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.
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.
Corvette's fiberglass body comprised 46 pieces glued together to form
the nine major subassemblies.
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.
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.
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.
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 |
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: Find out about engine, mechanical, and production specs, and more.
- 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.