For Part 1 of our Corvette Evolution feature series, we ponder the phenomenon of the all-American sports car.
It isn't an exaggeration to claim that the Chevrolet Corvette, the first true American sports car, is the most famous model ever to come out of the U.S. There were probably more important cars, such as the Ford Model T, more popular cars like the Ford Mustang, and more influential cars such as the Jeep.However, the Corvette, a model that is also regarded as a brand, outlasted all of them in longevity, fame and popularity amongst car fans everywhere.
The Corvette's success can be attributed to many factors: The post war era of rapid growth in the American auto industry that went hand in hand with the increase of automobile consumption. There was the popularity of the European sports car, British ones in particular, among well-off young people that grabbed the attention of legendary GM design Chief Harley Earl.During the then annual GM design extravaganza known as Motorama, in which halo cars in the shapes of aircrafts and ballistic missiles and equipped with elements such as huge fins and rounded canopies, transformed the car's image from a means of daily transportation into a technological wizardry.Although the Corvette didn't look as futuristic as most of those 'cars', at the 1953 Motorama, the Corvette concept received an impassioned support from the huge crowds who flocked to the annual show. They probably sensed that the car was made not only of dreams, but had real substance under its innovative fiberglass body and had potential to become a successful future model.
The Corvette's transformation from a concept car into a commercially viable sports car was much faster than what today's industry is capable of, even though nobody was sure whether its body panels would be made of fiberglass.
Just a few weeks before production started, Chevrolet executives opted for the fiberglass solution, anticipating a production pace of 10,000 units annually.It would take the Corvette a few years to reach that number, but it was the first time a composite material was used in the serial production of a road going vehicle. And it was Harley Earl was the pivotal person who started the Corvette legend.He traced the trend that small European sports cars like the MG, Healey, Riley and others offered a different kind of open top driving experience and sophistication. This concept, he thought, could also work well in the U.S.