What Is It?

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Last week’s vehicle was shown in a vintage photo of a vintage car, a 1953 Chevrolet Corvette. We didn’t ask for the year, and guesses ranged mostly to the first three years of production, during which the fiberglass-bodied sports car changed very little.

What is it?  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
What is it?

For a better photo and information, read this week’s story about an upcoming auction of a field of old, low-mileage Chevys left behind when a dealership closed long ago.

Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Robert L. Holbert, of Louisville, Ga., who wrote:

“The car is a 1953-54 Corvette. Since the car came out late in 1953, there were only a few made so they carried over to 1954. Billed as ‘America’s sports car’ … it also was a six-cylinder (V-8s didn’t appear until 1955) and came only with an automatic transmission. It also had wire mesh over the headlights to prevent rocks from the road from breaking the lenses. It has come a long way since 1953.”

Holbert wins a prize from The Augusta Chronicle. Other readers identifying the Corvette were:

AIKEN: Raymond Richards guessed it was a 1953 or 1954 Corvette and called it “the fiberglass sled.”

AUGUSTA: Gary Engen wrote: “The first Corvette was a 1953 two-door convertible model that rolled off the assembly line in June 1953. There were very few changes to the 1954 model year, but one was that the 1953 Corvette had two short stainless-steel exhaust outlets protruding inboard of the rear fenders and when it was found that air turbulence tended to suck exhaust gases back against the car, soiling the paint, the outlets were lengthened for the 1954 model.

“Although the Corvette was originally conceived to sell for around $2,000, it evolved into a considerably costlier version. When all the legitimate options were added (directional signals, heater, radio, whitewalls, parking brake alarm, courtesy lights and windshield washer), the sticker price was over $3,200.”

John Hayes wrote: “Today’s car is a 1953 Corvette, the mother of all ’Vettes. It is difficult to identify though because the 53’s, 54’s, and the 55’s all had that distinctive taillight.”

Walker Mobley Jr. wrote: “These were really something when they came out, and are very very expensive today. That pretty much holds true for any subsequent Corvette models. (Please keep these ‘What Is It’ features coming; it’s one of just a few bright spots in the news these days.)

Willie Thomas used to drive a 1969 Corvette and has always been a Corvette fan.

Lowell Fritsche pointed out that it was the first Corvette built, with the standby Blue Flame six-cylinder that Chevrolet had for years. He also mentioned the wire screens over the headlights and said, “It was a neat car.”

Also: Leon Helmly, Richard Simanski, Robert Williams, Andrew Bell, Bob Wilkes, Robert Williams and Craig Kerins.

CANTON, GA.: David Anderson wrote: “America’s first (and only) true sports car. Yes, Ford came along in 1955 with the equally stunning Thunderbird, but it was billed as a personal luxury car and not a sports car. We all know what became of the T-Bird, while the Corvette has gone on to prosper and celebrate its 60th anniversary this year.

“The early Corvettes actually suffered an identity crisis. The pricing put a Corvette above a V-8 powered Cadillac (that’s still true today). Lacking outside door handles and having only plastic side curtains with a notoriously leaky soft top, they were not really sophisticated enough as an American boulevard cruiser.

Equipped with only a 150 horsepower (155 in late 1954) six-cylinder and two-speed automatic, neither were they the ideal sports car. A 265-cubic-inch V-8 coupled to a manual transmission was finally available in 1955 to respond to performance issues.

“The 1953 Corvette was essentially hand-built in a temporary area. A newly renovated production facility in St. Louis, Mo., came online for the 1954 model year with an expected production run of 10,000 units; however, only 3,640 made it to dealerships, and a lot of those were left unsold at the end of the model year and had to be deeply discounted to the point of taking a loss to be sold.

“Consequently, the 1955 model year production dropped back down to an abysmal 700 units. 1955 is the only model year available with either a six-cylinder or a V-8; it is the only model available with either a six-volt or 12-volt electrical system. Of the 700 units built, it is believed that only six were built with the six-cylinder engine, and although a manual transmission could be had with this engine, it is also believed that all six of these cars had the automatic.

“Fortunately for Corvette lovers, along came that amazing 1955 Thunderbird that Ford could not make enough of fast enough, and instead of the Corvette getting the ax, the next year saw a restyling, with roll-up windows, outside door handles and more engine/transmission combinations, and off to the races it went. With the conversion of the T-Bird to a four-seater in 1958, the Corvette’s fate as America’s darling and one-and-only sports car was sealed.”

EVANS: PJ Rodgers wrote: “It’s a 1953 Corvette, Chevrolet’s first venture into building a modern sports car. The car boasted a 150-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine with a two-speed transmission. The first model year produced only 300 of the vehicles, but surprisingly, 225 are still in existence. The 1963 Stingray is my favorite of all the models produced to date.”

Bill Harding wrote: “It’s the 1953 Corvette. It was designed for the 1953 Motorama at the New York Auto Show and generated enough interest for General Motors to market it. … Not until 1955 did the Corvette receive a V-8, Chevy’s 265-cubic-inch powerhouse, whose now-legendary design has come to be known as the “small-block” and “mouse” motor.”

Wayne Wilke wrote: “The What Is It? car is an original edition Chrevolet Corvette, probably produced in 1953. All the 1953 models had a 150-horsepower six-cylinder engine and a Powerglide (slip and slide with Powerglide) two-speed automatic transmission. A V-8 engine was made available for the 1955 models.”

Jeff Brown wrote: “The car is a 1953-55 Chevrolet Corvette. The Corvettes for those three years were virtually identical, the major exception being that ‘53 and ‘54 had a 235-cubic inch inline six-cylinder engine but in ’55 Chevy added a 265-cubic-inch V-8.”

Also: Bob Snow.

GROVETOWN: Jay Mallory guessed the 1953 Corvette, “the first year they came out.”

Also: Scott Chizmarik

HARLEM: Candace Powell wrote: “My husband, Robert, got this immediately. The featured car is a 1953 Chevy Corvette. The first hint is the exhaust coming from the molded fiberglass body. Other identifiers were the round wheelwell and the protruding taillight.”

KEYSVILLE, GA.: Glenn Widner wrote: “The 265-cubic-inch V-8 was an option in 1955, which probably saved the Corvette. Roll-up side curtains were standard. I believe shake, rattle and roll from early Corvettes inspired a song. But they were, and still are, works of art.”

MCBEAN: Robert Lamb.

MARTINEZ: Jim Muraski wrote: “Intro­duced as a Harley Earl-designed prototype at the 1953 GM Motorama, only 300 were produced late that year. All were Polo White, hand-built fiberglass convertible bodies and were mounted on a 1952 Chevy sedan chassis to save money. The only modification to the chassis and suspension was that the drivetrain and passenger compartments were moved farther back to achieve a better 53/47 front-to-rear weight balance. The model’s name was chosen by Myron Scott, from a small maneuverable warship.”

Christopher C. March Sr. wrote: “The Corvette was first seen in public on January 1953; this was the 1953 model. This car came in only one color, Polo White with red interior. The engine was a 235 cubic-inch, 150 horsepower with three carburetors and dual exhaust. There were 300 units built.

“In 1954, it still had the 235 engine with an increase of five horsepower. There were 3,640 units built that year. There was an extension of the exhaust pipes in order to stop smoke from getting on the paint.

“In 1955, the Corvette came out with the 265-cubic-inch engine, which was a V-8 that generated 195 horsepower. The 1953 was built in Flint, Mich. The ’54 and ’55 were built in St. Louis, Mo. … ”

Joe Bert called the 1953 “America’s first sports car and the first with a fiberglass body.”

MATTHEWS, GA.: Raymond Neveu recognized the Corvette because he is an automotive enthusiast who has worked on cars all his life and once was employed at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He has put together fiberglass vehicles himself.

NORTH AUGUSTA: Debbie Fryer

PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson

SHAWANO, WIS.: Karen McKenna said only 300 units of the 1953 model were produced.

WARRENTON, GA.: Don Pesek wrote: “I expect that you will again be inundated with replies after this week’s picture. … Available in its first year with only a six-cylinder, two-speed automatic, it is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. It has evolved into a stylish, powerful, affordable supercar. Every car guy has a Corvette memory/fetish. I owned a 1960, and still miss it!”

NO CITY LISTED: Ken Shaffer wrote: “My guess is a 1953 Corvette. It could be a 1954 or 1955, since they were virtual the same in body style. … I missed buying one (1954) of these in 1963 by one week. I procrastinated a week before approaching the owner about buying the car. When I did, he had sold it the previous week. It would have been a good investment, considering what they are worth today.”

Also: Gordon Adams, Cecil Asbell, Shirley Davis and Barry Culp.


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