The Chevrolet Corvette and Route 66
The combination of strong automobile sales in the 1920's along with the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921, which called for the networking of roads, made the popular Route 66 a dream highway. Route 66 was in it's heyday in the era prior to the development of the Interstate Highway system in the 1950's and 1960's. The highway came along much before the first Corvette American sports car yet the historic road today often brings back memories of the first generation Corvettes.
The Interstate highway legislation of 1956 created the Interstate System. During it's glory years, the historic Route 66 allowed people to head west out of the dust bowl states of the 1930's. During the 1950's it ushered in the era of driving out west on vacation. In large part due to the popular television series Route 66, the Chevrolet Corvette became a representative of the freedom to hit the open road. The Corvette derived it's name from the small, maneuverable fighting frigate by the same name.
An American Sports Car
While the Chevrolet Corvette was designed with rigorous attention to the bottom line and production feasibility, When the first Corvette was introduced, it's only real purpose was to be part of GM's Motorama exhibit at the New York Auto Show in 1953. The public was excited about this new fiberglass sports car when unveiled in New York. With eager buyers waiting on the sidelines, General Motors offered the new Corvette American sports car for sale a mere six months after the Motorama.
The first Corvette models built between 1953 and 1962 were solid axle cars. Their chassis were essentially those of a 1952 sedan. The cars were built in Flint Michigan and St. Louis Missouri. Today, Chevrolet Corvettes are built in Bowling Green Kentucky. The front end of the first generation models was suspended by an independent system and the rear held up with leaf springs. The Corvette had a 150 horsepower, 235-cubic-inch six cylinder engine and a two speed automatic Powerglide transmission. The 1954 Corvettes were the last produced with six cylinder engines. After that model year they were all eights.
The First Corvettes
The first Corvette, the 1953 models, sold for about $3,500 which was a fairly high car price in that year. Only 300 Polo White 1953 Corvettes were produced before it was time to introduce the 1954 models. This extremely low first year production total helped make the 1953 Corvette quite a rare collectors car. The first model year Corvettes were all hand made and assembled. The 1954 models were essentially the same as the first 53's but more color selections were available. In 1954, the buyer could choose between Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red and Black in addition to the 1953 Polo White. The 1955 Chevrolet Corvette introduced a significant change and that was a V-8 engine.
The 1962 Chevrolet Corvettes
During the 1962 model year of which the Corvette shown in this article is from, the car offered major improvements. First, the small-block V8 increased to 327 cubic inches. Horsepower increased significantly. The four barrel engine which was the base power plant produced 250 horsepower with options for higher output engines in 300 and 340 horsepower versions. These power options fueled a lot of additional sales. Many sports car enthusiasts believe that the 1962 Corvette could be the best Corvette ever built. Without a doubt, the 1962 model was considered the best out of the first generation Corvettes. General Motors first generation American sports cars were a big success.
It's interesting to note that General Motors originally didn't believe the first Corvette would become a mainstay brand. This way of thinking changed when the Ford Motor Company introduced the Thunderbird in 1955. Beginning in 1955, the Corvettes and Thunderbirds were direct competitive name plates. There was a difference however because the Corvette appeared to be a true sports car where the Thunderbird was billed more as a luxury sports car. Also, starting in 1958, the Thunderbird changed to a four seater.
The 1963 model year for Corvette would usher in big changes to the car. In 1963, the Corvette Sting Ray, and sometimes spelled Stingray, was introduced. Split rear windows were designed into the Corvettes but were discontinued not long afterwards due to safety concerns. The Stingray was a fastback car with very clean lines. The 1963 models also had non-functioning hood vents. Both the split rear window and non-functioning hood vents were gone when the 1964 Corvette models came out.
(Photos from author's private collection)