WHY THE FIRST-GENERATION CORVETTE IS STILL THE BEST SPORTS CAR

When the first Corvette debuted in New York City at the GM Motorama on January 17, 1953, the public fell head-over-heels for its beauty. The broad but sleek fiberglass body exuded confidence, and the overall design was more robust than other popular sports cars of its time, such as the Triumph TR2 and Austin-Healey 100. The car was fast, stylish and exceptionally American.

Based on the overwhelming praise from the public, Chevrolet ordered the Corvette into production, and the first-ever Chevrolet sports car rolled off the assembly line on June 30, 1953. Just 300 examples were built that year; all painted Polo White with a red interior.

A 1953 Chevrolet Corvette car at the Woodward Dream Cruise, 2014.

Enthusiasts sensationalized the ’53 and 54  Corvettes for their overall appearance; however, the performance technology was nothing to shake a stick at. The engine was a slightly-updated 150-hp Stovebolt inline-six, which, however bullet-proof, had been in production since 1941. A simple two-speed automatic transmission put the power to the pavement, and the suspension was taken from existing Chevy sedans. It was apparent that Chevrolet needed more time to refine the Corvette, but despite its early drawbacks, it gained an immediate fan base for a bright future and soon became an icon of the 1950s.

A legend is born

Many enthusiasts agree that the Corvette didn’t become a genuine sports car legend until a V-8 lived under the hood. The 1955 Corvette was somewhat deceiving at first glance. The body and chassis saw limited changes while Chevrolet focused on upping the performance with the car’s first-ever small-block V-8. Paired with the three-speed manual transmission, the new 195-hp engine improved the Corvette’s 0-60 time from the original inline-six’s 11-seconds to 8.5-seconds. The much-needed performance upgrade likely saved sale numbers from flatlining. It still is not fast to today’s standards, but the ’55 Corvette is the car that made fast Corvettes possible.

For 1956, the straight-six was dropped from the Corvette lineup completely, leaving only the 265-cid V-8 with a power range of 210 to 240-hp. Chevrolet also fitted it with a refined body, real glass roll-up windows, and a substantially better convertible top, which resolved previous leakage issues.

More fuel, more horsepower

By 1957, consumers could easily order the Corvette with a V-8 and a four-speed transmission. Not only that; this is the year that the Rochester Ramjet Fuel Injection came in to up the game. A year prior, a version of the injection system was installed in John Fitch’s ’56 Corvette SR and put to the test at Seabring, resulting in a B-Class win.

Of the 6,338 Corvettes built for 1957, Chevrolet equipped just over 1,000 with the Rochester Ramjet Fuel Injection System. The precise fuel distribution forced 283-hp out of the factory 283-cid small-block. Read that again: that’s 1-hp per cubic inch, an impressive number for a time when most engines didn’t achieve half of that.

1958 Chevrolet Corvette

The highest power output available for the 1958, ’59 and 60 Corvettes was 290-hp, fuel-injected, of course. 1958 was also the beginning of the quad-headlamp years, which would vanish with the second-generation’s re-design. Chevrolet released what is arguably the most striking Corvette ever produced in 1961, a cross between the C1 front end and the rear of the C2. More importantly, the Chevrolet upped the V-8’s cubes to 327 in the ‘62 model year.

We’ll stop rambling and get to the point: The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette is often referred to as the most flawed Corvette ever produced, but we disagree. Its greatness lies in the fact that it is the very first of its breed, the car that started it all. Think about it for a moment: without the ‘53, the Corvette wouldn’t exist. What kind of world would that be? Fortunately, we will never know.  

Want to relive the glory of the Corvette’s first generation? Check out the selection of first-gen Vettes on DriveShare and rent one for a day—or a weekend!

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