 300,000 people had seen the car and spent $800,000 on GM products. Concluding Motorama’s U.S. tour, GM stated that over four million people had seen the car.
Production of the two-seat roadster started in June 1953, and by year’s end, a total of only 300 Corvettes rolled off the assembly line. This first year of Corvette production signified an important technical milestone: GM was the first major American car manufacturer to successfully mass-produce a vehicle whose underpan and bodyshell was made entirely of fiberglass.
The Corvette featured GM’s “Blue Flame” inline six, 235-cubic inch engine, with triple Carter carburetors and dual exhaust. The engine’s respectable 150 horsepower was transmitted to the road via a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. All 300 cars built in 1953 were visually identical, finished in Polo White with a Sportsman Red interior. The car was fitted with subtle pieces of chrome trim, which ran along either side, as well as wire meshing covering the headlights.
Compared to the Jaguar XK 120 and the MGA of the time, the Corvette was proportionally smaller, yet it was more responsive and superior in handling. Unable to resist its magnetism, virtually every auto enthusiast felt compelled to get behind the wheel of the new Corvette. Even though its initial success was impressive, it is doubtful that even those at GM could have thought the Corvette would achieve the success it has over the six decades it has been in production.
The car offered here from the Don Davis Collection was the 274th Corvette produced, and it underwent a body-off restoration performed by Blue Flame Restoration, of Pendelton, Indiana, the shop of respected 1953 Corvette expert Brett Henderson. Equipped with a Wonderbar radio, spinner wheel covers, center-mounted tachometer and speedometer, and bullet air filters, it presents well and authentically throughout, in its iconic colors and with high-quality finishes throughout, which are appropriate to how this car left the factory. Panel fit is notably good for one of these early cars, as is the concours-quality brightwork and proper safety glass windshield.
The restoration still shows 45,750 miles, and it is believed to have not been shown since its completion. Equipped with its original side curtains in the trunk, as well as a CD of documentation on the restoration, this is a clean and lovely example of a car that every Corvette enthusiast needs in their collection. It was the beginning of America’s Sports Car, and it all began right here.