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Throwback Thursday: 1953 Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette is one of the most iconic names in American sports cars, but the introductory 1953 model wasn’t exactly a barn-burner. It was released late in the model year, and was derived from a show car design;  the show car at the ’53 Motorama display at the New York Auto Show was a hot enough item to spike Chevrolet’s interest in putting together a production version to sell to the public. GM management wanted to keep production costs down, so the Corvette was based on the mechanicals of the stodgy 1952 Chevy sedan, albeit with the rakish two-seater fiberglass body. Interestingly, the Corvette’s iconic fiberglass design was also a cost-cutting measure, holding down the production costs involved in developing the tooling for an all-sheet metal body.

The ’53 Corvette didn’t even have a V8 engine – Chevrolet didn’t have an overhead-valve V8 until ’55, although Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac had their own V8s long before then. The ’53 model was outfitted with a tricked-out version of Chevrolet’s flathead six-cylinder, with a hotter camshaft, a milled-down head for higher compression and three Carter side-draft two-barrel carburetors.

The six put out 150 horsepower, a respectable number for the time; since GM didn’t have a manual transmission that could handle that amount of power, the engine was mated up to a two-speed version of the Powerglide automatic. The early ‘Vette could do 0 to 60 mph in 11.5 seconds, a fairly decent acceleration time for its day.

Since it shared so much of its running gear with the ’52 Chevy sedan, the early Corvette wasn’t in the same league with competitors like Jaguar or Triumph when it came to handling. The ’53 had a solid-axle rear suspension, with independent rear suspension not being introduced until the second generation model in the early 60s.

Only 300 cars were actually produced in ’53, making the Corvette a scarce-as-hens-teeth Holy Grail sort of car for vintage car collectors and enthusiasts. While it was a rather inauspicious kickoff for the model, Chevy soon started offering advancements and refinements to the design, and by the late 50s the Corvette was a hot seller and a desirable model.