The Chevy Corvette has been America’s sports car since its birth in 1953. American GIs returning from the European Theater after World War II had become smitten with the small, nimble coupes and roadsters that were unlike anything made back home. Sure, there had been more sporting American offerings like the Auburn 851 Speedster, Cord 812 Supercharged Sportsman, the Dutch Darrin-designed Kaiser Darrin, and the Muntz Jet, yet none of these had what we would today consider a sports car edge.
Americans began buying and racing those quick, light European cars, and Harley J. Earl, founder of General Motors’ Art and Color Section, took notice. Writer Karl Ludvigsen said, “Earl began thinking seriously about a low-priced sporty car during the late fall of 1951.” That sporty car would become the Chevy Corvette.
A robust American economy meant the timing couldn’t have been better for a car aimed at those with disposable income. Released as a 1953 model after a spectacular showing at the January 1953 GM Motorama, the fiberglass-bodied Chevy Corvette was otherwise largely composed of Chevy parts bin components. Power came from a warmed-up version of Chevy’s stovebolt inline six renamed the Blue Flame six, that made 150 horsepower. The Blue Flame moved power to the rear wheels through a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. The Corvette was a roadster, with a canvas convertible top, side curtains, and no exterior door handles. It was spartan, basic, and not very sporty… yet.
The Chevy Corvette’s Blue Flame Six was replaced by a Small Block V8 for the 1955 model year, bumping power up to 195 horsepower. The following year would bring a cosmetic redesign, fifteen more horsepower, and a three-speed manual transmission (the Powerglide automatic could still be had for $188 more). The Corvette finally had real performance, becoming known as “America’s Sports Car.” Those with a racing bent put the Corvette’s performance to good use, and the Corvette has since been a regular staple at racetracks everywhere.
The famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is featuring some of those Chevy Corvette race cars in a collection called Corvettes in Competition. Among the Corvettes featured in the display are a 1953 NASCAR-prepped Corvette fitted with a 265 cubic-inch Small Block V8, a 1963 Corvette Grand Sport (#004 of only five constructed), a 1976 Corvette Greenwood called the Spirit of Le Mans, a C4 Corvette Challenge car, a C6.R, and a 2014 Corvette C7.R complete with carbon fiber body and aluminum monocoque developed by GM and Pratt & Miller.
The Corvettes in Competition exhibit opens August 5th at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California. The exhibit is included with the purchase of a general admission ticket.