There's something glorious about a collection of the same model cars arranged in a row; but when the collection is '53 first-year production Corvettes, one can hardly stop looking. "We'll probably never see this again," said Corvette historian and author Noland Adams, who owns '53 Corvette No. 284. Just 300 were built that first year, the cars now labeled by their order in the production run. Eleven o'clock Saturday was to be their moment of glory at the '03 Corvettes At Carlisle staged by event promoter and organizer Chip Miller, as the cars were pulled from the long row of tenting for a once-in-a-lifetime group shot.
Alan Blay, who brought six '53 Corvettes (he owns eight) for the display, told us the previous record was 26, which occurred on June 30, 2003 for the 50th birthday reunion in Flint, Michigan. Blay was a big help putting together this display and setting the new record of 54 '53 Corvettes (49 under the tent row, two in Chip's Choice Collection inside the main building, George Kerbeck's EX-122 (actually built prior to production), the '53 at GM's Restoration display, and one in the NCRS gallery.
In total, over 58,000 Corvette fans and 2,542 Corvettes came out for the 22nd Annual Corvettes at Carlisle event. It was a great place to view every year Corvette ever made, visit with Corvette manufacturers, and locate hard-to-find parts in the swap-meet area. The Mecum Auction staged on the fairgrounds had a terrific turnout with a lot of buys to be had. Add to that the chassis-dyno cell (to find out the true horsepower of your Corvette), a huge 50th Anniversary and Grand Sport car display, and even a beauty contest, and you had a wonderful three-day event that will be remembered by all who made the trek to Carlisle.
After getting over the incredible sight of the cars lined up like a chorus line, the real fun was walking along the row of '53s and listening to the stories. Every car has a unique history-the original Corvette was quite a trendsetter, the first American car to have an "organic" design.
Out of the midst of the hubbub of voices we heard a lady bubbling with enthusiasm as she remembered, "We used to get all dressed up on Saturday night and go to dinner in the Corvette." She stood with friends in front of one of the '53s that was obviously unrestored and not running. We wanted to hear more.
"Oh, I'll go get my husband," Annette Amendolia smiled. The lady was too shy to think she could do the '53 justice. We didn't want technical details. She had opened a door into the past and we wanted to look inside. The year was 1961. Annette's two boys were "very, very small." The Corvette was 8 years old and a very big deal.
"Saturday nights we used to get all dressed up, get in our Corvette, and drive it around. Sometimes we'd take the boys with us and people would say, 'That's not a family car. How can you stuff those two kids in that car?' And we'd say we're taking them out to dinner, too. It was a great car. We have a lot of pleasant memories with it."
Pat Amendolia was not your average car enthusiast. He was in the fiberglass business at the time he bought his '53. In 1952, he actually built a fiberglass body and installed it on a chassis made from Essex framerails and fitted with a Stovebolt six. Initially, the car was to be a hot rod with a '26 Chevy body.
Fascinated with Corvette's fiberglass car and full of the sports car mania that filled America after World War II, Pat says he "went bananas and built a mockup, then built the body." The end result was a roadster, which he ran in an SCCA road race. He still has film of that car racing today.
Pat and Annette owned their '53 for 38 years, and 4 years ago sold their baby to Alan Blay who lives near them in New York. Blay is a virtual human encyclopedia of '53 Corvette history, able to name each car's owner and its history as we walked along the row of roadsters. When we asked him about the fascination for the '53, he gave us reason to be proud of the original, and for much more than its fiberglass trend-setting roots we hear so much about.
The original Corvette was the first "organic" American car design (organic referring to resembling a living thing, i.e., the headlights are eyes, the grille a mouth with teeth, the emblem a nose). Many American cars after Corvette followed this theme, including the original Ford Thunderbird and the first Mustang of 1965. Prior to 1953, industrial car design in the States followed the streamlined look of airplanes and rockets. After all these years, the original '53 Corvette design is finally getting the respect it deserves. One of Blay's '53 Corvettes, No. 75, is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art as part of its organic art forms display.
Corvettes at Carlisle set a record for the most '53 Corvettes ever gathered in one place. Even in 1953, Blay says, there were no more than a dozen on the back lot in Flint at any one time-case in point being a press party on September 28, 1953, which included just 14 cars.
Nice job to the folks at Carlisle for staging a truly record-setting event.