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Chevrolet Corvette Mk1 (1953 - 1962)

The Corvette has a fascinating place in Americana. At the end of World War II in 1945, the post-war generation fell in love with the first Corvette, and that affair is obviously still going strong. Subsequent Corvettes are all beautiful, but the Mk1 embodies all that is the 50s in the USA. Like many sports cars, the body is made of fibreglass. Unlike the rest, the quality is such that you would not know it. For a considerable period of time, Colorado Springs has been the centre of the Corvette world. Tradition has it that newly qualified officers from the Air Force Academy are bought a new Corvette by their long suffering parents! The 'Vette is in many respects totally impractical. There is is no trunk, so many cars had a luggage rack fitted to make any form of distance travel possible.

Servicemen stationed in Europe during World War II found the nifty and sporty British MG quite appealing. Even though ownership of the 2 seater sports car was limited to a small, elite group, it was hot in America. Lucrative war contracts had left General Motors mightier than ever. They reasoned that a sports car tailored to American driving conditions and comforts an affluent population wanted in their cars would sell well. It would also boost the stodgy image of Chevrolet.

When Ed Cole became chief engineer at Chevrolet, he immediately tripled the engineering staff. Harley J. Earl, founder and head of the firm's arts and colour section, also felt the time was right for an American sports car. Earl picked Robert McLean, a young sports car enthusiast with degrees in engineering and industrial design, to come up with a basic layout for this secret project, nicknamed "Project Opel." McLean started from the back of the car with a rear axle as a reference point, and placed the passenger and engine compartments as close to it as possible. His goal was to have a 50/50 weight distribution, which creates optimum handling in a sports car.

In 1953 General Motors introduced the Chevrolet Corvette, the first American made sports car. Available only in white with red interior, it sported a $3,490 suggested retail price. In its Jan. 4, 1954 issue, Life Magazine reported, "Owners will like its lightness and ease of repair: if the tough plastic is punctured in an accident it can usually be patched like new with a blowtorch for a couple of dollars."

In its first two years of operation, Corvette was not an unqualified success. Sports car enthusiasts did not like automatic transmission and were shocked to find only detachable windows that couldn't be rolled down. Ford broke the market wide open with the introduction of the Thunderbird. Debates accelerated then (and now) over which vehicle was the most powerful.

Zora Arkus-Duntov was hired by Chevrolet as an assistant staff engineer in 1953 and later became Corvette's chief engineer. Without his help, Corvette production would have been halted in 1955. The fact that Thunderbirds outsold Corvettes by a 23 to 1 ratio in 1955 caused Arkus-Duntov to "come out swinging" in 1956.

In 1956 and 1957 the Corvette had more prominent headlights, "coves" indented on each side, squarer fenders, and conventional winding windows. From whatever angle the car was viewed, there was no mistaking that the car was a Corvette. However, there were few changes and limited promotion of the Corvette between 1956 and 1962.

 In the early 1960s Harley Earl retired, and new ideas came with new leadership. Bill Mitchell, GM's new chief of design, had an incredibly successful idea: Stingray! Tradition was broken as the totally redesigned Corvette was offered as a coupe or a convertible with 4 engine choices. Both featured a streamlined appearance and improved passenger accommodations. The American public loved 1963-1967 Stingrays because they were fast machines that looked supersonic even when parked. They remain the most collectible Corvettes today.

1957 Corvette
 
Wheelbase 2590 mm 102 in  
Track front 1448 mm 57 in  
rear 1500 mm 59.1 in  
Length 4510 mm 177.6 in  
Width 1855 mm 73 in  
Height 1308 mm 51.5 in  
Ground clearance 203 mm 8 in  
Kerb weight 1376 kg 3034 lb  
Fuel capacity 61.4
litres
13.5
UK Gal
16.2
US Gal
engine
Manufacturer GM
Type V-8
OHV
16 valves total
2 valves per cylinder
Bore stroke 98.42mm 76.20mm
3.87 in 3 in
Bore/Stroke ratio 1.29
Displacement 4638 cc
(283.028 cu in)
Unitary capacity 579.75 cc/cylinder
Compression ratio 9.50:1
Fuel system 1 Ro carb
Aspiration Normal
Max. output
(Gross)
233.2 PS (230.0 bhp) (171.5 kW)
@4800 rpm
Max. torque
(Gross)
407.0 Nm (300 lbft) (41.5 kgm)
@3000 rpm
Coolant Water
Specific output 49.6 bhp/litre
0.81 bhp/cu in
Specific torque 87.75 Nm/litre
Top speed 220 km/h
Power-to-weight 167.15 bhp/ton
chassis
Engine location Front
Engine alignment Longitudinal
Turning circle 11.30 m
Suspension Front I.CS.
Rear LA.SE.
Brakes F/R Dr/Dr
Brake ∅ F/R / mm
Drive RWD