1953 Corvette


Buoyed by a wildly enthusiastic introduction as a concept car at GM's New York 1953 Motorama debut in January, company executives put production of the Corvette on a fast track to capitalize on the favorable public and media opinion. After months of frantic activity, production on the 1953 Corvette got underway, with the initial target set at just 50 cars a month -- a maximum of 300 units for the balance of the calendar year.

Each 1953 Corvette required considerable hand labor on the makeshift Flint,
Each 1953 Corvette required considerable
hand labor on the makeshift Flint,
Michigan, assembly line, which was
housed in the same factory that turned out
Chevy passenger cars. Due to variances
in the supplied fiberglass components,
body fit-and-finish were inconsistent,
especially during the first
model year.

Actually, much of the 1953 model-year's run of 300 cars would be hand-built, as more-efficient production processes for assembling the vehicle's fiberglass body were still being perfected. All cars would be built the same way so workers could concentrate on putting the bodies together properly without being rushed and without the distraction of trim and equipment variations. As a result, all '53 Corvettes were painted Polo White and had Sportsman Red interiors, black tops, 6.70 X 15 four-ply whitewall tires, Delco signal-seeking radios, and recirculating hot-water heaters. Also standard was a complete set of analog instruments, including a 5000-rpm tachometer and a counter for total engine revolutions (a feature that would continue through 1959).

The first Corvette to come off the assembly line was driven by Tony Kleiber, a Chevrolet body assembler, on June 30, 1953 -- just six months after its public unveiling as a Motorama dream car. Amazingly, the first production Corvette was changed little from its concept display model. Some chrome-plated engine parts were now painted, manual doors and hood replaced the hydraulically operated versions, a manual choke was used instead of an automatic one, exterior door pushbuttons were left off, and there were some minor trim variations. Yet at a suggested retail price of $3,513, the car had evolved into a considerably costlier vehicle than the austere roadster Harley Earl had originally conceived as selling for around $2,000 as "Project Opel."

The first 1953 Corvette came off the Flint line on June 30, 1953, just months after the car's public debut.
The first 1953 Corvette came off the Flint line on June 30, 1953,
just months after the car's public debut.

Though reaction to the Corvette as a show car was strongly positive, early reviews of the production version were mixed. For starters, sports-car enthusiasts took extreme umbrage to the vehicle's only available transmission, the Powerglide automatic. What's more, Harley Earl's body design, though clean and appealing, was still considered to be too gimmicky for some tastes. Coming under particular scrutiny in some quarters were the rocket-like rear fenders with their tiny fins, the dazzling vertical grille teeth, and the sunken headlights covered by mesh stone guards. The shadow-box license-plate housing was covered by plastic that tended to turn cloudy.

The car's convertible top was not power operated, but it folded neatly beneath a flush-fitting cover and could be managed with some ease by one person. The clip-in side curtains, perhaps favored over roll-down windows as a cost-cutting measure, were every bit as inconvenient and annoying as they were on the less-expensive British roadsters of the period. Even worse, not having exterior door buttons meant that the only way to open a door from the outside was to reach inside the car for the release.

Performance-wise, however, the Corvette was quite a good sports car. Even with Powerglide and the six-cylinder engine, a well-tuned example could do 0-60 mph in 11 seconds and reach 105 mph flat out, which was commendable at the time. Furthermore, road testers from contemporary enthusiast magazines judged the ride/handling balance to be excellent.

Unfortunately, for all the demand the Motorama car had generated, neither consumers nor dealers could as yet obtain one. Early production models went to project engineers for testing and engineering purposes (production cars 001001 and 001002 are believed to have been destroyed), and the balance went to GM managers and other visible people. Word was released that the year's entire contemplated production had already been spoken for. That was a nice way of saying that Chevy didn't really intend to sell Corvettes to the general public, at least not just yet. Indeed, a dealer notice issued by the division's Central Office on July 10 cautioned that, "No dealer is in a position to accept firm orders for delivery of a Corvette in 1953." In fact, Chevrolet couldn't begin addressing customers' orders until a new plant would subsequently be geared up for '54 production.

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.

1953 Corvette Manufacturing and Marketing

For the 1953 Corvette, Chevrolet was in effect employing what we'd now call a "controlled production start-up" by not releasing the car for sale to the general public. This plan made sense, all things considered. Given the company's lack of experience with fiberglass manufacturing techniques, the quality of the finished product was very much in doubt. And GM definitely did not want to risk embarrassment should something go wrong with new cars in the dealer pipeline, especially with a brand new "image" car that had already attracted so much attention.

Corvette's fiberglass body comprised 46 pieces glued together to form the nine major subassemblies.
Corvette's fiberglass body comprised 46 pieces glued together to form
the nine major subassemblies.

It was just as well, because quality problems surfaced early. Predictably enough, they involved the fiberglass body. Each body began as 46 separate pieces that were supplied by the Molded Fiber Glass Company of Ashtabula, Ohio. Workers had to fit all these into wooden jigs, then glue them together into the larger subassemblies, all of which took time and left vast room for error. Worse, some pieces didn't fit together well as delivered because of molding flaws that required still more hand labor to correct.

As a result, the fit-and-finish of early Corvette bodies was variable to say the least, with judgments on the fiberglass ranging from fair to excellent compared to steel construction. What's more, creaks and groans as well as drumming from the fiberglass body structure plagued the new vehicles -- as they would on most every Corvette built through 1962.

In the fall of 1953 as a promotional endeavor, Chevrolet began to use the first available production cars as dealer-display attractions. Each of the eight Chevrolet wholesale regions was assigned a car to send from dealer to dealer for one- to three-day showings during the last three months of the year. In an effort to enhance the Corvette's image as a prestige car, dealers restricted sales to VIPs in each community: mayors, celebrities, industrial leaders, and favorite customers. The Corvette was glamorous and exciting, especially compared to the rest of the company's more-mundane passenger-car line, and Chevrolet's publicists played it up for all it was worth.

This promotional scene notwithstanding, Americans hadn't widely embraced the idea of sports cars when Chevrolet unveiled the Corvette in 1953.
This promotional scene notwithstanding, Americans hadn't widely embraced the
idea of sports cars when Chevrolet unveiled the Corvette in 1953. At $3,498, a
Corvette cost twice as much as a Chevrolet Deluxe sedan and $1,300 more
than Chevy's top-line Bel Air convertible.

Coming on the heels of the big pre-launch buildup, this public-relations maneuver had an unintended effect. With ads and stories about the car appearing everywhere but no vehicles being genuinely available, some began to wonder whether Chevy was pulling a fast one. While it’s common today for limited-production models to sell out before their release, with potential buyers paing a premium to get on the waiting list, this type of product launch was unheard of in the early 1950s. Some wondered if this “dream car” was still just a dream after all.

Chevy's marketing plan backfired in a big way. While the company's judgment was fundamentally sound in turning to VIPs as opinion leaders, unfortunately these folks didn't end up liking the car as much as the marketers had hoped. Many complained of the "jet-age" styling, clumsy side curtains, off-the-rack mechanicals, and the vehicle's high price. British sports-car partisans condemned the Corvette as being nonfunctional and faddish. Potential buyers went looking at MGs, Jaguars, and Triumphs, instead.

Production for the 1954 models was shifted to a renovated St. Louis assembly plant in December 1953, which was designed to build more than 10,000 Corvettes a year (the first 14 or 15 '54 models were actually built in Flint, however, as were all engines). Finally, anyone who wanted and could afford a Corvette could readily find one in stock at their local Chevy store.

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:

1953 Corvette Specifications

The 1953 Corvette featured an innovative fiberglass body that made for a much lighter car, which could be more easily molded into complex shapes than traditional steel construction vehicles. Despite some initial production problems, the car was a strong performer. Here are the specifications for the 1953 Corvette:

The 1953 Corvette could go from 0-60 mph in 11.0 seconds.
The 1953 Corvette could go from 0-60 mph in 11.0 seconds.

Vehicle Specifications
Convertible
Wheelbase, inches 102.0
Length, inches
167.0
Width, inches
72.2
Track, inches
front: 57.0 rear: 59.0
Height, inches
51.3
Curb Weight, pounds
2,850

Mechanical Specifications (2-door convertible)

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

Wheels/Tires
6.0x15

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

Transmission
2-speed Powerglide

Standard axle ratio
3.55:1

Engine Specifications

Typeohv I-6
Displacement, liters/cu inch3.85/235.5
Bore x stroke, inches3.56 x 3.95
Fuel Management3 Carter sidedraft
Horsepower @ rpm150 @ 4200
Torque @ rpm, pound-foot223 @ 2400

Published Performance Numbers

Acceleration
150 hp, 2-sp automatic
0-60 mph, sec
11.0
0-100 mph, sec
41.0
1/4-mile, sec
17.9

Source: Road & Track

Vehicle Production and Base Prices

Car Type
Production
Price
2-door convertible
300
$3,498.00

Options and Production

Option
Production
Price
AM radio, signal seeking
300
$145.15
Heater
300
91.40

Color Choices and Production

Color Choice
Production
Polo White
300

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.