The History of the Corvette

by : Neil Lemons

During the post-war area, the design for the Corvette began in 1951 after General Motors' chief stylist Harley Earl visits a Watkins Glen sports car race and becomes impressed with the foreign sports cars that watched in the race. His decision to create an American sports car, later to become known as the Corvette, earned him the name, "Father of the Corvette."

A prototype was created in 1952, made of fiberglass with balsa wood floors, both of which the Corvette is still known for today. The light weight of the body was created to increase speed. Now that the car was taking shape, it needed a name. Myron Scott, then a member of the General Motors' Public Relations department came up with "Corvette" which means Royal Navy Warship, representing strength, speed, and maneuverability.

With great anticipation, the Corvette first made its debut during the 1953 New York Motorama Show at the famous Walforf Astoria hotel ballroom. Little did the public know that General Motors' employees were scrambling to replace the car's logo just a few hours before the show. The original design sported a checkered racing flag crossed by a patriotic American flag. A member of the General Motors' legal staff realized at the last minute that the American flag is copyright protected from commercial use and it had to be pulled quick. The Chevrolet "fleur de lis" was put in its place and no one ever knew the difference.

Despite the minor bump, the public responded well to the car and production began in a small, thrown together, assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, rolling off 300 Corvettes within a six month time frame. The sticker price at the time was only $3,000.

To keep costs down and to increase production time, all 300 Corvettes were created exactly the same. They were all Polo White with Sportsman Red vinyl interior and a black top. Most of the cars, surprisingly, were sold to celebrities and other highly visible personalities like town mayors and other public officials. This strategy was done as a marketing technique to get this sport car into the public's eye.

Unfortunately, the cars launch didn't take off so well. People were skeptical since it was pricey for its time and somewhat impractical being that it was a two-seater. Sales didn't take off all that well and numerous times through the car's history, it almost was yanked from General Motors line up. It was the people behind the car, though, that really fought for its existence, and thankfully, won.

Zora Arkus-Duntov was one of those people. He was hired early on in the life of the Corvette and become the Corvette's Chief Engineer and known to some as the godfather of the Corvette. His experience and improvements to the car really improved its image. The car was a labor of love to him his entire life even after he retired in 1974. His ashes now remain on display at the National Corvette Museum, a final wish before he died, that's how much he loved the car.

With Duntov's influence and opening up sales to the general public, the car's popularity began to take off. So much so, that production moved to St. Louis, MO, the second of only three places the Corvette would made in its history.

Seven generations or body styles later, Corvettes are now made in Bowling Green, KY, known as the "Home of the Corvette." Between the Assembly Plant and The National Corvette Museum across the street, the two have created a network of Corvette lovers, helping to increase sales and the car's popularity. It looks the American Sports Car is here to stay.