1956 Corvette

The 1956 Corvette was not only fresh looking but was a vast improvement over the first generation in virtually every respect. While its changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary, all the former version's inferior elements were removed and the superior ones were now emphasized. At $3,120, the price had jumped by only a nominal amount -- around $200 -- over the previous year's (V-8-equipped) model.

The rakish 1956 Corvette was a big draw at auto shows and Chevy showrooms.
The rakish 1956 Corvette was a big draw at auto shows and Chevy showrooms.
This one beautified the lobby of the GM building in downtown Detroit.

A definite "face" was regarded as the most appealing element of the first-generation design, and the next generation's visage looked even more attractive. Wire screens had made the "eyes" seem veiled on the 1953-55 models -- hardly appropriate, it was thought, for a "man's" car -- so the headlamps were uncovered and moved forward out of their recesses.

Complementing this was a larger version of the round Corvette nose emblem, with the racy crossed-flags motif that survives to this day. The original front grille, which formed the "mouth" and its magnificent chrome "teeth," were unchanged from the 1955 model.

Rear-end styling revisions to the 1956 were just as tastefully executed. The '53-'55's finny fenders and jet-pod taillamps were trimmed down to artful French curves contoured to match rear deck curvature, and new taillights were neatly "frenched" above a vertical bumperette on each fender. The trunklid "shadow box" was discarded and the license plate moved to below the trunk opening, where it was flanked by horizontal bumperettes with little inboard bullets. The result was a smooth, gently curved tail, with the fenders protruding just slightly.

The bodyside "coves," as they came to be called, gave the 1956 Corvette a truly unique styling personality. They also helped correct the slab-sided look that had led some to mock the first-generation's design as a "plastic bathtub." Even with the coves' narrow chrome outlines -- one of the few last-minute trim changes made to the production prototype -- the flanks were clean and attractive.

One 1956 Corvette ad poked fun at sports-car purists.
One 1956 Corvette ad poked fun
at sports-car purists.

To be sure, the car was now largely devoid of styling gimmicks, though two obvious ones remained: faux vent scoops atop the front fenders near the windshield (originally designed to be functional -- for cowl ventilation -- but cost considerations rendered them merely decorative) and the often-lambasted fake wheel-knockoff hubs (the car's wheel covers were all-new and more ornate than before). Those wheel covers, however, remained standard issue until 1963 and have since become some of the best-known wheel covers in automotive history.

What's more, the 1956 Corvette didn't just look better than its predecessor; it worked better, too, and was an all-around more "livable" car. The fussy side curtains were gone forever, replaced by proper roll-up door glass. Even power window lifts were available at extra cost. The welcome addition of outside handles ended the annoyance of having to reach into the cabin to open a door.

The Corvette's standard convertible top was now tighter fitting and offered in beige and white in addition to the standard-issue black cloth; design-wise it was more integrated and was rounded at the rear to echo the aft-quarter design. A power-operated top was offered for the first time as a $170.60 option, though it was technically only semi-automatic -- it had to be unlatched and partially collapsed manually before pressing the fold button. Capping the new design was a detachable hardtop taken directly from the production-based prototype seen at the 1954 Motorama show. The hardtop cost an extra $215.20, though it could be swapped for the soft top at no charge. The new factory hardtop was also obviously curved and, with its rear side windows, afforded much better over-the-shoulder vision than the soft top.

Except for new waffle-pattern upholstery and revised door panels to go with the wind-up windows, the cockpit was changed little from 1955, retaining the existing "twin cowl" dashboard with its awkward, near full-width instrument spread. A new spring-spoke steering wheel was added, and the heater was changed from the old recirculating type to a new "fresh air" version after the first 145 production cars were built. Seats remained separate, flat-bottomed affairs that were buckets in name only. The passenger's seat could be adjusted fore and aft for the first time, and seat belts were newly available as a dealer-installed accessory kit. A then-leading-edge transistorized signal-seeking radio was another new option, available for $198.90.

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:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
  • Corvette Museum: The National Corvette Museum draws Corvette lovers from all over the world. Learn more about the museum.
  • Corvette Pictures: Find pictures of the hottest classic and current-year Corvettes.
  • Muscle Cars: Get information on more than 100 tough-guy rides.
  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.

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:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
  • Corvette Museum: The National Corvette Museum draws Corvette lovers from all over the world. Learn more about the museum.
  • Corvette Pictures: Find pictures of the hottest classic and current-year Corvettes.
  • Muscle Cars: Get information on more than 100 tough-guy rides.
  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.

1956 Corvette Specifications

Corvette sales recovered to 3,467 with a slick, all-new 1956 model. The old six was dropped, while the V-8 was upped to 210 or 225 bhp, and manual transmission became standard, garnering praise from sports-car enthusiasts. Here are the specifications for the 1956 Corvette:

The 1956 Corvette improved performance dramatically, with 0-60 in as little as 7.5 seconds.
The 1956 Corvette improved performance dramatically, with 0-60 in
as little as 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 120 mph.

Vehicle Specifications
Convertible
Wheelbase, inches 102.0
Length, inches
168.0
Width, inches
70.5
Track, inches
front: 57.0 rear: 59.0
Height, inches
51.9
Curb Weight, pounds
3,020

Mechanical Specifications (2-door convertible)

Suspension
front: Independent; unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, antiroll bar, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers
rear: Live axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, antiroll bar, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers

Wheels/Tires
6.70x15

Brakes
front: 11-inch drum
rear: 11-inch drum

Transmission
3-speed manual (std)
2-speed Powerglide (opt)

Standard axle ratio
3.70:1

Engine Specifications

Typeohv V-8ohv V-8ohv V-8
Displacement, liters/cu inch4.34/265.0
4.34/265.0 4.34/265.0
Bore x stroke, inches3.75 x 3.003.75 x 3.003.75 x 3.00
Fuel Management1 x 4-bbl. 2 x 4-bbl.2 x 4-bbl.
Horsepower @ rpm210 @ 5600225 @ 5600240 @ 5600
Torque @ rpm, pound-foot270 @ 3200270 @ 3600270 @ 5200

Published Performance Numbers

Acceleration
225 hp, 3-sp man.
0-60 mph, sec
7.3
0-100 mph, sec
20.7
1/4-mile, sec
15.8

(Source: Road & Track)

Vehicle Production and Base Prices

Car Type
Production
Price
2-door convertible
3,467
$3,120.00

Options and Production

Option
Production
Price
Heater
NA
$123.65
AM Radio, signal seeking
2,717
198.90
Parking Brake Alarm
2,685
5.40
Courtesy Lights
2,775
8.65
Windshield Washer
2,815
11.85
Whitewall Tires, 6.70 x 15
NA
32.30
Powerglide Automatic Transmission
NA
188.50
Auxiliary Hardtop
2,076
215.20
Power Windows
547
64.60
Two-Tone Paint
1,259
19.40
High-Lift Camshaft
111
188.30
225 hp Engine
3,080
172.20
Rear Axle, 3.27:1
NA
0.00
Power Operated Folding Top2,682
107.60

Color Choices and Production

Color Choice
Production Color Choice
Production
Onyx Black
810
Aztec Copper
402
Cascade Green
290
Arctic Blue
390
Venetian Red
1,043
Polo White
532

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:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
  • Corvette Museum: The National Corvette Museum draws Corvette lovers from all over the world. Learn more about the museum.
  • Corvette Pictures: Find pictures of the hottest classic and current-year Corvettes.
  • Muscle Cars: Get information on more than 100 tough-guy rides.
  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.