In the 1950s Harley Earl was in charge of vehicle designs at General Motors (GM) when he introduced the first Chevrolet Corvette classic car at the 1953 GM Motorama car show. The decision had already been made to produce the car but there were some significant issues to overcome so it was introduced as a concept car. For one, it was a "Chevrolet", meaning it had to be priced in the mid range so as to be affordable to the general public. For another it required a new sports car platform which GM did not have. As a result there was a lot of scrambling at GM to find off-the-shelf parts to make the Corvette both alluring and fun to drive.
The first generation of classic Corvettes came out with suspension from standard Chevrolet sedans, a solid rear axle, recirculating ball-type steering and a six-cylinder engine coupled to a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. However the engine was soon beefed up with aluminum pistons, an improved camshaft and three Carter side-draft carburetors mounted on an alloy intake manifold. It also got dual exhaust to help provide a total of 150 horsepower. Not too impressive by today's standards but on par with the the competition such as MG and Jaguar at the time.
The suggested retail price for the 1953 Corvette was $3,250, about twice the price of a standard Chevrolet sedan and featured two bucket seats, roll-up windows and side curtains. General Motors was hoping to sell 10,000 units the first year but they did not even come close and when the 1954 model did not do much better management wanted to cut their losses and end production. However when General Motors got word that Ford was going to challenge the Corvette with the 1955 Thunderbird they decided to stay the course and when Ed Cole, their chief engineer, suggested putting the 265 cubic inch small-block V-8 in the Corvette they had a winner and sales soared.
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The 195 horsepower V-8 engine gave the Corvette the edge it needed to become a fun car to drive and when they added a three-speed manual transmission in 1955 sales began to grow. Then for 1956 Harley Earl gave the Corvette a new body with an optional 225 horsepower engine that would hit 60 mph in less than eight seconds, making it one of the fastest production cars in the world and a true "classic car". It also featured power windows and top, better brakes and suspension and a four-speed manual transmission. In 1957 GM offered a fuel injection system on a 283 cubic inch engine that produced 283 break horsepower and it became the first mass produced engine to reach a one to one BHP to displacement ratio.
The next significant body change came in 1961 when the rear end received a "duck tail" design and then in 1962 when independent rear suspension and a removable hard top were introduced. 1962 also brought the a bigger 327 cubic engine that produced 340 horsepower. The next generation of classic Corvettes began in 1963 with the introduction of an all new body style known as the "Sting Ray" (C2).
The classic Corvette Sting Ray was actually introduced in 1957 as a concept racing car that featured a 283 cubic inch V8 engine with a power-to-weight ratio of seven pounds per horsepower, without a passenger seat. It was then redesigned and offered to the public for the 1963 to 1967 model years as the Sting Ray (C2) - which stands for Concept Car number 2 - and featured a totally new chassis and body design. The C2 could be powered by a variety of off-the-shelf power trains offering the potential of traveling from 0-60 mph in about 5.6 seconds.
In 1968 the Sting Ray (C3) was introduced with the same chassis but an all new body that looked like a Mako Shark and that model lasted until 1982. The C3 body featured a variety of enticing new amenities such as the T-top and the ZL all aluminum engine. Chevrolet also offered special horsepower and suspension packages for the 1970 to 1972 models knows as ZR1 and ZR2, respectively.