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50th Anniversary Redux: The '53 Commemorative Edition Corvette

AAT one-ups the General with a Commemorative Edition Corvette worth celebrating

Patrick Hill May 30, 2006
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1953 was a heady year for Chevrolet. Work had begun on an all-new full-size car slated for the company's '55 model line-up, a young engineer named Zora Arkus-Duntov was hired by GM Research and Development, and the GM skunkworks was quietly working on a new V-8 powerplant that would revolutionize the automotive industry.

Also in January of 1953, Harley Earl unveiled what would become one of the most storied car lines in American history. The Corvette, America's first European-inspired sports car, dazzled people at the GM Motorama display at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. After a 1951 concept-car appearance as a Nomad wagon, the '53 model debuted as a white convertible featuring a Blue-Flame 235 six-cylinder with three carbs, a Powerglide transmission, and dual exhaust. Though the car left some wanting more, it wouldn't be until 1955 that Duntov and Earl would put the new 265 V-8 in the fiberglass roadster, starting a tradition of horsepower and performance in GM and Chevrolet's flagship nameplate.

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Flash forward 50 years to 2003. The half-century anniversary of the Corvette had Vette enthusiasts eagerly anticipating what Chevrolet would unveil to mark this historic moment. Those eager with anticipation soon became nauseous with disappointment, as the 50th Anniversary Corvette was unveiled as nothing more than a C5 with special red paint, badges, and some other unimpressive additions. Many Corvette loyalists thought the 50th year should have been marked with a Corvette reminiscent of the '53, something that paid proud tribute to the first true American sports car.

Cover Thoughts?

We had a bit of a cover dilemma with the May issue, two great covers but we could only use one. So, we wanted to know what Vette readers and enthusiasts think. Which cover do you like best? Click the pics below for a larger view, then vote adn tell us which cover you like best. Watch vetteweb.com for the results when the poll is finished!

Which Cover Do You Like Best?

The Results Are In!

Out of 155 votes, 97 Vette readers preferred Cover 2 over Cover 1. Thanks for taking the time to vote and helping us make Vette a better magazine!

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A new front fascia, hood, and fenders are installed: including'53-style headlights, turn signals, and grille.

During the months leading up to 2003,
a small group of people had been working on a special show-car prototype in the hopes GM would adopt their new design as the 50th Anniversary Corvette.
Using common and easily manufactured parts and a C5 chassis, former GM designer Bill Pasteiner
and designer Bill Miller of Magna Steyr
came up with a stunning piece of Corvette workmanship.
When the car was unveiled to the public for the first time,
it was met with great enthusiasm and excitement.
But when 2003 came, Corvette fans were greeted with Chevy's more conservative
approach to celebrating the historic landmark.

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For $32,500, you can have Advanced Automotive Technologies turn your garden-variety C5 into this head-turning piece of rolling fiberglass nostalgia.

Pasteiner, seeing the interest, obtained the rights from Magna Steyr to produce a limited-edition series of these unique cars, and started Advanced Automotive Technologies to build them in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Using a C5 chassis and drivetrain, AAT fits new front and rear fenders, hood, decklid, headlights, taillights, bumpers and trim pieces, blending together the two styles for a car that pays tribute to its heritage. Named the 1953 Commemorative Editions, these cars feature all of the modern underpinnings and power of the C5, but with the classic lines and look of the '53 Corvette. Today, 124 of the '53 Commemorative Editions have been built, with production still underway.

Buzz Nielsen was one of those people wanting more. Having a great collection of Vettes already--a '98 Pace Car, a 2000 yellow convertible, an '01 yellow Z06, and an '04 Commemorative Z06--Buzz and his wife Jackie wanted something unique to add to their stable. With an '03 Anniversary Vette on order, the couple saw a '53 Commemorative Edition while on a trip to California and fell in love with the car. Soon after, Buzz shipped his '98 convertible to Michigan for Advanced Automotive Technologies to begin turning the '98 into the 12th '53 CE Corvette.

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"We love the '50s look, but we wanted to keep our teeth in our mouths," says Buzz, referring to the stiff suspensions of '50s-era Vettes

About eight weeks later, the couple saw their newly transformed Vette and were ecstatic. A car that combined the looks of the original Corvette with all the modern features and power of a newer edition now sat in their driveway. Since then, the '53 CE has won numerous awards at various car shows, and whenever Buzz drives it around town, he gets looks of awe and excitement, drawing thumbs-up waves from passersby.

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Not just for show, this '53 CE gets driven regularly. One of the more interesting trips Buzz and Jackie have made was a Route 66 caravan with another '53 CE after the 2004 Corvette Birthday Bash in Bowling Green. Starting in Chicago where Route 66 begins, the two couples followed the route all the way to the Santa Monica Pier in California. Then Buzz and Jackie drove all the way back to Florida!

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Having grown up in a GM household, I've always had an affinity for the classic styling cues of '50s and '60s Chevrolet cars. From the Ferrari-inspired egg-crate grille of the '55 Chevy to the racing-inspired style of the C2 Corvettes, these cars go beyond just being things to drive to attain the status of automotive and cultural icons. With nostalgia-inspired styling becoming the latest craze in Detroit, this car is one of the best examples of taking the looks of old and blending it with the freshness of today. Sharing my passion for older Chevrolet iron, and particularly Corvettes, is our model for this shoot, Amanda King. Amanda took a day off from her job at SeaWorld to add some spice to our session with Buzz's '53 CE.

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For more information, pictures, and pricing on the '53 Commemorative Edition, visit www.aatcars.com and www.50thcommemorative.com. To read about some of the road trips and adventures Buzz and Jackie have had with their particular '53 CE, visit www.buzzandjackie.com.


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