American’s like it big. We like big houses, big fries, big jugs of coke, big waists, big butts, block-buster movies and of course big cars. This couldn’t be more evident from the cars that were being pumped out of Detroit in the early 50’s. Giant Cadillacs adorning monstrous fins with lazy automatic transmissions. humungous Buicks the size of city blocks with engines that weigh almost as much as a Volkswagen Beetle. Americans just didn’t need a small car let alone a sports car. That was until the introduction of the Chevrolet Corvette!
Apparently, when the American GI’s were returning home from the Big One (WWII) they brought back something with them. No, it wasn’t chocolate, French pantyhose or French brides but something more exotic. European sports cars. Porsches, Alfa Romeos and Jaguars were filling their automotive desires and garages. Fortunately, a very talented car designer by the name of Harley Earl was working for GM at the time noticed these imports arriving in America. He convinced his employer that a car does not need to be ginormous and can actually sport just two seats! And thus, America’s first sports car was born and what would be more fitting to name it after a small, maneuverable fighting frigate the Corvette.
The Corvette with it’s innovative fiberglass body got off to a shaky start. It had a six cylinder truck engine, a 2-speed automatic transmission and drum brakes. All of which equates to a boring ride that doesn’t stop well. GM almost gave up on the car but it was saved by the invention of the V8 engine and a three speed manual transmission whose marriage of the two components was the idea of GM employee Arkus-Duntov. This engine and transmission package gave new birth to the Corvette and made it a real sports car. Although the Corvette was Earl’s brainchild, Duntov was wrongly named ‘Father of the Corvette’.
The first production Corvette, known as the C1, was introduced in 1953 and has gone through six model changes (C6) in its fifty plus year history. This fine example spied here in Ashland is the C5 convertible. The C5 was introduced in 1997 (the convertible came out a year later) and was produced through 2004. This bad boy has GM’s LS1 5.7 liter 345 horsepower all aluminum V8 engine with enough torque to win a tractor-pull competition. When Chevy came out with this model Corvette I finally accepted it as a true, American, sports car! It has the looks, the performance and the handling that has given Europe a run for it’s Euros. After all, if the Corvette is good enough for Prince to sing about then it’s good enough for me!