On June 30, 1953, a pair of fiberglass-bodied Corvette roadsters rolled out of a makeshift Chevrolet assembly facility in St. Louis, marking the first incursion by a domestic automaker into what was, at the time, an exclusively Eurocentric sports-car segment. As opening salvos go, the first shots of the Corvette revolution were far from thunderous: Only 300 units sold in the car’s first year, and the marque itself appeared destined for scuttling as late as 1955. Only after a young Belgian-born engineer orchestrated the Corvette’s transformation from underpowered oddity to bona fide performance machine did the car secure its place in the automotive pantheon.
You can read the rest of the C1 saga in Drew Hardin’s excellent cover story from the September 2013 issue of Vette, which combines keen historical insight with rarely seen photography culled from the Source Interlink Media (née Petersen) Archives. The article kicks off our extended celebration of the Corvette’s 60th anniversary—that initial pair of ’53s was released almost precisely 60 years prior to this issue’s on-sale date—which will run through the next several issues, spotlighting a different generation each month along the way.
In these days of 400-plus-hp base models and supercharged, 638hp flagships, it’s difficult to imagine a Corvette that was anything less than a respectable performer in factory form. And yet, there was the ’53 model, wheezing its way to 60 mph in 11 seconds in contemporary magazine tests. (For perspective, consider that the upcoming Chevy Spark electric will better that mark by three seconds.) Motor Trend’s Walt Woron seemed to be stretching for superlatives when, following his initial testdrive, he wrote that, “you can get plenty of performance…out of the 235-cubic-inch, 150hp engine” and two-speed Powerglide automatic. If “plenty” in this context means “probably enough to keep you from being run over by that milk truck in the rearview mirror,” we do not disagree.
Woron was less charitable in summing up the ’53 Vette for a good portion of its target audience, noting, “If you’re looking for a competition sports car, keep looking.” But tellingly, that statement was accompanied by a parenthetical disclaimer alluding to the new Chevy’s apparent amenability to performance tuning. It was a sign of things to come, both from the factory and from a germinal (at the time) Corvette aftermarket. By its final year, the first-generation Vette—now available with a choice of V-8 engines and a four-speed manual gearbox—was winning both races and critical plaudits thanks to its unrivaled combination of performance and affordability.
First-year inchoateness followed by years of incremental improvement would become a recurring theme for the marque—from the ’68 model, with its third-world build quality, to the Cross Fire Injected ’84 edition and its jackhammer suspension tuning—but more recently Chevy has evinced a refreshing ability to turn out fully realized Corvettes from Day One. The C7 seems certain to continue that trend, thanks in large part to a comprehensive quality-improvement regime established by Chief Engineer Dave Hill in the mid ’90s.
It’s a shame Walt Woron—who died last year at 91—won’t be around to see this latest version of a car he first drove back in 1953. With its 450hp LT1 engine, seven-speed trans, and lightweight aluminum frame, the ’14 Stingray promises a real “competition sports car” experience right off the showroom floor—no excuses or qualifications required.