Given the popularity of today's Corvette, and the collectability of its earliest models, it's hard to imagine that the car wasn't a hit right out of the gate. The prototype made a big splash when it debuted at GM's New York Motorama car show in January 1953—thousands of people reportedly wrote to GM wanting to buy one—but it would take a few years of growing pains before the Corvette was anything close to a success.

Motorama
To truly appreciate how revolutionary the first Corvette was, it helps to remember what other Chevys looked like in the early '50s. From a styling standpoint they hadn't come all that far from the immediate postwar era, despite a redesign in 1949 that made them a little sleeker. Still, to today's eye they look something like a refrigerator turned on its back and wearing headlights and a grille.

Then, too, there was no clear-cut demand for a two-seat sports car among American buyers. A few companies tested the waters with cars like the Nash-Healey and Kaiser Darrin, but those were made in very limited numbers. Any desire for a small, nimble two-seater seemed to rest with a small cadre of enthusiasts, many of whom were former GIs who were bringing European sports cars back to the U.S. after being introduced to them during the war.

It wasn't a huge movement, but it was enough to get the attention of Harley Earl, the head of GM's Styling department. Earl had a long-time fascination with hot two-seaters; in the late '30s he had overseen the design of GM's first concept car, the Buick Y-Job, and also the futuristic Le Sabre concept in the late '40s, both two-place roadsters. He was fascinated with the sports cars being made in Europe and believed there should be an American entry in that market. In 1952, he threw his weight behind a new concept car, a small, low-slung two-seater that would be revolutionary not only in looks but also construction, as it would be built using a fiberglass body.

Earl had a mockup made of the car and then ran it up GM's corporate flagpole, gaining an ally in Chief Engineer Ed Cole before taking it to the top brass. GM's President Harlow Curtice OK'd the design, liking it so much that he wanted a running prototype built for the New York Motorama show the following January. Internally known as EX-122, the prototype was initially called Opel at the mockup stage. Many names were suggested for the new car, but it was Myron Scott, an account exec at Chevy's ad agency Campbell Ewald, who came up with the idea of naming the new car after a small, fast, lightly armored warship.

To assemble the show car quickly, as many parts and component groups as possible were taken from Chevrolet's existing inventory. That included the driveline: a 235ci Blue Flame inline six-cylinder engine mated to a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. The curvaceous body was made from hand-laid fiberglass, which at the time was perceived as the quickest way to get the car shaped up for the show, but not necessarily the right way to build a production version.

EX-122 was a huge hit at the Motorama. When Curtice gave the concept the go-ahead for the show, he also had Cole and company draft plans for a production version. So groundwork had already been laid when Curtice announced, just a day after the car's unveiling, that it would be available for sale to the public. Though GM's engineers assumed a production Corvette would be made from steel, the fiberglass body proved such a popular feature among Motorama visitors that a supplier was found to produce the bodies in fiberglass. That supplier, in Ohio, would ship finished bodies to an assembly line that had been set up in Flint, Michigan, where the cars would be completed.

To truly appreciate how revolutionary the first Corvette was, it helps to remember what other Chevys looked like in the early '50s. From a styling standpoint they hadn't come all that far from the immediate postwar era, despite a redesign in 1949 that made them a little sleeker. Still, to today's eye they look something like a refrigerator turned on its back and wearing headlights and a grille.

Then, too, there was no clear-cut demand for a two-seat sports car among American buyers. A few companies tested the waters with cars like the Nash-Healey and Kaiser Darrin, but those were made in very limited numbers. Any desire for a small, nimble two-seater seemed to rest with a small cadre of enthusiasts, many of whom were former GIs who were bringing European sports cars back to the U.S. after being introduced to them during the war.

It wasn't a huge movement, but it was enough to get the attention of Harley Earl, the head of GM's Styling department. Earl had a long-time fascination with hot two-seaters; in the late '30s he had overseen the design of GM's first concept car, the Buick Y-Job, and also the futuristic Le Sabre concept in the late '40s, both two-place roadsters. He was fascinated with the sports cars being made in Europe and believed there should be an American entry in that market. In 1952, he threw his weight behind a new concept car, a small, low-slung two-seater that would be revolutionary not only in looks but also construction, as it would be built using a fiberglass body.

Earl had a mockup made of the car and then ran it up GM's corporate flagpole, gaining an ally in Chief Engineer Ed Cole before taking it to the top brass. GM's President Harlow Curtice OK'd the design, liking it so much that he wanted a running prototype built for the New York Motorama show the following January. Internally known as EX-122, the prototype was initially called Opel at the mockup stage. Many names were suggested for the new car, but it was Myron Scott, an account exec at Chevy's ad agency Campbell Ewald, who came up with the idea of naming the new car after a small, fast, lightly armored warship.

To assemble the show car quickly, as many parts and component groups as possible were taken from Chevrolet's existing inventory. That included the driveline: a 235ci Blue Flame inline six-cylinder engine mated to a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. The curvaceous body was made from hand-laid fiberglass, which at the time was perceived as the quickest way to get the car shaped up for the show, but not necessarily the right way to build a production version.

EX-122 was a huge hit at the Motorama. When Curtice gave the concept the go-ahead for the show, he also had Cole and company draft plans for a production version. So groundwork had already been laid when Curtice announced, just a day after the car's unveiling, that it would be available for sale to the public. Though GM's engineers assumed a production Corvette would be made from steel, the fiberglass body proved such a popular feature among Motorama visitors that a supplier was found to produce the bodies in fiberglass. That supplier, in Ohio, would ship finished bodies to an assembly line that had been set up in Flint, Michigan, where the cars would be completed.