1956 Chevrolet Corvette - C6.R's Great-Great-Great-Grandfather

Corvette Racing History Starts With "SR"-Equipped '56s Like This One

Corp_0909_03_z 1956_chevrolet_corvette Radiator_hose 2/9

Restoration by Richard Robinson Restorations included using correct parts like the '56 generator bracket and radiator hoses. Radiator is a special Harrison item (RPO SR 5A).

The Corvette failed because it did not meet G.M. standards of a product. It did not have the value for the money.

If the value of a car consists of practical values and emotional appeal, the sports car has very little of the first, and consequently has to have an exaggerated amount of the second. If a passenger car must have an appeal, nothing short of a mating call will extract $4,000 for a small two-seater. The Corvette, as it was offered, had curtailed practical value, being a poor performer. With a 6-cylinder engine, it was no better than the medium-priced family car.

Timing was also unfortunate. When the novelty appeal was the highest, we hadn't had the cars to sell. When the cars became available, hypnotized by the initial overwhelming response, no promotional effort was made.

The little promotion which was made was designed to depreciate the car, rather than enhance it. Hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars contained in the price of a sports or luxury car are paid for exclusivity. What did our promotion say on the radio and advertised in magazines? "Now everybody can have it! Come and get it". What virtues did advertising extoll? Only X inches high, only X inches long, etc. In the country, in which bigger is synonymous with better, and we really know it, we were trying to sell a car, because it is small! Crosley is smaller.......

Were there no virtues to talk about? Quite some, but a condensation of best reports which appeared in motoring press previously had more glow and enthusiasm than our advertising.

Corp_0909_04_z 1956_chevrolet_corvette Rear_view 3/9

Corvette's '56 restyle swapped "jet pod" taillights for these recessed ones. Holes in bumper are where exhaust pipes ordinarily pass through.

Summarizing, the promotion was uninspired, a half-hearted attempt with no evidence of thought or enthusiasm.

Where do we stand now?

The Corvette still has the best and raciest look of all the sports cars, the Thunderbird included. Performance is far superior to all the passenger cars, and to 99 percent of the sports cars used on the road. It has flaws in respect to passenger protection-water leaks and a cumbersome top and side window. With these minor flaws removed, we have a sports car with as much practical value as the sports car can have.

That memo, written by Zora Arkus-Duntov in October 1954, was addressed to his then-superiors, Maurice Olley and Ed Cole. In it, Zora took Chevrolet to task for even thinking about dropping Corvette-at a time when unsold '54 Vettes still sat on dealers' lots.

In it, Zora stated that the lack of success with Corvette to that point was a failure of aggressive thinking, and failure to develop a saleable product. "We will leave an opening in which they [Ford] can hit at will," wrote Zora. "'Ford out-engineered, outsold, or ran Chevrolet's pride and joy off the market.' Maybe the idea is far-fetched. I can only gauge in terms of my own reactions or actions. In the bare-fisted fight we are in now, I would hit at any opening I could find and the situation where Ford enters and where Chevrolet retreats, it is not an opening, it is a hole!" He added, "Now if they can hurt us, then we can hurt them! We are one year ahead, and we possibly learned some lessons which Ford has yet to learn."

As a result of this memo-and also the result of Zora's "Thoughts Pertaining To Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet" memo of a year before to Maurice Olley (where he urged Chevrolet to develop high-performance parts for its then-new V8 to attract younger car buyers to Chevy and away from Ford), Chevrolet developed a range of "Special Racing" parts that were to be made available as regular-production options (RPOs) on the newly-redesigned '56 Corvette.


Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print