C1: A Generation That Started a Legacy
The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion in August will be bustling with the sounds of Corvettes. But for true purists, few may be as important as the 1953 model. Known within ‘Vette circles as the C1, Chevrolet astonished onlookers with the revolutionary Corvette in 1953, which lasted nine years to 1962. Through this generation the Corvette saw many changes which would lead it into automotive history.
C1’s were also referred to as the “solid-axle” models because independent rear suspension did not debut until the 1963 Sting Ray (second generation – C2). There were only 300 hand-built Corvette convertibles for the 1953 model year.
The 1955 C1 model would offer a 265 cu. in. (4.34 L) V8 engine as an option. Despite this option the first seven off the production line actually featured the standard “Blue Flame” Inline-6. This early production Corvette was also fitted with the Chevrolet Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission.
Come 1956, the Corvette saw a new body that featured a new “face” and side coves. The trademark tail lamp fins were also gone. Late in 1957 an optional fuel injection system was made available. With this option it was one of the first mass-produced engines in history to reach 1 horsepower (0.75 kW) per cubic inch (16.4 cubic cm). Chevrolet’s advertising agency took advantage of this groundbreaking moment and used a “one horsepower per cubic inch” slogan for advertising the 283-horsepower small-block engine.
Other available options for the C1 included power windows (1956), hydraulically- operated power convertible top (1956), heavy duty brake and suspension (1957) and four speed manual transmission (late 1957).
The C1 received a much more dramatic freshening, both exterior and interior, in 1958. Designers gave the exterior a longer front end with quad headlamps and bumper exiting exhaust tips. The interior received a new steering wheel and dashboard with all gauges mounted directly in front of the driver.
Between 1959 and 1960 C1 models received few changes except a decreased amount of body chrome and more powerful engine offerings.
In 1961 the iconic “duck tail” was introduced with four round lights. This light treatment continued for all following Corvettes. In the last year of the C1, the small-block engine was enlarged to 327 cu in and produced a maximum of 340 horsepower. This would make it the fastest model of the C1 generation. The final year of the C1 (1962) also saw the last use of the wraparound windshield, solid rear axle and convertible-only body style.
With all these modifications over the nine year period of the C1, you can bet there was quite the racing history that led to a majority of these developments, especially the increased capacity of the small-block engine. Stay tuned for our next issue that will dive into the history of C1 racing.