The Origin of the Corvette

Bahamas Speed Week photograph, 1964

Bahamas Speed Week, 1964. 

After World War II, there was a growing awareness of British and European sports cars as returning military personnel and entrepreneurs began to import them to the United States. These sports cars not only served the need for basic transportation, but also satisfied the excitement of the open road. During this time, sports car racing continued to grow in popularity, and a variety of races around the world were arranged where sports cars would pit themselves against each other in a fight for glory.

Bridgehampton Double 500, 1963

Bridgehampton Double 500, 1963.

In 1953, General Motors decided to enter the sports car market. Harley Earl, General Motor’s first Vice President of Design, led the project which would create a sports car that would appeal to American drivers. Earl intended the car to debut at the Motorama Traveling Dream Car Road Show in 1953, and with the support of General Motors it was decided that the car would be a Chevrolet. Chevrolet’s Chief Engineer, Ed Cole approved the name “Corvette” for the show car, named after a small and fast naval vessel.

Corvette Super Sport test car at Sebring photograph, 1957

Corvette Super Sport test car at Sebring, 1957.

During its appearance at the Motorama Traveling Dream Car Road Show in 1953, the Corvette was a sensation. Among the many who saw the car was none other than Zora Arkus-Duntov. Duntov wrote a letter to General Motors’ Ed Cole to compliment Cole on the car and to make a few suggestions. To Duntov, while the car was visually superb, it was a disappointment underneath with an under-powered Blue Flame six-cylinder engine. Duntov also included a technical paper outlining a method to determine a car’s top speed. Duntov’s letter so impressed Ed Cole that he invited Duntov to Detroit for an interview. In May 1953, Duntov joined Chevrolet Research and Development as an Assistant Staff Engineer and later became Chief Engineer.