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The Chevrolet Corvette may have become “America’s sports car,” but its roots are surprisingly European. As American GIs returned from World War II, they were influenced by the MGs and other European sports cars that dotted the region’s country roads and wanted something similar once they returned home.
Famed designer Harley Earl implored General Motors to build a sports car to capitalize on this interest, and it began to take form as the 1951 “Project Opel.” The results were first shown at the 1953 Motorama as the EX-122, a hand-built, pre-production prototype.
The finished product was the first Corvette, a two-seat roadster with a gaping chrome grille, upbeat-looking single headlights, and a curved windshield. All 1953 examples were white, with a red interior. The fiberglass-reinforced plastic body was revolutionary for the time, and set a precedent that GM would carry on with future Corvette bodies.
For cost-saving purposes, many of the Corvette’s components were sourced from existing GM vehicles, including the drum brakes and the “Blue Flame” inline-six. It made 150hp that went to the rear wheels via a 2-speed Powerglide automatic. No manual option was available for this first year. The result was a 0-60 time of 11.5 seconds, which was respectable for the time but not remarkable.
On June 30, 1953, the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. GM would build just 300 examples of the ’53 model, all finished in Polo White. The new Corvette may have looked the part, but did not have the raw performance of the European rivals that inspired it. GM would continue to evolve and refine the ‘Vette in the years to come. In its first decade, it would change about as much as any car could in a single generation.
The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette is mostly collectible down to its rarity and its significance as the first model year Corvette. For someone who wants a first gen Vette to drive and enjoy, later cars are much better and for the most part can be had for considerably cheaper. A ’53 mainly appeals to people who want to round out their Corvette collection.