Oconee Regional Library

Corvette: Fifty Years--The Official Anniversary Book

A review by Leard R. Daughety
June 14, 2003 
Corvette 50 Years

If you ever see me driving a Chevrolet Corvette around Dublin, you'll know that either I won the Georgia Lottery or my ten year old daughter has graduated from college. Fifty years ago this month, the first of 300 handmade Corvettes rolled off the GM assembly line. The new car was only available in a Polo white fiberglass body with red interior. The engine was a 235 cid six cylinder producing 150 hp and it came with a two-speed automatic transmission. Retailing at $3,513, only 183 models were sold during its initial year. This year's 50th anniversary edition starts at just over $49,000. In 1954, exterior colors of black, blue, and the popular red were added with sales climbing to more than 3,000 units. By 1955 however, sales had dipped to 700 and the Corvette was on GM's chopping block. Zora Arkus-Duntov, an engineer who had been with the car since its inception, changed the engine to a V8 along with an option of a 3-speed manual transmission. The new changes resulted in sales climbing to over 3,400 and Duntov is remembered as the "grandfather of the Corvette".

Many people consider the 1957 version as the most stylish of the early versions and some would even argue it was the best of all time. Sporting aluminum coves with a new fuel-injected 283 cubic inch engine and a four-speed manual transmission, it could go from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds. By 1958, the Corvette was finally making a profit for GM. Using the same basic design, 1960 saw sales top 10,000 for the very first time. The second generation Corvette saw the debut of the Sting Ray design. The center spine that divided the rear window was the source of great controversy both from within the auto industry and by buyers as well. Power steering, air conditioning, and leather seats were available options.

The next major design change came in 1968 giving it a "Coke bottle" shape. Removable T-tops, hidden windshield wipers, and several engine options were part of the new package. Sales jumped to more than 28,000 proving the justification of the changes. For a ten year period, from 1976-1986, no convertibles were built. An Indianapolis Pace car replica with a suggested price of $13,653 was responsible for more than 6,500 of the 46,776 cars sold in 1978. GM again chose the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to introduce its limited edition 50th anniversary model almost one year early. Featuring "Anniversary Red" paint, "shale" colored interior and special 50th anniversary emblems, the 2003 Corvette is worthy of its ancestors.

Randy Leffingwell's book is a wonderful way to acquaint yourself with this American classic or to reminisce if you are familiar with it. Containing over 500 color photos balanced by a quality text, the book could become a collector's edition. Happy Birthday Corvette!

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