A caricature of a European roadster, the first Corvette of 1953 was more show than go. With typical arrogance, Harley Earl was more interested in the way it looked saw a huge market for a new type of auto opium. With everybody’s dreams looking exactly the same, the plastic ’Vette brought a badly needed shot of designed-in diversity.
Early models may have been cramped and slow, but they looked like they’d been lifted straight off a Motorama turntable, which they had. Building them was a nightmare though, and for a while GM lost money on each one. Still, nobody minded because Chevrolet now had a new image—as the company that came up with the first American sports car.
The ’Vette’s shape was based on the 1952 EX- 122 show car, and this was one of the few Motorama dream cars to go into production virtually unchanged. The original plan to produce the ’Vette in steel was shelved after widespread acclaim for the fiberglass body from visitors to Motorama.
Performance was not in the Jaguar XK120 league, with a modest 107 mph (172 km/h) top speed.
Outboard-mounted rear leaf springs helped cornering stability.
Like the British sports cars it aped, the ’54 ’Vette’s door handles lived on the inside.
The cleverly packaged fiberglass body was rather tricky to make, with no less than 46 different sections. The soft top folded out of sight below a neat lift-up panel.
REAR PLATE PROBLEMS
Early cars had license plates in a plastic niche that had a tendency to mist up. To resolve the problem, Chevrolet inserted two bags of desiccant material to absorb the moisture.
Enthusiasts were not thrilled with the small trunk, plastic body, and lethargic performance.
Bus tires lacked adhesion, suspension was unyielding, and the two-speed automatic jerked all over the place.
An aeronautical fantasy, the Corvette’s dashboard had a futuristic, space-age feel. Not until 1958 was the row of dials repositioned to a more practical, front of the driver, location.
Earl’s advice to stylists working on the Corvette was to “go all the way and then back off.” The end result was that they didn’t actually back off much and produced one of the most charismatic cars of the day.
The souped-up Blue Flame Six block may have had triple carburetors, higher compression, and a high lift cam, but it was still old and wheezy. ’Vettes had to wait until 1955 for the V8 they deserved.
Oddly enough, 80 percent of all ’54 Corvettes were painted white.
Stone guards on lights were culled from European racing cars, but criticized for being too feminine.
Earl admitted that the shark-tooth grille was robbed from contemporary Ferraris.
Impact protection may have been vestigial, but the fiberglass body took knocks well.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Chevrolet Corvette (1954)
PRODUCTION 3,640 (1954)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seater sports.
CONSTRUCTION Fiberglass body, steel chassis.
ENGINE 235.5cid straight six.
POWER OUTPUT 150 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Two-speed Powerglide automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: coil springs; Rear: leaf springs with live axle.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 107 mph (172 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8–12 sec
A.F.C. 20 mpg (7 km/l)