The original Corvette was a rare example of a futuristic concept car available for sale at local dealerships. Classic nineteen-fifties Motorama dream car style made it an icon of design. As exciting as the first generation Corvette looked, its sales were sluggish at best; for today’s collector that guarantees exclusivity and continued investment value, just 300 were built for ’53, 3,640 for ’54, and 700 for ‘55.
Barely refined over their dream car prototype, early Corvettes showed the shortcomings of cars meant for show stands instead of streets. Close inspection of its curvaceous body reveals a crudely built, overly thick-gauged plastic tub with awkward ergonomics. The 1953-54 Corvette’s Blue Flame six-clyinder engine dated back to the 1930s with a two-speed automatic the only transmission offered, denying sports car purists the ability to shift for themselves. Though the Corvette interior looked sporting, awful ergonomics mashed the steering wheel up against a driver’s chest with a non-adjustable seat prohibiting a comfortable driving position.
The original ‘Vette looked racy, but its wimpy inline six bolted to a two-speed automatic transmission meant driving one was as exciting as separate rooms on a honeymoon. It’s a true roadster, meaning there’s no side windows, just irksome clip-on, flexible side curtains. And there’s no security, a lack of exterior door handles means you can’t lock the doors. For the original body’s final year of 1955, Chevrolet refined the car with improved fit and finish, and offered a potent V-8 engine, but public excitement had cooled and sales were limited. All this changed instantly when the dramatically updated 1956 model debuted.
In the end, the Corvette’s growing pains inspired a continual evolution until within a few short years, it had truly earned its motto as “America’s only sports car.”
Story by Jim Cherry; most photos by Anthony B. Barthel