The  1955 Corvette and the players that almost led to its demise. In ’55 the Corvette was on the ropes – only 700 were sold. The success of  the new Thunderbird and Harley Earl’s push for the Oldsmobile F-88 to replace it, forced the car to be restyled, revised and quickly moved into production for 1956 . . . and even then . . .

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1953 – 1962 Corvette

Bonus – 1955-62 Corvette V-8 Engines

The 1955-56 Corvette – the car that almost died

Today, Chevrolet’s Corvette is an icon, and no auto enthusiast can think of the motoring landscape without this car. But that wasn’t so in 1955. When introduced  in 1953, it seemed to have promise, but by its third year of production, it looked like a dud. Total Corvettes sold for those three years was 4,640 – and in ’55 it was a paltry 700 cars.

Worse, the competition arrived from Ford and the Thunderbird in 1955 – at the worst time. And Thunderbird sold 16,155 units at first introduction! With Corvette sales at 4% of Thunderbird, it looked like curtains for the Chevrolet version, especially with the extensive redesign investment in what was to be the 1956 car. Everyone was fearful that they had misjudged the market and that the car they envisioned for 1956 would fare no better than the 1955 version.

Was the Thunderbird formula the right one? Had GM totally misjudged the market? GM had a quandary – do we dump the car entirely, do we follow Ford’s lead and make it a sports touring car (more on that  later), or do we go all in on a car that could compete with the more upscale offerings from Europe?

Industry projections for the sales of the 1956 Thunderbird were over 20,000 units, a number that Corvette had never been intended to produce. Management was thinking that if Thunderbird hit those numbers, and Corvette didn’t exceed 5,000, the car should be dropped. Whether there would be a 1957 Corvette was in serious question even as the 1956 model was going to be announced.

* * * * * *

But the battle of whether there would be a 1957 Corvette actually started way before that – and surprisingly it came from the man that had proposed the Corvette in the first place – Harley Earl, GM’s Head of Design. While Harley had proposed the idea of a sports car in 1951 and received the go ahead in 1952, he had kept his finger on the pulse of the small but important market. While the project was in its early stages, Harley became concerned that perhaps the car was already dated even as it began to take shape.

Harley took a version of the chassis and some of the body paneling and offered it to Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick and asked for competing proposals. Pontiac came up with a lackluster concept, and Buick’s was just too far out there. But Oldsmobile – they took it way, way too seriously. Their offering, dubbed the”F-88″ stunned Harley.  Just as the new Corvette was being released, the F-88 – a full working prototype – arrived.

It was everything the Chevrolet version was not: 270 HP V-8 power, all the amenities Corvette had skipped – power steering, power brakes, electric roll up windows and top, and the famous Hydra-matic 4-speed automatic transmission. Looking at the car, and already knowing what the Thunderbird would offer, chilled Harley. In his heart, he knew that this was where GM should go. Would it replace the Corvette? Would it be sold side-by-side? Would it put Thunderbird in its place?

Harley was convinced that the F-88 should proceed, and as he was making his argument, the sales figures for the 1954 Corvette arrived – 3,640. It wasn’t dismal, but it wasn’t what GM was used to for a new offering – the Cadillac Eldorado, a custom convertible assembled by hand and costing $5,738 ($65,000 in today’s money), sold 2,150 units that year . . .

Selling the Corvette

  In Racing

Corvette was heavily involved in racing once Zora Duntov became involved. By 1956, Corvettes competed in amateur and professional road racing. The image above is of a 1956 Corvette successfully racing at pebble Beach in that year.

The cars had plenty of power, but excess weight and drum brakes made them ill-equipped to compete with Europe’s finest. Each and every year they improved. Within their class in US  sports car competition they did very well.  Two notable early races:



A Road Test of the 1958
250 HP Fuel Injected Corvette

In Harley Earl’s last year as head of GM’s design department, he mad a great effort to modernize the looks of the Corvette without changing the body radically. Mechanically, the car received little change but the interior was modernized with a much more driver-oriented center stack and instruments located in front of the driver.

In this December 1957 issue of Sports Cars Illustrated magazine, the fuel injected Corvette was gone over in great detail.

Notable in their evaluation of the car were these points:

Looks: “Uncowled dual headlights show how attractive most American front ends  would be . . .”

Interior. “Centrally located, the tachometer may now be readily observed . . .”

Handling: “The cornering of the boulevard Corvette cannot be described as flat, but to the driver feels very secure . . .”

Acceleration: ” . . . more than adequate for this car . . .” (250 HP version).

Don’t forget to get more details on the 1958 Chevrolet Corvette from the December 1957 issue of Sports Cars Illustrated Magazine HERE.

Beach Boys
Song: “Shutdown”

“I got a fuel injected engine sittin’ under my hood”

Shut Down” is a song written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian for the Beach Boys. On March 4, 1963, it was released as the B-side of the single “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, three weeks ahead of the album of the same name on which both tracks appeared. Capitol Records released it again later that year on the album Little Deuce Coupe.

The song details a drag race between a Super-Stock 413 cu. in.-powered 1962 Dodge Dart and a fuel-injected 1962 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray and is derived from a longer poem by Christian. The song is sung from the perspective of the driver of the Corvette who brags that he will “shut down” the 413. The lyrics in the end state; “Shut it off, shut it off/Buddy now I shut you down”, clearly indicating that the narrator, in his Corvette Sting Ray, has in fact won the race.

Their 1964 debut single “GTO” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

Hear –> Shutdown

Documented  Specifications
of the 1953-1962 Corvette

Ford submitted these specifications to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association who placed them is research files that were retrievable in paper. We have captured those for the 1953-62 years.
(A typical cover sheet and a subsequent page are shown at right).


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