Chevrolet Corvette (C1)

The Chevrolet Corvette is a line of American two-door, two-seater sports cars, manufactured and marketed by General Motors, under the Chevrolet marque, since 1953.

The Chevrolet Corvette (C1) is the first generation of the Corvette sports car produced by Chevrolet. It was introduced late in the 1953 model year and produced through 1962. This generation is commonly referred to as the “solid-axle” generation, as the independent rear suspension did not appear until the 1963 Sting Ray.

The Corvette was rushed into production for its debut model year to capitalize on the enthusiastic public reaction to the concept vehicle, but expectations for the new model were largely unfulfilled. Reviews were mixed and sales fell far short of expectations through the car’s early years. The program was nearly canceled, but Chevrolet decided to make necessary improvements.

The most expensive Corvette (C1) to sell in history was sold by Barrett-Jackson in the United States in March 2021 for $825,000.

Harley Earl, as head of GM’s Styling Section, was an avid fan of sports cars. He recognized that GIs returning after serving overseas in the years following World War II were bringing home MGs, Jaguars, and Alfa Romeos. In 1951, Nash Motors began selling an expensive two-seat sports car, the Nash-Healey, that was made in partnership with the Italian designer Pininfarina and British auto engineer Donald Healey, but there were few moderate-priced models. Earl convinced GM that they needed to build an all-American two-seat sports car, and with his Special Projects crew began working on the new car in late 1951. The last time Chevrolet offered a 2-door, 2-passenger convertible/roadster body style was in 1938 with the Chevrolet Master.


The 1953 model year was not only the Corvette’s first production year, but at 300 produced it was also the lowest-volume Corvette. The cars were essentially hand-built and techniques evolved during the production cycle so that each 1953 Corvette is slightly different. All 1953 models had red interiors, Polo white exteriors, and painted blue engines (a reference to the three colors represented on the Flag of the United States, where the Corvette was assembled) as well as black canvas soft tops. Order guides showed heaters and AM radios as optional, but all 1953 models were equipped with both. Over two hundred 1953 Corvettes are known to exist today. They had independent front suspension, but featured a rigid axle supported by longitudinal leaf springs at the rear. The cost of the first production model Corvettes in 1953 was US$3,490 ($38,795 in 2023 dollars).

The quality of the fiberglass body as well as its fit and finish were lacking. Other problems, such as water leaks and doors that could open while the car was driven, were reported with the most severe errors corrected in subsequent units produced, but some shortcomings continued beyond the Corvette’s inaugural year. By December 1953, Chevrolet had a newly equipped factory in St. Louis ready to build 10,000 Corvettes annually. However, negative customer reactions to 1953 and early 1954 models caused sales to fall short of expectations.

In 1954, a total of 3,640 of this model were built and nearly a third were unsold at year’s end. New colors were available, but the six-cylinder engine and Powerglide automatic, the only engine and transmission available, were not what sports car enthusiasts expected. It is known that 1954 models were painted Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Black, in addition to Polo White. All had red interiors, except for those finished in Pennant Blue which had a beige interior and beige canvas soft top. Order guides listed several options, but all options were “mandatory” and all 1954 Corvettes were equipped the same.

In the October 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics, there was an extensive survey of Corvette owners in America. The surprising finding was their opinions in comparison to foreign sports cars. It was found that 36% of those taking the survey had owned a foreign sports car, and of that, half of them rated the Corvette as better than their previous foreign sports car. Nineteen percent rated the Corvette as equal to their foreign sports car and 22% rated the Corvette as inferior. While many were well pleased with the Corvette, they did not consider it a true sports car. The principal complaint of the surveyed owners was the tendency of the body to leak extensively during rainstorms.

Chevrolet debuted its 265 cu in (4.3 L) small-block, 195 hp (145 kW) V8 in 1955 and the engine was available for the Corvette. Early production 1955 V8 Corvettes continued with the mandatory-option Powerglide automatic transmission (as did the few 6-cylinder models built). A new three-speed manual transmission became available later in the year for V8 models, but was not popular with about 75 equipped with it. Exterior color choices were expanded to at least five, combined with at least four interior colors. Soft-tops came in white, dark green, or beige and different materials. A total of 700 1955 Corvettes were built, making it second only to 1953 in scarcity. The “V” in the Corvette emblem was enlarged and gold colored, signifying the V8 engine and 12-volt electrical systems, while 6-cylinder models retained the 6-volt systems used in 1953–54.

Although not a part of the original Corvette project, Zora Arkus-Duntov was responsible for the addition of the V8 engine and three-speed manual transmission. Duntov improved the car’s marketing and image and helped the car compete with the new V8—engined Ford Thunderbird, Studebaker Speedster and the larger Chrysler C-300, and turned the Corvette from its lackluster performance into a credible performer. In 1956 he became the director of high-performance vehicle design and development for Chevrolet helping him earn the nickname “Father of the Corvette.”

Although the C1 Corvette chassis and suspension design were derived from Chevrolet’s full-size cars, the same basic design was continued through the 1962 model even after the full-size cars were completely redesigned for the 1955 model year. This was due to the combined factors of the relatively high reengineering and retooling costs for this low-volume production vehicle, the continued potential for cancellation of the car, and the increased size and weight of the all-new suspension design for the full-size cars, which made it unsuitable for use in the lighter weight Corvette.


The 1956 Corvette featured a new body, with real glass roll-up windows and a more substantial convertible top. The straight-6 engine was discontinued, leaving only the 265 cu in (4.3 L) V8. Power ranged from 210 to 240 hp (157 to 179 kW). The standard transmission remained the 3-speed manual with an optional 2-speed Powerglide automatic. Other options included power assisted convertible top, a removable hardtop, power windows, and a “then-leading edge” signal-seeking partially transistorized Delco car radio. A high-performance camshaft was also available (as RPO 449) with the 240 hp (179 kW) engine. Sales volume was 3,467, a low number by any contemporary standard and less than 1954’s 3,640, making it the third lowest in Corvette history.

Visually the 1957 model was unchanged. The V8 was increased to 283 cu in (4.6 L), fuel-injection became a very expensive option, and a 4-speed manual transmission became available after April 9, 1957. GM’s Rochester subsidiary used a constant flow system, producing a listed 290 hp (216 kW) at 6200 rpm and 290 lb⋅ft (393 N⋅m) of torque at 4400 rpm. Debate continues to swirl whether this was underrated by Chevrolet (to allow for lower insurance premiums, or give the car an advantage in certain forms of racing) rather than overrated, as was common practice at the time (to juice sales). Either way, it was advertised as producing “One HP per cubic inch”, allowing it to claim it was one of the first mass-produced engines to do so.

Pushed toward high-performance and racing, principally by its designer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, who had raced in Europe, 1957 Corvettes could be ordered ready-to-race with special performance options, such as an engine fresh air/tach package, heavy-duty racing suspension, and 15 by 5.5 in (380 by 140 mm) wheels.

Also in 1957, Chevrolet developed a new racing variation of the Corvette with the aim to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Originally known as Project XP-64, it would eventually become known as the Corvette SS. It featured a tuned version of the new 283 CID V8 and a specialized tubular space frame chassis. However, after a rear bushing failure retired the car during a 1957 Sebring race, the AMA announced a ban on motor racing in April 1957 for member companies like GM, leading to the cancellation of further developments of the Corvette SS platform.

Sales volume was 6,339, a jump of almost 83%. Fuel-injected models were in short supply and 1,040 were sold.


In an era of chrome and four headlamps, the Corvette adapted to the look of the day. The 1958 model year and the four that followed all had the exposed four-headlamp treatment and prominent grilles, but a faux-louvered hood and chrome trunk spears were unique to this model year. The interior and instruments were updated, including placing a tachometer directly in front of the driver. For the 1958 model, an 8000 rpm tachometer was used with the 240 and 290 hp (179 and 216 kW) engines, rather than the 6000 rpm units used in the lower horsepower engines. Optional engine choices included two with twin carburetors (including a 270 hp (201 kW) version with Carter 2613S and 2614S WCFB four-barrels) and two with fuel injection. The power output for the highest-rated fuel-injected engine was 290 hp (216 kW). Displacement remained 283 cu in (4.6 L). For the first time, seat belts were factory-installed rather than dealer-installed as on previous models.

For the 1959 model, engines and horsepower ratings did not change. The interiors were revised slightly with different instrument graphics and the addition of a storage bin to the passenger side. A positive reverse lockout shifter with “T” handle was standard with 4-speed manual transmission. This was the only year a turquoise convertible top color could be ordered, and all 24-gallon fuel tank models through 1962 could not be ordered with convertible tops due to inadequate space for the folding top mechanism.

The last features to appear in 1960 models included taillamps molded into the rear fenders and heavy grill teeth. New features include aluminum radiators, but only with 270 and 290 hp (201 and 216 kW) engines. Also for the first time, all fuel-injection engines required manual transmissions. The 1960s Cascade Green was metallic, unique to the year, and the most infrequent color at 140 made. Options that were not often ordered included RPO 579 250 hp (186 kW) engine (100), RPO 687 heavy-duty brakes and suspension (119), RPO 276 15×5.5-inch steel road wheels (246), RPO 473 power convertible top (512), and RPO 426 power windows (544).


Twin taillights appeared on the 1961, a treatment that continues to this day. Engine displacement remained at 283 cubic inches, but power output increased for the two fuel-injected engines to 275 and 315 hp (205 and 235 kW). Output ratings for the dual-four barrel engines did not change (245 and 270 hp (183 and 201 kW)), but this was the last year of their availability. This was the last year for contrasting paint colors in cove areas, and the last two-tone Corvette of any type until 1978. Also debuting in 1961 was a new boat-tail that was carried through to the C2. Infrequently ordered options included RPO 353 275 hp (205 kW) engine (118), RPO 687 heavy-duty brakes and steering (233), RPO 276 15×5.5-inch steel road wheels (357), and RPO 473 power convertible top (442).

With a new larger engine the 1962 model year Corvette was the quickest to date. Displacement of the small-block V8 increased from 283 cu in (4.6 L) to 327 cu in (5,360 cc), which was rated at 250 hp (186 kW) in its base single 4-barrel carburetor version. Hydraulic valve lifters were used in the standard and optional 300 hp (224 kW) engines, solid lifters in the optional carbureted 340 hp (254 kW) and fuel-injected 360 hp (268 kW) versions. Dual 4-barrel carburetor engines were no longer available.

1962 saw the last solid-rear-axle suspension, that had been used from the beginning. Rocker panel trim was seen for the first time, and exposed headlights for the last, until 2005. This was the last Corvette model to offer an optional power convertible top mechanism.

Assembly: Flint (USA)

Years of production: 1953—1962

Production: 69,015 units

Length: 4501 mm

Width: 1849 mm

Height: 1295 mm

Engine: 8 cylinders; 4700 cc

Power: 240 HP

Max speed: 220 km/h

Weight: 1354 kg

Avtomuzey (MoscowRussia) and Marc Vidal’s Collection (Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain)

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