1956 Corvette Mechanical Updates

There was more good news under the hood for the 1956 Corvette, where the small-block V-8 was now standard. And it had been given even more muscle to boot, now up to a rated 210 bhp at 5200 rpm with a single four-barrel carburetor and higher 9.25:1 compression. That was 15 bhp more than the 1955 version and a significant improvement over the 155-bhp six of just two years earlier. A special "high lift" camshaft was available as an extra-cost item at $188.30, but was only available in tandem with the optional 225-bhp dual-four-barrel-carburetor-equipped engine for another $172.20. The latter also included a cast aluminum intake manifold. Chevy recommended this combination "for racing purposes only," however, and while a horsepower figure was never officially given for this configuration, it's said to be around 240 bhp on premium fuel. The special cam, developed by Zora Arkus-Duntov, helped raise torque on the 225-bhp powerplant to an impressive 270 pound-feet at 3600 rpm. The original Blue Flame Six was gone for good, and few were sorry to see it go.

The narrow-band whitewalls on this 1956 Corvette weren't publicly available until 1959.
The narrow-band whitewalls on this 1956 Corvette weren't
publicly available until 1959.

The car's running gear was beefed up to handle the extra power, and the day's enthusiast magazines were quick to catch the racing implications. Like the V-8, the three-speed manual gearbox was now standard -- Powerglide at last became a true option, at an honest $189 extra. The manual was tweaked with much closer gear ratios than in the 1955 version (for the record, the spread was 2.2:1 in 1st, 1.31:1 in 2nd, and 1:1 in 3rd). In addition, the shifter was now attached directly to the transmission housing, which afforded more positive shifts. A stronger 10-inch-diameter clutch with 12 heat-treated coil springs was added, replacing the previous diaphragm-spring unit. Final drive was still 3.55:1, but a 3.27:1 cog was newly available. The differential itself was new as well and was shared with other 1956 passenger Chevys. The car's front suspension array with its integral front cross-member was unchanged from the 1955 version, as were the car's brakes -- 11-inch Bendix drums.

With all this, the Corvette now shed its image as a half-finished plastic toy car. The 1956 offered genuine sports car performance with smart new styling and a full complement of amenities. And despite employing a few design cliches of the era, the '56 Corvette still turns heads and draws admiring glances over four-and-a-half decades later.

Enthusiast magazines generally praised the new Corvette: Its manual shifter was lauded as being race-worthy, while the car's handling was judged "good to excellent" in its class, though it was noted to suffer somewhat from understeer. The steering gear was hailed as being amply quick -- just 3.5 turns lock-to-lock -- and weight distribution was cited as nearly perfect at 52/48 percent front/rear. Brakes remained a weak point, however. With just 158 square inches of total lining area, they "faded into oblivion," as one tester said after a hard application. In all, the critics agreed that the car's road behavior had been greatly improved, though it continued to offer a fairly harsh, albeit controlled, ride.

The 1956 Corvette boasted a much-improved chassis, standard roll-up windows, and an optional lift-off hardtop.
The 1956 Corvette boasted a much-improved chassis, standard
roll-up windows, and an optional lift-off hardtop.

Other criticisms were minor, and were addressed mainly at the car's confusing instrument array, flat-bottomed seats, and lack of storage space. Still, the consensus was that Chevrolet was now building a true sporting machine that could be considered a worthy dual-purpose competitor with any of the day's formidable British or European marques.

The Corvette also began performing better in the race that mattered most to GM -- the production race -- with sales volume at 3,467 units now accounting for about a fifth of the Thunderbird's level for 1956. That may have disappointed the accountants, but it heartened those at Chevrolet who had been fighting to keep the Corvette alive. Even more importantly, the Corvette was again boosting dealer floor traffic while enhancing Chevrolet's newly won performance reputation. Chevrolet managers seemed quite happy to sustain the car despite modest sales. In fact, there'd been no talk about dropping the Corvette since 1955. And now that Corvette was beginning to be taken seriously, its supporters argued, it should sell even better for 1957, which it did by a wide margin.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1953 Corvette
1954 Corvette
1955 Corvette
1956 Corvette
1957 Corvette
1958 Corvette
1959 Corvette
1960 Corvette
1961 Corvette
1962 Corvette


Looking for more information on Corvettes and other cars? See:

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  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.