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Posted on August 18th, 2012, by

By the early 50s of the last century in America a dynamic social group was formed, the so-called youth of “baby boom”, born in the difficult 20s. This generation that had already smelt of gunpowder in the fields of the World War II, actively took part in business, constantly improving their educational level. Naturally, in the context of rapid economic growth the country needed a new dream-car, which could symbolize the success and prosperity of the nation. «New Americans» did not want to be satisfied with old pre-war cars of their parents – their dream was a modern sports car. But cars’ producers did not expect such changes at the market and started urgently repairing the omission.

Today, Chevrolet Corvette is the undeniable symbol of America, the idol of millions. It is impossible to doubt with the fact that mainly this car is one of the influential historical pieces and masterpiece of that time. Conceptcarz.com. informs that:

“This 1953 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster was offered for sale

at the 2007 Sports and Classic Car Auction presented by The

Worldwide Group, in Hilton Head Island, SC where it was

estimated to sell for $400,000 – $550,000. At auction, this

was one of the highlights of the day. It was one of the

rarest to cross the auction block, and certainly one of the

best restored. Bidding was lively, finally settling at

$440,000 and falling within the estimated value.”

The history of Corvette is not ordinary and it could not take place at all. “Corvette” as the project started its being extremely unfortunately. Designer Harley Earl, whose works formed the basis of the style of almost all American cars, was the father of Corvette. In 1951 Earl visited some cars’ race, where he saw a lot of European cars, such as “Jaguar”, “Ferrari” and “Alpha-Romeo”. Mainly these cars inspired the designer to make the project of sports roadster. And Earl wanted to be an innovator – to develop a car with fiberglass body panels. Moreover, in those years the boom of new synthetic materials started. The designer’s courageous ideas were strengthened by the exhibition of plastic, which was held in the early 50’s in Philadelphia. So, the designers had the main goal – to create a roadster, open and sports, easy in driving and servicing, and of course cheap, in order to be affordable for any student.

Since 1949, British company Jaguar very successfully implemented in the New World up to 80 per cents of its products, including the sports model XK-120. Gaining that sector of the market became Earl’s main dream. “Jaguar” was completely good, except its price. So the producer posed a problem ”“ to make a similar car, but a thousand cheaper, and in 1950 it was decided to create an “anti-jaguar”. The appearance of the “Englishman” was subjected to the analysis, as a result the American prototype got the analogous wheel base, similar main proportions of the body and the treatment of its surface. Low driver and passenger seats, absence of the hard top, the ideology of the interior, the type of windshield frames, wheel-style caps and even safety nets for the headlamps, which were designed by the British because of the large network of local gravel roads, everything was borrowed by the American creators. The masters of style from Art & Color studio Robert McLean and Maurice Olley were responsible for image formation.

Although the work did not become the evident plagiarism, but the similarity on the image level was evidently observed.

The first sketches created on the paper, depicted a short base roadster, created from the standard Chevrolet model.

Finally design engineer Robert McLean guessed to move the engine on the 180 mm backwards and lower it on almost 80 mm. As a result the designer received the low silhouette of the car and load distribution along the axes, similar to European sports cars. In order to avoid rise in project’s price, the creators took the aggregates and components of cars, which were in production and then started the creation of a life-size plasticine model.

In spring 1952 the painted model was presented to the President of General Motors Harlow Curtis, the General Director of Chevrolet branch Thomas Keating and the new chief engineer Edward Cole. The project was met with approval. Keating charged Ed Cole with producing the chassis. The prototype had to be ready for opening in January 1953 Exhibition “General Motors Motorama”, and the decision to put into mass production was postponed up to the information about the public reaction on the new model. After 10 days the sketch project of chassis under the code-name “Opel”, very close to the final solution was prepared. The engine for the Chevrolet sports car was rather bad, and it had to be changed: a new camshaft and valve plungers were set, the compression ratio was increased and at last a new carburetor was installed.

After the installation of an aluminum admission tract and paired silencers the power of the power unit rose from 105 to 152 horsepower. It was necessary to revise the transmission. As a consequence the standard version was supplied with the automatic transmission “Powerglide” with a lever on the floor. The body for a demonstration copy was made of fiberglass, recently introduced and very convenient for the limited production. No one thought about fiberglass bodies’ launching in serial production. It meant that in 1954, when the launch of a series would be approved, 10 000 cars with bodies, punched from steel, would be produced. Quickly, in six months, the exhibition piece for display at the exhibition “Motorama” 1953 was processed and assembled. It really cost 60 thousand dollars – huge money for that time. The concept was named “Opel Sports Car”.

This event caused a wide resonance in the press; spectators, however, did not go into raptures over «Corvette»:  a small (4.5 m), without a roof (even soft) car, even not equipped with side windows was more a parody on the famous European roadsters.

Nevertheless, in June the assembly line of Corvettes started its work at a factory in Flint (Michigan). However, striking stile is half the work for the market success, price is much more important and for its reduction it was decided to use the engine and the chassis of the serial sedan, and to make the body of glass fabric. This technology has brought in plastic characteristic solidity and laconicism of composition, which consisted of only two parts: the lower pan and upper half. The technological cutoff point was covered by surrounding along the perimeter chrome moldings with a mischievously pulled up “finlet” on the front wing.

The first Corvettes were sold for 3 523 dollars – this was almost the prime cost of the car. But still it was too expensive and sales were very small. By the end of 1954 3940 were released, but the number of students who had acquired Chevrolet Corvette was incredibly low. The cost of the car exceeded twice the price, which was originally supposed by Harley Earl. Not every student in the middle of the 50s could afford to buy an open double machine with the price of Buick or Lincoln.

By the way it turned out that the Corvette being a sports car was not well-off. Inline six-cylinder Blue Flame engine with the rating of one and a half hundred horse powers was not quite adequate. But the biggest surprise was caused by 2-speed automatic transmission Powerglide, which had no alternative: mechanic transmission was not even offered. And the quality of the car, compared with sports models of Jaguar and MG left much to be desired. By the end of 1954 serious problems with the sales appeared, but GM management decided to stay in the emerging market segment, which required serious modernization and upgrade of Corvette. It was Zora Arkus Duntov, a talented engineer and an outstanding racing motorist, who started that process. That is why he received the informal name “Corvette’s godfather”. Duntov initiated the installation of engine V8, 3-speed manual gearbox (1955) and the system of fuel injection (1957). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia reads about these events:

“GM was seriously considering shelving the project,

leaving the Corvette to be little more than a footnote in

automotive history, and would have done so if not for two

important events. The first was the introduction in 1955 of

Chevrolet’s first V8 engine since 1919, and the second was

the influence of a Soviet Ă©migrĂ© in GM’s engineering

department, Zora Arkus Duntov. The new 265 cu in (4.3 L) V8

became available with a three-speed manual transmission

late in the model year turning the “rather anemic Corvette

into a credible if not outstanding performer”. Although not part of the original project, Arkus-Duntov was the architect of the car’s performance image and in 1956 he became the director of high-performance vehicle design”Š”

With Duntov’s active participation in the years 1956-57 Corvette won a series of convincing victories in the Championship of Sports Car Club of America. By the year 1962 V8 engine capacity reached 360 horse power and Corvette finally proved that it could be called a pure sports car by right.

During its half century history Corvette finally established itself as one of the symbols of America. The same as you call a boat, the same it will float. Europe, speed, ambitions set out in the name of Chevrolet, one way or another are registered in the history of the brand despite the fact that since 1918 it has been sent to the lower floor in the hierarchy of GM brands. Conceptcarz.com reads about Corvette:

“Very few vehicles elicit the same kind of satisfaction as

the Chevrolet Corvette. The ”˜Vette’ is a symbol of

childhood dreams and grown up triumph. The only true

American Sports car, this car stands for excellence and

became an icon as a high-performance and dynamic sports

vehicle.”

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