Born as an American response to the rise of European sports cars, the Chevrolet Corvette has become an automotive icon. It helped to not just define what it means to be an American sports car, but to help popularize them as well. For those who may not be familiar with the history of the Corvette, here is the story of the birth of one of the most popular sports cars of all time.
“Project Opel” and the Inception of a Classic
In 1949 General Motors began hosting its own car show. Originally based in New York, the show eventually started travelling the country in 1953, which was the year it was given the name Motorama. The show allowed GM to show off its visionary new concept cars, and most popular amongst these was a design from the GM owned Chevrolet called “Project Opel.” This slick, missile like car made what was then a radical shift in American automobile design: it had only two seats. The incredible reception that this car received prompted Chevrolet to make it a reality. Later that year they introduced the Corvette to the world. Because steel was scarce at the time, the car had to be made with what was then a new material called fiberglass. The initial production resulted in only 300 Corvettes being made. The cars featured Chevy’s “Blue Flame” V6 engine and Powerglide automatic transmission.
“The Father of the Corvette”
Initially the Corvette was a huge disappointment for Chevrolet. Sales were weak and the general public seemed to take little interest in this strange new car. In 1955 Chevrolet was actually considering eliminating the line all together when two things happened. One was the introduction of the Ford Thunderbird, which made it difficult for Chevrolet to pull out just when its biggest rival released a comparable car. The second was an engineer called ZoraArkus-Duntov, a man who would later be known as “The Father of Corvette.” Duntov sent a now famous letter to the general manager of Chevrolet, Ed Cole, entitled “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet.” This letter helped to define what the Corvette should mean to the general public and prompted Cole to basically let Duntov implement whatever changes he saw fit in the Corvette’s design. The biggest change that Duntov made was adding a V8, 195hp engine, which was almost non-existent in those days. The addition of the engine helped set the Corvette apart from the competition and prompted the car to steadily grow in popularity. As a result, the line became a mainstay at Chevrolet and one of the most recognized cars in America.
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