Corvette: An American Icon


“America’s Sports Car”


America has grown up with the Corvette as it has transformed from a simple thought in the mind of Harley Earl, famed and legendary car designer, into the dreams of sports car enthusiasts world-wide. For over fifty years, the Corvette has been tearing up the road, the track, and the showroom. With its highly competitive styling, and plenty of power to go, it’s of no surprise that the Corvette is a huge success in today’s automotive industry. Although, with Corvette’s most recent success, it has experienced many changes, advancements, and problems in the past fifty years of production, with near death before the Corvette official began, to Congress stepping in and tearing horsepower numbers in half in the early 1970’s. Corvette has endured the worst, making it into what it is today: America’s sports car.


The following pages will provide factual, exciting, and widely unknown facts about this great American icon through the retelling of the birth, 1968-72 model years, and the most recent Corvette to burn rubber on the asphalt. This paper will touch on the troublesome birth and hurdles encountered by Corvette in the early 1950’s. Following the birth of Corvette will be the rise of Corvette as it becomes a popular American icon in 1968. The Rise will focus more specifically on the 1968-72 model years and its impact on the Corvette legacy. Last, but certainly not least, will be the covering of the most recent Corvette model, the C5.


The Corvette idea started with one man, Harley Earl. As General Motors’ vice president of styling, Earl was confronted with an opportunity, one of which would leave a


lasting impression for years to come. As the statistics show, “In 1952, while more than 4,000,000 new automobiles were registered, only 11,199 of them were sports cars,”


(Leffingwell, 1997, p.17) America was not interested in sports cars. Still, contrary to statistics, by 1950 most youthful adults were fancying sporty roadsters and coupes. With few choices within price range of young men, the automobile industry was given an opportunity to feed on an untouched market. Earl saw this as a huge career changing opportunity, one which he knew he could use to make him one of the most prestigious car designers in automotive history, but of course, only if he succeeded.


Earl’s challenge to capitalize on this untapped resource was a “not-so-well-kept secret by mid-1952” (Leffingwell, 1997, p.20). Code named Project Opel, work began for the completion of one car for the 1953 Motorama event, at which new concept cars and models were debuted by numerous car divisions. In the Styling Department’s back rooms, designers worked furiously to meet a January of ’53 deadline set by Earl. Thomas Keating, Chevrolet Division general manager, pushed for the release of Corvette under the Chevrolet name. After much debate, Chevrolet was chosen as the division of GM to show the “small, plastic-bodied two seat open car” (20). The car was perfect for the youthful market the Chevy division sought after.


Construction of the all-fiberglass, American sports car was molded strongly after that of the Jaguar XK-120. The Jaguar exemplified what a European sports car should be, and Earl realized this. Using such characteristics as the same wheelbase of 102 inches and long hood styling of a Jaguar, the Corvette was starting to take its shape. With power in mind, Earl had intentions of mounting a V8 under the hood, but due to time and price constraints, a signature Chevy sedan straight six was put in place as the heart of the Corvette. Another such compromise with the Corvette was no option for a manual transmission, again time and price restraints had aided in making an already existing two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission the matching component to the engine block. Finally, the Corvette was decorated in a brilliant white finish with red interior and a black soft-top roof.


The first ever Corvette made its appearance at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel ballroom, host of the Motorama, In New York City. The Corvette had already been given its name at this point and was described by Myron Scott, Campbell-Ewald ad agency’s chief photographer, as: “named after the trim, fleet naval vessel that performed heroic escort and patrol duties in World War II.” With future intentions of production in