Vehicle Profile: 1958 Chevrolet Corvette

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The 1958 Chevrolet Corvette was only available as a 2-door convertible model, with few options available over the base model offerings. The larger-sized body (restyled, updated and enhanced) and more aggressive looks, included adding over 200 lbs. to the total weight of the Corvette. This was the first production Corvette to weigh just over 3000 lbs.

To keep with the styling cues of the era, the 1958 Chevrolet Corvette had the quad style headlamp effect added to the front fenders and a 9 tooth “shark-look” grille, (previous models had a 13 tooth grille). The hood received some “faux” louvers and the trunk was adorned with twin chromed trim spars, running tip-to-tail on the trunk lid. Both of these effects were specific only to the 1958 models. Both front and rear bumpers were now attached to the frame instead of directly to the body, which greatly increased their strength and protection factors. The eight available body paint colors were changed from the old enamel system to a new acrylic lacquer paint for a better finished look.

The interior of the restyled 1958 Chevrolet Corvette was also refined. The instrumentation was now placed directly in front of the driver and included a stacked arrangement of a 160 mph speedometer on top of an 8,000 rpm tachometer (which replaced the previously utilized 6,000 rpm unit) and a complete set of gauges . A grab bar for the passenger to hang onto in stressful driving conditions was added and a pair of (now factory installed) seat belts was standard.

The suspension included:  independent A-arm with coil springs, anti-sway bar up front and a solid, live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs in the rear (both front and rear handled by tubular hydraulic shock absorbers). Engine availability was left to the venerable 283-cid small-block in five different variations: a single 4-barrel carburetor producing about 230 hp, two different versions with dual 4-barrel carburetors which produced either 245 or 270 hp (depending on tuning and components), and two different versions of the “Fuelie” or fuel-injected units producing either 250 or 290 hp (depending on tuning and components).

Three transmission types were available: the (optional) 2-speed automatic “Powerglide”, the (standard) three and (optional) four-speed manuals. The brakes were 11-inch drum style front and rear with optional heavy duty Cerametallic linings and racing suspension package. Performance ratings for the 250hp version was 0-60 mph in 7.6 seconds and could run through the 1/4 mile traps at 90 mph in 15.7 seconds!

In 1958, 9,168 Chevrolet Corvettes were produced, making it the largest number of units per model year- to-date. It was actually reported to be the first year that Chevrolet made a profit on the model. Some other notable options, not mentioned above, were a heater (go figure), signal seeking or “Wonderbar” AM radio, auxiliary hardtop, power windows, power operated folding soft-top and posi-traction rear axle in three different ratios.

The 1958 Chevrolet Corvette was an impressive performance package (wheelbase of 102-inches, an overall length of 177.2-inches, an overall width of 72.8-inches and height of 51.1-inches) for around $3,500, especially when compared to the more expensive Euro-Brands of the day. Unfortunately, due to the “Automobile Manufacturers Association” anti-racing mantra, which had been established in 1957, Chevrolet down-played the many racing successes of the new for 1958 Corvette.

Vehicle Profile: 1957 Chevrolet Corvette

Visually, the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette remained nearly unchanged from the 1956 version. However, underneath that sexy fiberglass body, changes were brewing that would further solidify the Corvette as a true American sports car and icon that was here to stay.

Some of the new additions for 1957 were a long awaited, four-speed manual transmission (the soon to be infamous, nearly bullet-proof, Borg-Warner T-10), a Rochester Ramjet mechanical fuel-injection unit and the small-block V8 engine displacement was increased to 283-c.i.. This mighty little small-block was now capable of producing a walloping 283hp (actually produced closer to 290hp with fuel injection and special tuning).  This was heavily promoted by Chevrolet, as a first in mass-production engines, to have a one-horsepower per cubic-inch displacement rating (they were, actually, a year behind Chrysler Corporations release of their 354-cid, 355 hp, Hemi V8 engine). Base price for the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette was only $3,176.32.

As far as the exterior goes, Inca Silver was added to the previously available body color choices of Onyx Black, Polo White, Arctic Blue, Aztec Copper, Cascade Green and Venetian Red, which combined, equals 6,336 units, but actual production total posted by Chevrolet was 6,339 (which again, shows how lax the bookkeeping was way back then). This may sound like a small number of total vehicles produced, but it is about twice as many as were produced in 1956. This is due to the marketing of the performance and handling advancements and results of racing victories of 1956 and 1957 combined.

The two-tone exterior paint option was still available. The same three colors were available for the convertible soft-top, White, Beige and Black. Aside from opening the hood, one of the easiest ways to visually identify a 1957 Corvette from a 1956 is the means of adjustment method of the inside rear view mirror. The 1956 is adjusted by means of a thumbscrew, while the 1957 version requires a small wrench to adjust it. The optional removable hardtop and power operated folding convertible top were still available.

Interior Updates were minimal as well for 1957 and Beige and Red were the only color choices available. Options still available were the fresh-air type heater system, Signal-Seeking AM radio, parking brake alarm, interior courtesy lamps, windshield washers and power windows. The main dashboard area was unchanged and the passenger area was left alone as well.

Major changes were made to the chassis and drivetrain in the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette. These areas were mainly focused on by Zora Arkus-Duntov and his team of Corvette engineers to answer the shortcomings of power, performance and handling of the previous models, by all the critics of the day. In the engine bay, the Corvette was now powered by a base 283-cid, 220 hp, single 4-barrel carburetor, small-block, V8 engine. The transmission duties were handled by the standard, three-speed manual unit or optional Powerglide automatic unit until about April, when finally, the Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual transmission became available.

Also, a first for 1957, was the availability of Chevrolet’s new Posi-Traction (or limited-slip) rear axle, which was available as an option in different ratios. The front suspension was still handled by independent, unequal length A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers. The rear suspension was again, comprised of a rigid, live-axle, supported by semi-elliptic leaf springs, an anti-roll bar and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers and the rear axle ratio of 3.70:1 was still the standard offering. Tires remained of the 6.70 inch x 15 inch size and rims were 5.5 inches wide. Wide-Whitewalls were still an available and popular option. The 11-inch Bendix drum brakes were carried over and used front and rear.

Several optional versions of the 283-cid, V8 were also made available, from a 245 hp, dual 4-barrel carburetor to a 270 hp dual 4-barrel carburetor. In the new fuel-injected, equipped versions, were several different configurations of the new 283-cid, V8 engine, including: a 250 hp FI or a 283 hp FI and a special “for race only” version also rated at 283 hp (but actually closer to 290hp). The race version also came with a steering column mounted tachometer and cold air induction system. Chevrolet informed all interested customers that these special, VIN coded EN, “for racing only”, models were indeed for racing purposes only and would not be supplied with a heater system. The other “racing only” option was a “special heavy duty” racing suspension, which included such things as heavy duty springs, quicker steering ratio (reducing lock-to-lock turns from 3.6 to 2.9), thicker front anti-sway bar, enlarged piston shock absorbers with firmer valving, and finned/ventilated brake drums with ceramic/metallic compound brake linings for better stopping power. Combine these two factory race options and you have yourself an off-the-lot, race ready and truly competitive machine.

So, no matter what configuration you purchased the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette with, it was truly an awesome performance machine that would only get better over the years to come and today is one of the most desirable C-1’s ever produced.

Vehicle Profile: 1953 Corvette

The beautifully classic, original, all American sports car is surely the 1953 Corvette! Way back in 1927 a young man by the name of Harley Earl was hired by GM and at the time, who would have guessed that he would be responsible for the design of one of the great American Icons of the automobile industry? Harley (cool name) had a passion for and always loved sports cars from early on, but that passion became more intense when our proud and victorious GI’s returned home from WWII bringing with them a flotilla of Alfa Romeo’s, MG’s, Jaguars and other similar marques from Europe. These “sports cars” were vastly different from anything being produced here in America at the time. They were small, fun to drive, felt “sporty” and were even economical to operate. I mean really, who wouldn’t want one of these little gems? And so, the flame was fueled and Harley pushed the top brass at GM to let him build the sports car of his dreams. Enter: “Project Opel”, not sure where they came up with that name, but history was made that very day!

It was already late in 1951, by the time Harley Earl assembled his “special projects” crew of designers and laid-out his plans to build what would become America’s Sports Car. He rushed to complete a hand-built prototype, nicknamed EX-122, the first pre-production “Corvette”, to be ready for display at the GM Motorama Exhibition, in January of 1953 at New York City. The name “Corvette” was chosen in honor of the U.S and British naval fleet’s convoy of escort ships called Corvettes. These ships were famous for their speed and maneuverability.

The prototype was shown to the crowd at the Motorama and received rave reviews and was rushed put into production immediately. In fact, within 6 months after their debut to the world, they were pumping out hand-built units in a makeshift warehouse that used to be an old truck assembly plant in Flint, MI. They were also revolutionary, due to the fact that they were made of a new lightweight product called “Fiberglass”. Story goes that sheetmetal was scarce after the war, so they sought a suitable replacement for this special project vehicle. By the end of the first “production” run, 300 of these beauties had been produced and they all sold quickly. Even though the car was a huge hit, it may have been just a flash-in-the-pan of automotive history, if it weren’t for a guy named Zora and the Ford Motor Company!

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Vehicle Profile: 1968-1982 Chevrolet Corvette

1969 Chevrolet Corvette

The third generation Chevrolet Corvette (or C3, built from 1968 to 1982) went through many changes and technological advances during the 15 years of production. Even though the USA, and the rest of the world for that matter, was experiencing the first real fuel shortage crisis and facing continually restrictive EPA regulations throughout the entire series, the sales of the first true American Sportscar continued to increase by huge numbers.

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The C3 series was a toned-down version of the popular Mako Shark II concept vehicle,easily one of the most famous and recognizable concept/show cars of all time (designed by Bill Mitchell and his team at Chevrolet, including the young Larry Shinoda). The Mako Shark II, concept/show car, was first shown at the Motorama show in 1965 to rave reviews and was a newer version of the Mako Shark I from 1957. The “Stingray” fender scripts were used from 1969 through 1976. Even though everyone referred to all 1963 through 1982 Corvettes as Stingrays, the scripts were absent from all 1968 units and from 1977-1982.

There were two body styles of the newly-designed C3 Chevrolet Corvette, which included a convertible model with a hinged hard cover to conceal the top when in the down position and the T-Top model, which was the first dual-panel, removable roof design to debut in the U.S. marketplace. In fact, the T-Top model proved to be so popular, that the convertible models were discontinued altogether after the 1975 production year and would not return until 1986. The T-Top design was unique, and actually became a secondary design choice, mainly due to the creaks and groans (due to body-flex) produced by the initially designed, single-panel removable roof ( a design flaw the engineers could not seem to quiet). The chassis and engine offerings remained unchanged from the previous C2 series Corvettes and horsepower only diminished over the years, mainly due to strict EPA restrictions. The Big-Block engines were discontinued after 1974.

Of course, the usual upgrades to creature comforts (including leather seats and “cockpit” styled dashboard) and the technological advancements were continuously made over the years through the end of C3 production. The Corvette went through a period of metamorphosis from raw-powered, street and racetrack monster to more of a mild, yet sexy, boulevard cruiser. The horsepower rating of the final year (1982) of the C3 production run was a mere 200 hp. This meager horsepower rating actually increased over the previous years 190 hp rating. This was only due to the introduction of the first fuel injected (Chevrolet’s, Cross-Fire, electronic throttle-body system) Corvette since 1965. Keeping in mind, that in 1972 General Motors (and most other automobile manufacturers), changed to the SAE “Net” horsepower rating system, as opposed to the previously used SAE “Gross” horsepower rating system (270 hp gross = approximately 200 hp net). This resulted in lower, but more realistic horsepower ratings. This horsepower rating system is still in use today, as a global standard.

Some other highlights during the C3 production run, were the introduction of rubberized front and rear bumpers after the 1973 model (which actually had the new “rubber” nose, but retained the chrome rear bumperettes) to meet government safety standards for slow speed impact. There was also the addition of catalytic converters incorporated into all exhaust systems starting in 1975 which marked the end of a true dual exhaust system as we know it (thus,1974 was last year for true dual exhaust systems). This required the installation of steel floorboards, to replace the previous fiberglass units, due to the higher heat created by the catalytic converters. In 1978, the Corvette fastback styling returned, with an elongated, unopenable, rear glass area which included a larger storage area in the rear deck. The 1980 Corvettes, lighter in weight, introduced a more aerodynamically advanced body design which reduced wind drag and improved performance. In mid-year of 1981 the new Corvette specific production facility was finally ready, and all Corvette production was moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky where it remains to this day.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, also known as the “Father of the Corvette”, officially retired in 1975 and was replaced by Dave McLellan as Corvette’s Chief Engineer. However, Mr. Duntov would always be “unofficially” involved with the Corvette until his death in 1996. He remains the most influential figure of the first true American Sportscar in history. His unwavering input and support over the years, resulted in creating and refining the American icon that is the Chevrolet Corvette.

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