70 years ago, the first Corvette was born
What better birthday to celebrate right before America’s than the Corvette’s? 70 years ago today, the first example of America’s sports car rolled out of the factory in Flint, Michigan.
Building that first car was an interesting process. The Ford Model T might have brought the production line to popularity 45 years earlier, but the first Corvette was hand-assembled. Workers at the Flint factory took the parts, pieces, and materials and painstakingly combined them into a functional automobile. That 1953 model was equipped with a Blue Flame inline-six engine mated to a two-speed Powerglide transmission—ironic, considering how many of the Corvette faithful consider the lack of three pedals in the eighth and latest generation to be an atrocity.
No matter how polarizing that drivetrain might be now, it was the Corvette’s body construction, not its transmission, that made waves at the time. Fiberglass was best known as a boat hull material; it was not yet widely used for car production.
Chevrolet’s fiberglass molds shaped a curvy little roadster, complete with plastic curtains, instead of windows, that snapped into place. All 1953 Corvettes were sprayed Polo White, with interiors upholstered in red. Despite the lack of color options, it took two days to assemble the first models. For comparison, it takes the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, three shifts to build a C8—roughly, a day and a half. Considering how much the Corvette has changed since those very simple, white-wall-tire cars of the ’50s, let alone how many more options are on the C8’s build sheet, that pace is pretty darn impressive.
What the Corvette would become could have only been a dream for those early owners. A new C8 Z06 can clear a quarter-mile at 131 mph before a 1953 Corvette has even reached 60 mph. What or where will the Corvette be next is certainly a great debate, but one thing is clear: Few American cars have such a beloved, long-running lineage.