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Secrets of the Chevrolet Corvette

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1953 Chevrolet Corvette (Chevrolet)

The Corvette, America’s favorite sports car, has been in production since 1953. Which would have given plenty of time, you’d think, to air its secrets, but there are still a few things that aren’t common knowledge about this American icon.

  1. GM Almost Killed it: The 1953 model year was really just a dress rehearsal, but when production began in earnest for 1954, there were more cars than buyers, who weren’t impressed with the lack of roll-up windows and modest performance. GM was seriously thinking about axing the car when Ford announced the Thunderbird. Not wishing to give Ford the PR win for “killing” the Corvette with the T-Bird, GM pressed on and got serious about making it into a real performance car. 
  2. The Corvette Didn’t Originally Have a V-8: Although it would seem unthinkable today, the original Corvette wasn’t powered by a V-8. Chevy’s modern small block V-8 didn’t exist in 1953, so for the first two model years, the Corvette was powered by a somewhat anemic six-cylinder motor. See secret No. 3.
  3. The Savior of the All-American Sports Car Spent his Childhood in Russia: Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, the man who transformed the Corvette from a pleasant little roadster into a serious V-8-powered sports car, wasn’t born in America, but as George Will stated in his 1996 obituary: “He was born to be an American.” Duntov was born in 1909 in Belgium to Russian parents. He moved back to Leningrad with them as a child, a fact that GM rarely mentioned in the Cold War era of the 1950s. His ashes are interred at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. 
  4. There Was No 1983 Corvette: It must have killed GM because 1983 would have been the car’s 30th anniversary, but there was actually no 1983 Corvette. A complete re-design of the car had taken place and there were quality-control and supplier issues. By the time they were all sorted out, there were just four months to go in the 1983 model year. GM just decided to skip 1983 altogether and the first new C4 Corvettes were all early 1984 models. In retrospect, maybe they should have skipped 1984 as well. The 1984 models were known for a punishing ride and numerous faults, not unlike the previous first-year model from 1968.
  5. The Corvette Had a Mini-Me Twin: GM’s German subsidiary, Adam Opel, AG (better known simply as Opel), was suffering with a particularly staid image in the 1960s. Bob Lutz sent stylist Clare MacKichan to Opel spark a little creativity. Not coincidentally, MacKichan was a Corvette guy and Opel’s little sports car, the 1.9-liter Opel GT, came out looking for all the world like a two-thirds size 1968 Corvette. They’re rare today, but the reaction an Opel GT inspires when parked next to a 1968-72 Corvette is priceless.

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