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Chevrolet Corvette C1

Best Vette! Published: 17th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Chevrolet Corvette C1This Corvette is a 1957 model though registered in 1956 and is fi nished in Onyx Black with Inca Silver side coves, the most popular colour combination in 1957

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 1953-1955, 1962 327ci
  • Worst model: There isn’t, but 1958-60 cars have too much chrome
  • Budget buy: 1958-60
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes, but only in standard tune
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 14ft x 6ft ½”
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Defi nitely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A fine investment
Steering wheel is upright and close to your chest Steering wheel is upright and close to your chest
Note dual exhaust system exits through chrome bumper overrider Note dual exhaust system exits through chrome bumper overrider
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Without doubt, the first Corvette is the most coveted. Here’s why!

Pros & Cons

Stunningly beautiful, good parts and club support, DIY ease of maintenance, legendary American sportscar status
Not ideally suited to portly or very tall owners, fuel injection cars can be problematic
18,000 - £50,000

If Ford’s Mustang holds iconic status in American classic car history, then the title of legendary sportscar belongs to the Chevrolet Corvette. Launched at GM’s Motorama at the New York Auto Show in 1953, the Corvette, named (by Myron Scott) after a fast, light, manouvreable naval frigate was Chevrolet’s contribution to the sportscar market, aimed to give European models a run for their money. Its body was constructed from fi breglass, quite revolutionary in its day, and power was provided by the straight-six 235ci “Blue Flame” engine rated at 150bhp @ 4,500rpm, which wasostensibly a truck engine. The only transmission available was the two-speed Powerglide automatic. The steel chassis was cruciform in construction with coil springs at the front, and leaf springs to the rear with a live-axle. This new sports car was well received at the New York Auto Show with the fi rst car rolling off the production line at Flint, Michigan on 30th June 1953. Just three hundred cars were built, virtually by hand in ’53, and all were fi nished in Polo White with a red interior. For 1954 additional colours included Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Black. However, the Corvette wasn’t a startling instant winner for the ‘Bow- Tie’ logo manufacturer. Production for 1954 was 3600 cars, with only 600 fi nding buyers. Indeed, the entire Corvette manufacturing programme was very nearly scuppered soon after. However, its saviour came in the form of a 265ci V8 engine, three and four speed manual transmissions and the hugely talented engineer called Zora Arkus-Duntov. He was of Russian origin, experienced in race-car preparation and engine tuning and had developed his own Ardun overhead-valve aluminium cylinder head conversion for Flathead Ford V8 engines. Duntov was probably the single important person in the development of the Corvette for around the next 20 years and he went on to become chief engineer at Chevrolet. In 1956 the Corvette was the subject of a major makeover with a new body that sported the distinctive side coves that were generally painted a different colour to the body, predominantly white or silver. Interestingly the best selling colour of 1957 was Onyx Black with Inca Silver coves. The front grille had chrome sharks teeth styling. Engine development and tuning saw the 265ci engine rated at 255bhp which equated to speeds of up to 145.5mph with cars in race trim at Daytona Speedway. In 1957 a 283ci V8 was introduced, along with Rochester Fuel Injection as an option. Other improvementsincluded heavy duty suspension, brakes, and a limited slip diff. In 1958 the body styling changed yet again,this time to incorporate quad headlamps, more chromework at the front and to the rear which was only slightly restyled. The last signifi cant changes to the body of the C1 arrived in 1961 when the rear end received a more angular makeover which included twin circular tail lights. At the front the chrome sharks teeth grille was dropped in favour of a horizontal slat design. The same year the fuel tank was increased to 24 gallons capacity and the very last cars produced in 1962 now sported a 5.4-litre 327ci V8 engine rated at 360bhp with fuel injection. The Corvette had weathered the early storm well, and hadfl ourished into a sports car to be reckoned with, thanks to V8 engines and of course as previously mentioned Zora Arkus-Duntov.


Bare in mind you are behind the wheel of a 50 year old car with drum brakes all round, no power steering, or power brakes and you’ll get along just fi ne. First of all it’s rather a tight fi t in the cockpit for anyone portly and there’s only marginal adjustment on seat travel due to the rear deck lid. The steering wheel is quite upright and very close to your chest, though an identical aftermarket wheel with smaller diameter is available if you prefer. The three-speed gearbox has fi rst at the bottom left of the H pattern, with second top right, third bottom right, and reverse is top left. The short shifter with white Tenite plastic knob has quite a long travel, yet a pleasing action, with third gear requiring a deft fl ick right the way back. The clutch is fairly heavy, but performance reasonably lively. Even with drum brakes all around, a well maintained and properly adjusted and sorted system is perfectly adequate, though upgrades are available if desired. Driving on 6.70x15 original specifi cation crossply tyres can make life interesting on poorly surfaced roads at speed, and there’s the constant pleasing rorty exhaust note. It will take a little time to become fully accustomed to the handling and quirks, by modern sportscar standards it may seem a tad crude, but it’s all about period heritage, dashing looks and endearing charm, not ‘all out’ performance.


Entry level for 1953-1955 cars in good usable condition will be £18,000 - £25,000 – matching numbers concours examples will be closer to £35,000 - £40,000. Later cars with V8 engines start at around £25,000 and can go up to £40,000 plus for the best available.

What To Look For

  • With most fi rst generation Corvettes being over 50 years old, fi nding a matching numbers original car may not be too easy. A good many cars will already have been the subject of some, if not major restorative work. The most important thing is to establish the integrity of the work completed and that it has been done properly and not bodged
  • Many cars will have been subjected to some accident damage, so ensure repair work to the GRP bodyshell is of a good standard. GRP doesn’t suffer from rust, but instead there are issues with stress cracks, microblistering and the application of too much paint can induce surface cracking and splitting
  • The good news is that there are many body panel replacements available, even a brand new one piece bodyshell
  • If a car has poor paintwork, generally speaking there’s no quick fi x with a ‘blow-over’ for GRP. The best and safest remedy is to strip all the paint down to the Gelcoat and start again, which doesn’t come cheap. Rat look Corvettes don’t work, good quality paintwork is a must!
  • The built quality of fi rst generation Corvettes on the whole is pretty good, so if the panel fi tment especially on the doors is poor, this could suggest previous damage that hasn’t been repaired properly
  • Door hinges can wear quite badly and can be a pig to remedy. The screws can seize in the nuts of the cage that hold the hinges, when the screws are removed they can cause the cages to break
  • The cross braced chassis is fairly robust structure, but look for signs of corrosion and previous repair work. One known problem area is where the rear bumper brackets bolt onto the chassis. Replacement chassis are available if the original is beyond economic repair
  • The lovely period dashboards are a veryendearing aspect of Corvette interior styling need the original instrumentation to make perfect. Ensure everything is all present and correct and as it should be
  • Detachable side screens on 1953-1955 cars are very expensive to replace, expect to pay around £1500 for a secondhand pair in mint condition
  • If your car hasn’t got a hardtop, then a fully restored secondhand one can set you back £2000. A replacement soft top frame and hood will be around £1500
  • Corvette running gear is all pretty basic engineering, there’s nothing complex at all here, V8 engines enjoy good longevity providing they have been regularly serviced. The good thing with fi rst generation cars is that virtually all mechanical components are easily replaced. Obviously beware of smokey, rattley engines, cooling systems with brownish water, and any other tell tale signs of a car that has not been particularly cherished.
  • The straight-six ‘Blue Flame’ engine with the triple carburettor set-up can be prone to fuel leaks, so ensure all pipework and fi ttings are in tip top condition
  • The two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission is a strong and favoured ‘box, but can be prone to leaking fl uid, so check for signs of this
  • On a test drive if the car wanders too much or there’s too much play in the steering, then the steering box can be adjusted. An inch of play is quite acceptable, three inches is not! There’s lots of greasing points on the front suspension that if not regularly greased can lead to a set-up that’s too stiff


First generation Corvettes remain amongst the most collectible, along with the ‘Mid-Year’ cars 1963-1967 and have excellent investment potential. With a large parts aftermarket to aid maintenance and restoration, these cars can be very practical to own. They aren’t the cheapest to purchase, but tend to hold their value extremely well. Avoid cars that have been overly modifi ed and messed with too much. In most cases originality in specifi cation and correct restoration procedures will always pay dividends when you come to sell a car. Above all, you will purchase a fi rst generation Corvette because of its stunning good looks!

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