Corvette—The Beginning, 1951 to 1962

A Chevrolet design workshop named “Project Opal” had a mandate to build a two-seat sports car for the American market. The result of this work was a hand-built Corvette prototype made in 1951. Chevrolet gave it the name of EX-122, and the public got to see it in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on January 17, 1953. This first Corvette is now in the Kerbeck Corvette Museum in Atlantic City , the oldest prototype still in existence.

Chevrolette Corvette 1955 interior

© Siegi232 | Chevrolet Corvette

.Chevrolette Corvette 1955

© Toynutz | 1955 Chevrolet Corvette

The prototype became available to consumers in the last half of 1953 in limited quantities. There were only 300 of these mostly handmade cars, all built using a new revolutionary material, fiberglass. The main reason they used fiberglass was due to a shortage of steel after World War II, and a limited-production sports car was a good place to start working with the new medium. With a 55-degree raked safety glass windshield, the license plate holder set back in the trunk and 102-inch wheelbase, it looked like a sports car. However, under the plastic exterior the car’s power came from the “blur flame” inline-six engine coupled to the two-speed “power glide” automatic transmission. It didn’t go like a sports car, which was maybe a good thing because it didn’t stop very well, either.

Chevrolet Corvette 1962© Swtrekker | 1962 Chevrolet Corvette

The exclusive to Corvette triple side draft Carter carburetor gave the car a bit more get up and go, but in 1953, it was definitely not a high-performance machine. In 1953, with a dealer-installed option, a centrifugal supercharger, and a more aggressive camshaft putting out 150 horsepower, the Vette had a bit more zip. However, Chevy’s two-person, only in white sports car was on the road, and it could do 0-60 in 11.5 seconds.

Chevrolet Corvette 1960© Moonb007 | 1960 white Corvette

In 1954, Chevrolet was seriously thinking of scrapping the two-seat sports car idea until Ford’s “personal luxury car,” the Thunderbird with two seats was unveiled at an auto show. The new T-bird would become available to the public in 1955.  GM would have to save face so they kept the Corvette for another year.

The new 1955 Corvette came with a standard three-speed powered by a newly designed 265-cubic-inch (4.34L) V8 and could do a very presentable 0-60 in 8.5 seconds. There were only 700 of these made due to the previous year’s models still in stock.

The 1956 Corvette got a face lift. The revised body design had side covers, and the tail lamp fins were dropped. In the middle of 1957, you could have chosen a fuel injection system as an option. This car was one of the first mass-produced engines to achieve close to one hp per cubic inch of engine displacement with the newly introduced small-block 283-cubic-inch (4.64L).

The heavy-duty brakes and improved suspension were standard. A discerning consumer could have this car with an optional signal-seeking transistor radio, power windows, and power top on the convertible model. In 1957, the Vette offered a four-speed manual transmission, as well.

In 1958, another refreshed body appeared with an extended hood and a four-headlight setup in front with twin exhaust pipes mounted in the bumper in the back. Only available on the ’58 were hood louvers and trunk spears. The interior was renewed as well with a new steering wheel and the instruments moved directly in front of the driver. The 1959 and 1960 models were about the same look with a little less chrome. Engine options increased for those two years, though, offering higher performance goodies.

Chevrolet Corvette 1961

© Lmel900 | 1961 silver convertible Chevrolet Corvette

In 1961, the back of the Corvette changed by adding a duck tail with four round taillights as well as a wrap-around windshield. The 1962 was the last model of the first generation and looked almost the same as in ’61, but under the hood were some big changes. The 283 was bored to 327 cubic inches (5.36L) and produced 250 brake horsepower (190 kW), or as an option for only 12 percent over list price, you could have that engine with fuel injection producing 360 bhp (270 kW). This was by far the most powerful Vette to date. The 1962 was only available as a convertible and was the most refined Corvette to date.

5 thoughts on “Corvette—The Beginning, 1951 to 1962”

  1. love them all, unfortunteatly never was able to own one, but regretfully had a lincoln and cadillac and probably could very well had a vette for much cheaper than those two pieces of shit !!!!!!

  2. That never was a muscle car until GM turned down an offer to make fast cars. After that Chrysler became the true icon of American muscle and for some ungodly reason GM gets the credit that is total bullshit.

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Streamlined roof-mounted emergency lighting pods were beginning to appear by 1940 and Meteor showed a number of ambulances so-equipped in their mailings. Meteor's flower cars were topped by 5-window business coupe-style roofs and featured a fake folded convertible top made of aluminum mounted at the rear of the flower box. Meteor introduced a new driver's door first seen on 1939 S&S carved-panel coaches that featured an unusual A-shaped window frame. Meteor then mounted a miniature coach lamp within the triangular panel that was now part of the body. Although the new arched door looked great on their service cars, flower cars and carved Gothic hearses, it looked hideous when combined with the vertical B & C pillars found on their limousine-style coaches and ambulances. The rear door window frames as well as the B-pillars and C-pillars were still vertically oriented and clashed with the sharply sloping outline of the front door's arched window-frame.S&S did the right thing and used vertical B-pillar front door frames on their regular limousine-style and landau-style hearses and ambulances. Although they could have used a regular door on their limousine-style coaches and ambulances (as did S&S), for some unknown reason, Meteor didn't and continued producing ugly limousine style coaches until 1950, when regular door frames returned.Quite unfairly, LaSalle had acquired the reputation of being a "cheap" Cadillac and was eliminated by GM just as Cadillac released their new Bill Mitchell-designed models in 1941. The new Cadillac was decidedly forward-looking, side-mounted spares had been eliminated and the new Hydra-Matic automatic transmission was available for the first time having been pioneered by Oldsmobile in the previous year. The prow-nosed look seen in the Thirties was gone, replaced by massive front-end highlighted by the now-famous egg-crate grille. Headlamps were now mounted in, rather than on top of, the front fenders. Equipped with a Cord-like coffin-nose hood the new Cadillacs were noticeably different from their predecessors and set the standard for American luxury during the 1940s. A mid-sized 29-passenger transit bus prototype called the 101 was built during 1941, but never saw production. However their experience with the vehicle helped procure a large contract to produce bodies for a post-war Reo transit coach.The A-framed Meteor coaches continued little unchanged through 1942 although a less-expensive series of coaches appeared in 1941 mounted on Chevrolet chassis that featured normal-looking vertically-oriented B-pillars. When seen on a flower car body, Meteor's A-framed front doors looked good and their 1942 version featured a 5-window business coupe roof mounted on top of a standard Meteor coach body that had been built with no structure above the beltline. The coupe's blanked-in rear quarter-windows were covered by a landau bar and the base of the roof flowed straight back to the rear of the flower box which still had a makeshift faux folded-convertible roof. The rear doors were left intact and could be used to load chairs or other graveside necessities. Access to the casket compartment was through the tailgate which had built-in casket rollers that matched those on the compartment floor. The height of the exposed stainless steel flower deck was hydraulically adjustable so that different-sized floral tributes could be accommodated and a tonneau was included to cover the bed when not in use.After an illustrious career with Henney and a short stint at the Des Moines Casket Company, automotive designer Herman Earl (1878-1957) worked for Meteor up until his retirement during WWII. Another famous wartime Meteor employee was John B. Judkins who became a consultant for the firm, when his Merrimac, MA coachbuilding firm folded in 1942. During the War, Meteor manufactured aviation equipment for the US Navy and ramped up for civilian production in early 1945.Immediately after the war Meteor built 969 bus bodies for Reo's post-war 96-HT 'Victory' bus (1945-1947). These Reo-Meteor coaches included a Continental 427cu in 6­cylinder gasoline engine mounted under the floor and featured sectional bodies similar to those produced by Wayne Works.1946-1948 Meteor coaches remained unchanged from the pre-war 1942 models and still included weird A-framed front doors with integral miniature coach lamps. As with other makers, post-war prices increased by about 50% and new Meteor coaches started at $5,000. All Meteor coaches were now built on Cadillac chassis and included rear fender skirts plus optional automatic transmission and air-conditioning. Ambulances could be ordered with built-in roof-top warning lights, a choice of sirens plus a clever front fender-mounted fire extinguisher.Cadillac's new commercial chassis was available beginning 1949, one year after the introduction of their famous P-38 Lightning-influenced rear fenders.

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