MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives
Published 10.25.2023

Another 1957 Corvette ad GM Media Archives 5A promotional cover for the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette (GM Media Archives)

The Chevrolet Corvette has always been looked upon as a true American sports car, with fans across the world. Upon reviewing the history, however, the Corvette was not the first American sports car to be introduced.

For example, in 1949, talented race car designer Frank Kurtis (January 25, 1908 - February 17, 1987) developed and manufactured his Kurtis sports car, a two-seater with an aluminum body. Other sports car designs followed shortly after, including the Cunningham C 5R, the 1951 Nash-Healey and the 1952 Crosley Super Sport.

A 1957 Chevrolet Corvette ad GM Media Archives 1A 1957 Chevrolet Corvette ad (GM Media Archives)

The Corvette was developed in early 1952 under the direction of GM design chief Harley Earl (November 22,1893 - April 10,1969). Robert McLean, a Cal Tech-trained engineer, designed the unique chassis that places the passenger seats immediately ahead of the rear axle. The engine and transmission were also pushed back as part of the engineering design.

Another 1957 Corvette ad GM Media Archives 2Another 1957 Corvette ad (GM Media Archives)

On June 30, 1953, after many attempts, the first 1953 Corvette models rolled off the assembly line. Just two years later, the Corvette was close to extinction when only 700 units were produced. Many Corvette enthusiasts at the time criticized the styling, as well as the taillight design and the bright metal trim. In addition, Ford introduced the great-looking and very successful Thunderbird in 1955.

A 1957 Chevy Corvette ad GM Media Archives CROPPED AND RESIZED 3A 1957 Chevy Corvette ad (GM Media Archives)

In 1956, Chevrolet got new leadership with the appointment of E.N. Cole as General Manager of the division and Vice President of General Motors. Changes were made to the Corvette, leading to the 1957 model being a much more popular vehicle. While no substantial changes were made in appearance, upgrades in performance came along with the addition of a 283 cu. in. V-8 engine, fuel injection and a four-speed gearbox.  A total of 6,339 Corvettes came off the line for the 1957 model year.

1957 Corvette ad GM Media Archives CROPPED AND RESIZED 4One more 1957 Corvette ad (GM Media Archives)

Automotive historians have attributed the success of the 1957 Corvette to many talented people who were part of the development of the model, including chief engineer John Dolza, who was the head of the fuel injection development for the GM engineering team, and Zora Arkus Duntuz.

In 1957, the Corvette became more competitive on the European racing circuit after the addition of fuel injection. In fact, a Corvette driven by Dick Thompson won the GT class at Sebring that year. In 1957, the Chevrolet sales department started publishing Corvette News which became a popular magazine and resource for owners of Chevrolet Corvettes.

A 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Mecum Auctions RESIZED 6A 1957 Chevrolet Corvette (Mecum Auctions)

Part of the successful promotion of the 1957 Corvette, the Super Sport show car was introduced to the public in December 1956 at the New York Auto Show. It was built by the Chevrolet design studio and was order number SO-90181, transformed into the Super Sport model for a cost of $18,000. The concept offered a pearlescent white paint color with blue stripes and brushed aluminum covers with rear brake ducts. The show car made an appearance at the Chicago Auto Show as well.  

The 1957 Corvette Super Sport show car GM Media Archives 7The 1957 Corvette Super Sport show car (GM Media Archives)

In conclusion, the 1957 Corvette proved to be very popular with great styling and fuel injection which led to improved performance for drivers both on the road and the racetrack. The 1957 Corvette Super Sport show car is still around today. After appearances at many auto shows during the 1950s, it was sold to Surley Wilsie, a partner with the Wilsie-Kelly Chevrolet dealership in Caro Michigan. Later, the show car was auctioned off by Mecum Auctions, selling for over one million dollars.

1957 Chevy Corvette show car GM Media Archives CROPPED AND RESIZED 81957 Chevy Corvette show car (GM Media Archives)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Bibliography

Ludvigsen, Karl. “Corvette, America’s Star-Spangled Sports Car: The Complete History.” Automobile Quarterly Publications, 1974.

“Corvette: America’s Only True Sports Car.” The Editors of Consumer Guide. Winter 1979, Volume 215.

Ernst, Kurt. “After Decades in the Shadows, the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Super Sport Re-emerges at Amelia Island.” Hemmings, March 2, 2017.