1954 Chevrolet Corvette: Pretty but there's more

1 year 3 months ago - 1 year 3 months ago #1038 by JP
JP created the topic: 1954 Chevrolet Corvette: Pretty but there's more

Corvette interiors featured a floor-mounted shifter for the Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission and oil pressure, battery, water temperature and other gauges.

General Motors' flamboyant chief stylist, Harley Earl, must be credited with providing the spark that led to the creation of the first Corvette. His inspiration came from a desire to produce a car that would appeal both to the hot-rodders in California and the enthusiasts of the import racing scene with their MGs, Jaguars and Porsches. Because the planned production run was short and time was of the essence, a new material-fiberglass-was chosen for the body. The actual shape was sculpted by Bob McLean, with Earl's influence clearly visible in the wraparound windshield and the small fins on the rear fender, both features of his 1951 Le Sabre show car.

Harley Earl's legendary 1951 LeSabre dream car at the 1953 Chicago Auto Show

Harley Earl's legendary 1951 LeSabre dream car interior

The Corvette became the star of the New York Motorama in 1953. But even though it looked smashing with its smooth and simple lines-which were closer to the Mercedes 300SL than the Jaguar XK120-under that skin hid an unexciting six­ cylinder engine that had its origin in a 1941 Chevrolet truck unit.

New York Motorama in 1953

New York Motorama in 1953

For use in the Corvette, it had been "souped up" with big lift cams and three carburetors but still did not generate any excitement. Adding to the insult was the fact that it was coupled to Chevrolet's two speed automatic "Powerglide" transmission. The poor sales results experienced that first year proved that this approach indeed did not appeal to the sports car enthusiast.

1954 Corvette C1 Engine


1954 Corvette. The stock Blue Flame inline six and Powerglide automatic gave way to a 400hp LS2.

However, the subsequent progress of the Corvette story has shown that the original idea had staying power. And although the mechanical features of that first Corvette left a lot to be desired, the styling was of such caliber that the image has indeed become something of a symbol to all Corvette enthusiasts.

Mesh covered the headlights, not Plexiglas

Corvette creators Earl and Mclean had originally envisioned plexiglass-covered headlights, a fact also suggested by the smooth shape of the fender. This feature was quite an advanced concept at the time, and had been used only on racing machines such as Jaguar's Le Mans-winning 1951 C­ type.

Jaguar Type C, 1951 Le Mans

In the end the plexiglass was deemed too delicate for use on a production car­ there were still a lot of dirt roads in those days. Instead, a decorative wire mesh-also racing inspired-was created. However, wire wheels, as shown in the photograph above, were not standard but an aftermarket item.

If one compares the front features of the first Corvette with those of other contemporary sports cars, the closest thing is the 300SL introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1952.

1952 300SL introduced by Mercedes-Benz

The Corvette had the same wide look as well as a similar front fender curve. The grille was also quite compatible-although more glamorous on the Corvette, with its toothy expression. A model of the 300SL was shown to the press on March 13, and the initial work on the Corvette took place during the month of April. Thus, while just a speculation, the link to the 300SL is possible.

1954 Chevrolet Corvette rear view

The picture above projects an awesome-and exaggerated-view of the ample hindquarters found on the early Corvette. This distortion of width and perspective amplifies the elements of speed and flight built into the design-those fenders with their small rocket fins and that round rear deck with its air-cheating smoothness. Notice that the twin exhaust pipes protruded through the rear portion of the body, and that the license plate recess was plexiglass-covered.

1954 Corvette Detachable Hardtop Prototype

The photograph of the sideview of the early Corvette. The shape obviously represented the meeting of two schools: One, the European, with its classic simplicity was typified by the unpretentious, unadorned flow of lines and the geometrically straightforward wheel wells. The other, the America, with its emphasis on symbols was exemplified by the aircraft­ inspired wraparound windshield and the spaceship-influenced tail fins. But the Corvette soon found ways to express a styling philosophy all its own.

The original, feature car's advertisement was photographed on the grounds of the old railroad depot in Minneapolis, with the city's sun-silhouetted skyline providing an ever-changing backdrop. Here the Corvette cockpit-with its all­ surrounding chrome molding-appeared from its most inviting aspect.

Interior 1954 Chevrolet Corvette ''Pennant Blue''

Certainly overstyled from a European viewpoint, the interior continued the aircraft theme of the exterior; with the speedometer, for instance, set in a propeller-inspired pod. The same shape reappeared on the passenger side-for symmetry-which here housed the speakers. Other gauges and controls were also organized symmetrically, certainly at the expense of practicality.

1954 Chevrolet Corvette dash

A novelty was found in the larger dial at the center of the dash, which besides functioning as a tachometer, also recorded the number of hours the engine was in operation, as on an airplane. The shift lever, although located on the floor where it belonged, was something of a parody. As noted, it connected with a two­ speed automatic transmission-certainly a most appalling affair. But the Corvette lived-and learned.

Thanks for visiting Ed's Swap Meet.com: Sell a classic car, auto parts, expertise, restoration services on this site. Best wishes, JP.
Last Edit: 1 year 3 months ago by JP.

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