June 30th is known for many historical events throughout the years. Since today is Saturday, I don’t think I want to go on about The Night Of The Long Knives in Hitler’s Germany of 1934. The fact of the first “leap second” being added to Universal Time Coordinated in 1972 doesn’t jump out at me either. But on this day in 1953, something happened that changed the way Americans viewed automotive transportation. In Flint, Michigan the very first Corvette was manufactured.
Like many developments in the American auto industry, the Corvette was inspired by foreign cars. General Motor’s head of styling had attended a sports car race at Watkins Glen in 1951 and became enamored with the various European sports cars. That was when he decided to design a sports car for American tastes.
Before the production model rolled off the assembly line, the prototype was fabricated in 1952. It had a fiberglass body and a floor made of balsa wood. It was faster than the European sports cars because of the lightweight construction.
The unnamed car got its name as a suggestion from one of General Motor’s public relations staffers. He said to name it after a type of British warship known for speed and maneuverability. The class of warship was called “Corvette”. The name stuck.
The production car was more solid than the prototype. Gone were the balsawood floors. But to cut costs, GM made all 300 of the first Vettes exactly alike. The bodies were painted white, the top was black and the interior was made of red vinyl.
Practically all the first cars were marketed towards public figures. The price tag was a princely $3,000. In 1953, that was a sizeable amount of money to spend for an impractical, two seater car.
The styling was kept pretty much the same through 1962 with most changes being engine size, transmission choices and more variety of colors being offered. The early 1960s version was famous for being the “star” of the television show “Route 66”. I remember following the adventures of Buzz and Todd as they tooled down highway 66 finding adventure at every stop.
For the tenth anniversary of Corvette in 1963, a radically different style was introduced, a second name was tagged on, “Sting Ray”. This was also the year that Chevrolet added a coupe model to the lineup. These were also the years that the car received the very large displacement engines. This was a move away from the European ideal in styling and engine type.
Styling again changed in 1968 to my personal favorite, the shape was inspired by the concept car, Mako Shark II. The coupe versions featured “T-Top” removable roof panels. In my opinion, the styling was the most sleek of all the Corvettes before or afterwards.
Three more “generations” of Corvette have appeared since then. 1984 saw another restyling effort with more high tech features. In 1997, styling more like that of the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 300ZX was introduced along with more high tech engine tweaks. The present generation of Vettes came out in 2005. It features a larger cabin, new engine and suspension plus vehicle size was decreased to compete with European sports cars. The Corvette had come full circle.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has always preferred a ride with the top down for fast getaways.