• 1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1

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.

The only non-mass-market car around was the coach-built Phaeton from Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz or Duesenberg.

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.

  • 1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1
  • Year:
    1953- 1962
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-6
  • Transmission:
    3-Speed Manual (2-Speed Auto Opt)
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    155
  • MPG(Cty):
    10 (Est.)
  • MPG(Hwy):
    20 (Est.)
  • Torque @ RPM:
    138 (Est.)
  • Displacement:
    3.9 L
  • 0-60 time:
    11.2 sec.
  • Quarter Mile time:
    17.9 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    108 mph
  • 0-100 time:
    39 sec.
  • Layout:
    Front-engine, Rear-Drive
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526696

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

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526700

Corvette C1 - Exterior Styling Detail

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526654

1958 - 1961 Corvette C1 - Exterior Styling Updates

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526653
1961 Chevrolet Corvette C1
1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526655
1961 Chevrolet Corvette C1
1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 Exterior
- image 526671

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.

Interior

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 Interior
- image 526699

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.

Styling Detail

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 Interior
- image 526675

Powertrain, Suspension and Brakes

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 Drivetrain
- image 526658

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

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 526657

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.

Pricing

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526705

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.

Conclusion

1953 - 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1 High Resolution Exterior
- image 526694

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.

  • Leave it
    • 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
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