Marcel Romijn visited the Dutch Corvette Collection and had a chance to understand how a legend was born. Welcome to a world of fiberglass.
In the early post-war years, the American automotive market is confronted with a taste for sports cars. Domestic manufacturers however have their minds set to luxury and in addition a fear to be associated with fast and dangerous driving. The gap is filled with European imports. Some of the engineers at General Motors own such imports and despite being happy to drive a sports car, the lack of luxury and the ill-mannered character of their imports screams for some action. Reluctantly GM management allows for a prototype to be developed to show at its own traveling motor show, Motorama. In early 1953 the New York Waldorf Hotel hosts the first Motorama where the prototype is present. The car is an immediate hit and people line up just to get a glance. This triggers GM management to take the car into production asap. The first cars to be delivered that same year.
Time is of the essence and existing GM parts are the way to go. The car uses a standard GM chassis with only the seat positions changed. A beefed up Blue Flame 6-cilinder engine reaches 150 hp and is connected to a leaf sprung solid axle through a two speed automatic Powerglide transmission. To save time the body is, like the prototype, constructed in fiberglass. The design taking inspiration from European sports cars, the seating position however more comfortable. Further development takes up little time, the only real challenge getting the glass fiber body ready for production. It is decided that all cars for 1953 will get the same Polo White exterior and Sportsman Red interior. Although initially an option every single car is equipped with a heater and a radio. All to reduce distractions when the cars are built by hand in a customer delivery workshop. Workers have to glue different molded pieces together and grind the seams until they are flat. The parts showing much variation, making it a lot of work to fit them together. As a result, every produced car differs a little bit from the next. In the end, 300 Corvette’s leave the factory between June and December 1953. Some 200 of them still exist today.
One of the spectators at the Waldorf Motorama is an Eastern Europe engineer, a Mr. Duntov. Inspired by the prototype he applies to GM, highlighting that in the Hotrod culture of young people only Ford vehicles and parts are popular. Instantly recognizing that these young people will grow up to be the consumers of tomorrow, he suggests that GM needs to play a bigger part in this. His proposal is to improve the Corvette and as such, GM will be able to sell Corvette parts over the counter, which can be used to hotrod other GM products. The first result is a V8 option and a manual gearbox for the Corvette, later becoming the standard. In charge of the Corvette program, Duntov continues improving the concept until his retirement. Further development of the C1 generation, the C2, the first with fully independent suspension, and the C3 see the light under his leadership. Duntov and his team make sure the Corvette becomes a worthy competitor to the European sports cars.
The pictured 1953 Corvette from the Dutch Corvette Collection is part of a private collection and is very likely the only 1953 car in Europe. The car has been fully restored to the NCRS (National Corvette Restorers Society) standards.