The Secret Life Of An American Icon

Few machines in history can match the storied legacy of the Chevrolet Corvette. In staying power alone, this American icon — with its sleek design and speed-hungry engineering — has outlasted many other vehicles with more modest and utilitarian aspirations — and some would say seemingly better suited to longevity. The Corvette was designed with a singular purpose in mind: to create an affordable American sports car to compete with European models.

The ’50s were a time of complacency for General Motors, the parent company of Chevrolet. General Motors produced reliable (if not boring) sedans and had no desire to change their business model. Enter Harley Earl, GM’s chief if design and apparent dreamer. Knowing the Corvette would never be approved if he could not keep production costs reasonable, he scrabbled together current GM parts used in other cars. The chassis and suspension were from a sedan and the engine was the same six cylinder used in other vehicles (although modified substantially). The body would of course need to be built from scratch and was molded from fiberglass instead of more costly steel.

After the initial rough design, there were some pretty heavy changes made by unlikely people. Ed Cole, Chevrolet’s new chief engineer, wanted an eight cylinder engine. Myron Scott, founder of the All-American Soap Box Derby, suggested the name of the car.

The Corvette was originally conceived and produced for an auto trade show in New York. The 1953 model was intended to excite the public that an affordable sports machine could be theirs for the same price as a four door sedan. Chevy was selling an ideal and lifestyle as much as they were selling a product. After the showing in 1953 at Motorama, they got just that. The first Corvettes rolled off the production line in June 1953 and haven’t stopped since.

Corvette Incarnations:

  • C1 the original Corvette (1953-1962)
  • C2 Corvette (1963-1967)
  • C3 Corvette aka the Stingray (1968-1982)
  • C4 Corvette (1984-1996)
  • C5 Corvette (1997-2004)
  • C6 Corvette (2005-2010)
  • C7 Corvette (2012-present)

To be sure, the design has changed substantially in the last 59 years. Arguably the quality has increased with each successive change, but the originals are still incredibly sought after. An American icon, the Chevy Corvette has enjoyed fame in numerous television shows and movies alike, ensuring its immortality in the American psyche. To paraphrase a heavily used cliché, the Corvette is as American as apple pie — but so much sweeter.

Bryan is a blogger for the online Corvette parts store CorvetteMods.com.