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