Reprint about the first production of the Corvette
Buoyed by a wildly enthusiastic introduction as a concept car at GM’s New York 1953 Motorama debut in January, company executives put production of the Corvette on a fast track to capitalize on the favorable public and media opinion. After months of frantic activity, production on the 1953 Corvette got underway, with the initial target set at just 50 cars a month — a maximum of 300 units for the balance of the calendar year.
Each 1953 Corvette required considerable
hand labor on the makeshift Flint,
Michigan, assembly line, which was
housed in the same factory that turned out
Chevy passenger cars. Due to variances
in the supplied fiberglass components,
body fit-and-finish were inconsistent,
especially during the first
Actually, much of the 1953 model-year’s run of 300 cars would be hand-built, as more-efficient production processes for assembling the vehicle’s fiberglass body were still being perfected. All cars would be built the same way so workers could concentrate on putting the bodies together properly without being rushed and without the distraction of trim and equipment variations. As a result, all ’53 Corvettes were painted Polo White and had Sportsman Red interiors, black tops, 6.70 X 15 four-ply whitewall tires, Delco signal-seeking radios, and recirculating hot-water heaters. Also standard was a complete set of analog instruments, including a 5000-rpm tachometer and a counter for total engine revolutions (a feature that would continue through 1959).
The first Corvette to come off the assembly line was driven by Tony Kleiber, a Chevrolet body assembler, on June 30, 1953 — just six months after its public unveiling as a Motorama dream car. Amazingly, the first production Corvette was changed little from its concept display model. Some chrome-plated engine parts were now painted, manual doors and hood replaced the hydraulically operated versions, a manual choke was used instead of an automatic one, exterior door pushbuttons were left off, and there were some minor trim variations. Yet at a suggested retail price of $3,513, the car had evolved into a considerably costlier vehicle than the austere roadster Harley Earl had originally conceived as selling for around $2,000 as “Project Opel.”
The first 1953 Corvette came off the Flint line on June 30, 1953,
just months after the car’s public debut.
Though reaction to the Corvette as a show car was strongly positive, early reviews of the production version were mixed. For starters, sports-car enthusiasts took extreme umbrage to the vehicle’s only available transmission, the Powerglide automatic. What’s more, Harley Earl’s body design, though clean and appealing, was still considered to be too gimmicky for some tastes. Coming under particular scrutiny in some quarters were the rocket-like rear fenders with their tiny fins, the dazzling vertical grille teeth, and the sunken headlights covered by mesh stone guards. The shadow-box license-plate housing was covered by plastic that tended to turn cloudy.
The car’s convertible top was not power operated, but it folded neatly beneath a flush-fitting cover and could be managed with some ease by one person. The clip-in side curtains, perhaps favored over roll-down windows as a cost-cutting measure, were every bit as inconvenient and annoying as they were on the less-expensive British roadsters of the period. Even worse, not having exterior door buttons meant that the only way to open a door from the outside was to reach inside the car for the release.
Performance-wise, however, the Corvette was quite a good sports car. Even with Powerglide and the six-cylinder engine, a well-tuned example could do 0-60 mph in 11 seconds and reach 105 mph flat out, which was commendable at the time. Furthermore, road testers from contemporary enthusiast magazines judged the ride/handling balance to be excellent.
Unfortunately, for all the demand the Motorama car had generated, neither consumers nor dealers could as yet obtain one. Early production models went to project engineers for testing and engineering purposes (production cars 001001 and 001002 are believed to have been destroyed), and the balance went to GM managers and other visible people. Word was released that the year’s entire contemplated production had already been spoken for. That was a nice way of saying that Chevy didn’t really intend to sell Corvettes to the general public, at least not just yet. Indeed, a dealer notice issued by the division’s Central Office on July 10 cautioned that, “No dealer is in a position to accept firm orders for delivery of a Corvette in 1953.” In fact, Chevrolet couldn’t begin addressing customers’ orders until a new plant would subsequently be geared up for ’54 production.