Chevrolet’s renowned Corvette celebrates it 70th anniversary this year.
The Corvette sports car was created by Harley J. Earl, GM’s design boss from 1927 to 1958.
Earl was very aware of the growing popularity of imported sports cars and sports car racing in 1950 and 1951, especially the MG Midget.
He could see an opportunity for GM to develop an all-American sports car.
That his two sons were sports car fans added to his keenness to match the imports.
Following Earl’s attendance at a racing event at Watkins Glen in late 1951, he authorised a project to develop a sports car.
To ensure secrecy, the work was called “Project Opel”.
The task of styling the exterior of the car was given to Bob McLean.
Joe Schemansky was responsible for the interior.
A decade later Joe would become the first design director at Holden.
To keep costs down, Project Opel had to use as many existing Chevrolet parts as practicable.
The body was made from a relatively new material, fibreglass to keep weight down.
Two fully-operational prototypes were completed by the end of 1952.
One was for testing ahead of possible production.
The other was Chevrolet’s contribution to GM’s fabulous Motorama, opening its nationwide tour at New York City’s most prestigious hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, on January, 17, 1953.
Each of GM’s American divisions showcased a dream car.
There was the Oldsmobile Starfire luxury convertible, Pontiac’s Parisienne Town Car and Buick’s Wildcat.
Cadillac showed-off two cars, the Le Mans and Orleans
Chevrolet’s dream car was the Corvette.
Some compromises had been made during the Corvette’s development.
Chevrolet did not yet have a V8, so it was powered by their six cylinder “Blue Flame” engine.
There was no manual gearbox either.
A Powerglide automatic dispersed the horsepower.
Gear selection was via an awkwardly positioned floor-mounted shifter.
Clear detachable “curtains” replaced door windows.
True sports car devotees were not impressed, but all of that mattered little to the crowds.
The Corvette was the star of the Motorama.
The positive reaction to the car encouraged GM’s President, Harlow “Red” Curtis, to accelerated the plans to put the car into production.
Six months later and only 20 days after the 1953 Motorama had finished its tour of the US, the Corvette appeared in dealer showrooms.
And, in 1998, Harley J. Earl was the first person inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at the National Corvette Museum, 350 Corvette Drive, Bowling Green, Kentucky.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos
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