"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

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June 30, 1953 – The First Chevrolet Corvette

Posted June 30, 2009 4:30 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the first Chevrolet Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. Designed by Harley Earl, a colorful and controversial automobile stylist, the first General Motors sports car used off-the-shelf components and cost about the same as a mid-range sedan.

Earl, an industrial designer who had moved from Hollywood to Detroit in the 1920s, has been dubbed "the greatest car designer who ever lived" for his invention of the concept car during the 1930s and creation of the Corvette. But credit is also due to Robert F. McLean, a young Cal Tech engineer who designed the Corvette's chassis; and to Ed Cole, Chevy's chief engineer and proponent of the small-block V8.

It's Not Better in a Jeep

According to Karl Ludvigsen's 1973 book, Corvette: America's Star-Spangled Sports Car, The Complete History, the first Corvette was inspired by an off-road vehicle. In 1950, Air Force Maj. Kenneth B. Brooks gave his wife a Jeep that she refused to drive. Frustrated, Brooks then commissioned a boat-builder to fabricate a fiberglass body that could attach to the Jeep chassis.

The newly named "Brooks Boxers" was later sold to Earl Ebers, a sales executive for the Naugatuck Chemical Division of U.S. Rubber. After making a splash among Chevy engineers at the National Plastics Exposition in Philadelphia, Ebers drove to Detroit, where the vehicle's fiberglass body captured the imagination of Harley J. Earl.

Built It and They Will Come

At Chevrolet, Robert F. McLean was ready to turn convention on its head. Starting at the rear axle, he worked his way forward to create a chassis that gave the Corvette its now-classic proportions. With the passenger compartment well aft and the engine close to the fire wall, this first GM sports car would have both a fiberglass body and a favorable weight distribution.

In his efforts, Robert F. McLean was assisted by chassis developer Maurice Olley and body engineer Vincent Kaptur. Draftsman Carl Peebles put Harley J. Earl's ideas onto paper and was assisted Bill Bloc. Tony Balthasar, a modelmaker, translated Peebles' drawings into a three-dimensional shape. Joe Schemansky designed the interior, including a row of secondary gauges that were set so low that they were difficult to read.

Not Your Father's Chevrolet

The first '53 Corvettes were built largely by hand at Chevrolet's Customer Delivery Center in Flint, Michigan. Myron Scott, the creator of the All-American Soap Box Derby, is credited with naming the Corvette after a small but agile frigate. The Corvette's outer body was made of fiberglass, but many standard Chevy components were used. These included an in-line six-cylinder truck engine, a two-speed automatic transmission, and drum brakes from Chevy sedans. Although the Corvette's new triple-carburetor intake increased the engine's output, the first Corvette was tame by today's standards - but still a head-turner.

Resources:

http://www.carofthecentury.com/

http://www.edmunds.com/chevrolet/corvette/history.html

http://www.caranddriver.com/buying_guide/chevrolet/corvette/the_first_corvette_feature

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Corvette

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myron_Scott

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