World Classic Autos Index > Guides Index > Chevrolet Corvette
On June 30 1953 the first Corvette rolled off the production line at Flint, Michigan. Only 300 cars were produced of the first model year and as a result are also the most desirable Corvettes. Top management at GM had not been convinced that the Corvette was going to be a success and had decided only 300 units were to be produced. About 60% of this number still exist today. Due to their rarity some dodgy dealers have tried to forge 53 model. There are a couple of features that are common only to 53 model year cars. Firstly Chevrolet always placed a number, corresponding to the body serial plate, on the Corvette frame, but on 53 models this appeared twice, secondly the petrol line exited from the bottom of the fuel tank outside the right-hand main frame rail.
After 15 models of the 1954 models had been produced at Flint, production was moved to a specially constructed assembly line in St Louis, Missouri. Few changes were made at the beginning of the model year; most of the changes were running alterations. 54 models are immediately recognized by the tan soft top rather than black. The petrol and brake lines are inboard of the main right-hand frame. The wiring was plastic insulated rather than fabric-insulated. About 80% of all 54 models were finished in Polo White, 16% in Pennant Blue. These cars had tan interiors and a dark tan lower dash and steering column. 3% of cars were red and the remainder were painted black, these cars were fitted with a red and white interior. The car didn’t sell very well and its future was in doubt until the last minute.
The first few cars of the 1955 model year were fitted with a six-cylinder engine with a modified cam to give the 55 Corvette 5bhp more. The remainder were fitted with Chevrolet’s 265ci V8. All V8 models came with a 12-volt electrical system. For V8s the 0-60 mph time was less than 9 seconds and its top speed to 120 mph. Harvest Gold replaced Pennant Blue as a color. Metallic Corvette Copper was a new color and Gypsy Red replaced Sportsman Red. Sales were still sluggish and production was only 700 units. Despite the poor sales Chevrolet made the decision to bring out a completely new car for 1956.
In 1955, Ford had sold five Thunderbirds for every Corvette; it was evident that the 53-55 models were too utilitarian. So the 1956 model came with roll-up windows, door handles, fully upholstered lift-off hardtop. A new high lift cam was fitted to the V8 to give it almost 30 more bhp. Unlike previous years the majority of Corvettes were now fitted with a three speed manual gearbox. These two changes brought about a reduction in 0-60 mph to 7.5 seconds.
The 1957 model was similar to the 56; the most significant changes took place under the bonnet where a larger 283 ci V8 engine and Ramjet fuel injection. Chevrolet now claimed a bhp of 283 at 6,200rpm and 0-60 mph times were around 6.5 seconds. These Corvettes are known as ’fuelies’, but unfortunately the fuel injection system was not without its problems and only 240 models were fitted with this option. The 283 ci engine was available in five stages of tune. In May 1957 a four speed gearbox was fitted and a 0 - 60 mph time of 5.5 seconds was possible. A RPO option 684, handling package was offered for the first time on 1957 models, this included front anti-sway bar and heavier springs, heavy-duty rear springs and shocks.
50% more Corvettes were than 1957 despite the fact that they were not as exciting performance wise. The Detroit manufacturers had agreed not to take part in or sponsor racing cars or drivers. The 58 model was heavier and adopted quad headlamps. The dashboard was redesigned grouping the instruments under the steering wheel.
The 1959 and 1960 models were similar although the fake louvers were removed from the bonnet. Some of the 1960 models had aluminum heads fitted but they tended to warp if the engine overheated. For the first time on an American car, a rear suspension anti-sway bar was fitted.
In 1961 headlamp rims were painted the body color and standard equipment included an aluminum radiator, parking brake lamp, dual sun visors, interior lights and windscreen washers. Outside the grille was replaced with a mesh screen. In 1962 the body was slightly restyled. The mesh grille was blacked out and a strip of anodized aluminum was added to the rocker panels. A new 327 ci engine was available and 15 second, 100 mph quarter miles were well within its capabilities. The 61-62 model year along with the 56-57 are amongst the most collectable Corvettes from this early era.
1963 saw the introduction of the generation of Corvettes known as the Sting Rays. The 1963 Sting Ray represented a radical change in design and engineering of the Corvette. Original design work for the 63 model began in 1960 at the time when the motoring world was being wowed by the Jaguar E-Type.
The 63 was lighter than its predessor in part due to its shorter wheelbase. Yet with through clever design work the interior space was similar. Notable body features included curved side windows and a divided backlight. There was no rear lid and so luggage and had to added or removed through the passenger doors. The engine line-up was unchanged from 1962 but ride and handling were improved.
For 1964 the split backlight and fake bonnet louvers were dropped and slotted wheel discs were added to improve ventilation. The extractor vents on the coupe were redesigned and made functional for the first time. However these were not efficient and were eventually after the 65 model. The 1965 model saw the slots in the front quarter panels opened to duct heat out of the engine compartment and away from the front wheels. Disc brakes were fitted all round. These were needed to stop a Mark IV V8 with 425 bhp. Models fitted with this engine are identified by the large bulge in the bonnet and were usually equipped with the optional side-mounted exhaust pipes.
An egg crate grille was added in 1966 and only minor changes took place in 1967. A 427 ci Corvette in 1966 could reach 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds and had a maximum speed of 140 mph. Many collector consider the era of the Sting Ray Corvettes to be the definitive one.
1968 saw the beginning of the longest running Corvette generation. The 68 models used the same engines as the 67 models including the L88 which produced 560 bhp. In 69 this engine was joined by the ZL-1 both were probably best suited to the track than the road. The new Corvette was not what the public expected and was not well received. However sales didn’t reflect this and 69 and 70 were record sales for the Corvette. In 1969 there were minor body revisions, but work was done to improve the handling of the car, wider wheel rims and a stiffer frame helped.
Tough new Federal regulations meant that the performance of Corvettes in this era did not match those of the early 60s. The physical changes through the 1970s were relatively small. In 72 a burglar alarm was fitted and in 73 the removable roof panels were temporarily eliminated from the coupe in anticipation on roll-over legislation. The legislation didn’t materialize so the panels were put back on the option list for 74.
With speed restrictions the tires on the 74 model were downrated from140 mph to 120 mph. In 1975 the Mark IV V8 engine was no longer offered. Gradually the power ratings improved and by 1978 the L-82 version covered 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. In 1978 the Corvette was chosen to pace the 1978 Indy 500. Initially Chevrolet decided to build 2500 replicas on a first-come first-served basis. However there wre 6200 dealers in the US, so eventually 6200 were built. The option was RPOZ78.
Through 78 and 79 there were few changes both to the body and the engine. By 1980 the Corvette need some major updating. Over 250lb was trimmed from the kerb weight of the car, some body restyling and chassis changes made the Corvette a much more economical vehicle.
1981 to 83 saw few changes as Chevrolet prepared for the next generation of the Corvette. In 1981 the L-81 was fitted with an electronic emissions control system. The 1982 was fitted with completely new drivetrain - the one to be fitted to the new Corvette.Serial numbers
Year Prefix Starts Ends Produced Type 1953 E53F 001001 001300 300 1954 E54S 001001 004640 3640 1955 E55S 001001 001700 6 6 cylinder VE55S 668 V8 1956 E56S 001001 004467 3388 1957 E57S 100001 106339 6246 1958 J58S 100001 109168 9168 1959 J59S 100001 109670 9670 1960 00867S 100001 110261 10261 1961 10867S 100001 110939 10939 1962 20867S 100001 114531 14531 1963 30837S 100001 121513 10594 coupe 30867S 10919 convertible 1964 40837S 100001 122229 8304 coupe 40867S 13925 convertible 1965 194375S 100001 123562 8186 coupe 194675S 15376 convertible 1966 194376S 100001 127720 9958 coupe 194676S 17762 convertible 1967 194377S 100001 122940 8504 coupe 194677S 14436 convertible 1968 194378S 400001 428566 9936 coupe 194678S 18630 convertible 1969 194379S 700001 738762 22154 coupe 194679S 16608 convertible 1970 194390S 400001 417316 10668 coupe 194690S 6648 convertible 1971 194371S 100001 121801 14680 coupe 194671S 7121 convertible 1972 1Z37K2S 500001 520486 20486 coupe 1Z67K2S 500001 506508 6508 convertible 1973 1Z37K3S 400001 424372 24372 coupe 1Z67K3S 400001 406093 6093 convertible 1974 1Z37J4S 400001 432028 32028 coupe 1Z67J4S 400001 405474 5474 convertible 1975 1Z37J5S 400001 433836 33836 coupe 1Z67J5S 400001 404629 4629 convertible 1976 1Z67J6S 400001 446558 46558 coupe 1977 1Z67J7S 100001 149213 49213 coupe 1978 1Z67J8S 100001 147667 47667 coupe 1979 1Z67J9S 400001 453807 53807 coupe 1980 100001 140614 40614 coupe 1981 100001 145631 45631 coupe 1982 100001 125407 25407 coupe
From 1972 to 1982 the numbering system breaks down as follows: 1 = Chevrolet Division Z = Corvette 37 = Coupe, 67= Convertible K = Base Engine 72-73, J = Base Engine 74 -, Y = 454s 2 = Model Year 1972, 3 = 1973 et al S = St Louis Assembly Plant
Standard Catalog of Chevrolet 1912-2005 UK USA (*Ad)
Corvette Black Book 1953-2006 UK USA (*Ad)
Corvette Buyer's Guide 1953-1967 USA (*Ad)
Corvette by the Numbers USA by Alan Colvin (*Ad)
Catalog of Corvette Id Numbers 1953-93 (Cars & Parts Magazine Matching Numbers Series) USA (*Ad)
Chevrolet Corvette 1953-1962 UK USA Clarke R M (*Ad)
Chevrolet Corvette 1968-1977 UK USA Clarke R M (*Ad)
Early Chevrolet Corvettes 1953-1967 UK USA Falconer T (*Ad)
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