Chevrolet Corvette C-1 Update
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Corvette saw another body freshening. This year had the most exterior chrome of the C-1 generation. From its quad headlights and hood louvers to its twin trunk spars and bumper exiting exhaust
, it was the flashiest Corvette built. 1959-60 saw little changes except decreasing chrome and increasing HP.
a complete redesign to the rear of the car was made, with a preview of a design to come. It was a "boat tail" with four round lights. The four tailight treatment continues to this day. In 1962, the Chevrolet 283 cu. in. (4.6 litre) small block was enlarged to 327 cu in (5.4 litre) and produced a maximum of 340 hp (254 kW) making it the fastest of the C1 generation.
was the last year for: wrap around windshield, solid rear axle and convertible-only body style. The trunk lid and exposed headlights disappeared for decades. The oldest Corvette in existence is believed to be the EX-122. The EX-122 is a pre-production prototype
that was hand built and first shown to the public at the 1953
GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City on January 17, 1953
A Real Sports Car?
It seems unbelievable today, but at the time there were many Corvette detractors who saw the car as too big, too unrefined and too softly sprung to deliver any real sporting pretence - while others felt that, with normal racing experience gained, any Corvette would whip easily the corresponding European competition. The truth was midway between the two. Certainly the Corvette was more of a success as a sports car than the Ford Thunderbird, which by 1958
had morphed into a flossy four-seat runabout for the country club set.
Although the Corvette had been raced, to give it some street cred it really needed factory backed participation in more events. For the purposes of this review, we shall judge the Corvette for what it was being sold as, a sports car. But there are some reviews on the web that do not treat it that way, and this too is understandable. The thing which put the Corvette in a class by itself was a result of American mass-production, saloon-car methods, but applied to European sportscar theory. The Corvette wasn't a hotted up sports version of a standard touring car. Nor was it a road version of a sports-racer. It was, to our mind here at Unique Cars and Parts
, a translation of one nation's practice into another continent's theory of the conception of the sports car.
On paper the Corvette was like many European sports cars. Engine, brakes, transmission, seating, body, power to weight ratio. The theory. The practice, borrowed? When you judged the Corvette for its sports performance you would have found the brakes a bit of a let down - as it used standard Chewy brakes. But in performance terms alone, the big V-8 had lots of torque and the performance was very satisfactory. The stylists turned up a body and the result was somewhere between the breathtaking and hideously impractical - but today we doubt anyone would claim it any less than bloody beautiful.
The High and Low Tune Engines
The 283 c.i. (4.6 litre) V-8 o.h.v. engine was considered the "slow" model because it developed only 240 s.a.e. h.p. on a 9.5 to 1 compression ratio. The best pick was the Corvette that had the tune raised to over 300 h.p., on a 10.5 to 1 compression ratio, hot camshaft, fuel injection and mechanical tappets instead of hydraulic lifters. Specification generally is straightforward. The "slow" motor had single dual-choke carburettor and dual exhaust. A four-speed gearbox was optional, along with Powerglide transmission
, but the stock standard transmission
was a three-speed shift. Weight was 1270.05 kg (25 cwt.) which, with a quoted 240 S.A.E. h.p., gave, on the assumption of some 20 horse drop between the S.A.E. and b.h.p. figure, about 157 b.h.p. per laden ton, with fuel, oils, spares, and a hefty driver.
Dry, the figure was about 176 b.h.p. per ton. This put the Corvette in the same bracket as the most powerful cars then on the market, and in fact, only a very select range of vehicles could beat it. Behind the wheel the driving position was far from perfect - many test drivers complained that they couldn't get get their leg in the space between steering wheel and pedals, and for taller drivers it was difficult to read the instruments, which consisted of a speedometer
and four other ancilliary gauges - because the bubble glass tops were prone to reflections from all directions. Many believed the interior of the Corvette to be a stylist's dream, and drivers nightmare. We think that was being a little harsh - who doesn't want the inside of their car to look good, even if it is a little more form-over-function.
Behind the Wheel
Vision was good generally, and ease of entry and exit was okay. There was room for a fair amount of luggage (good marks), and odds and ends could be carried in the glove box. Finish, seating upholstery, trim and fittings were of exceptionally good quality. On the road the car had a comfortable ride and a pleasant, flexible gait. Top gear was well-chosen, and with the enormous piston araa gave slow running, even pulling and speed all in one gear. The piston area was a function of a bore of 3.875 inches! The stroke was only 3", which was oversquare with a vengeance. The slightest nudge of the accelerator was sufficient to propel the car with, tremendous acceleration. When accelerating in first gear; the needle would go to 4,500 r.p.m., like an alcohol thermometer in boiling water. Change to second and it would do the same thing.
There was no perceptible change in the rate the needle slashed over. You could change to top (now doing around 70 miles an hour) and the needle would go up again just as determinedly. This was the outstanding feature of the car - its tremendous power. Not just one particular range of r.p.m., but from 1,000 to 4,500 r.p.m. (and above, but you never really needed to delve into the upper reaches of the rpm). The sensation of unending power was uncanny - and something all Corvette owners quickly fell in love with. You could forgive a car plenty of things if it had such performance, so any problems with reflections on the instruments soon seemed incredibly insignificant.
The gearshift was a short central lever which did not engage directly on the box. The steering-column type of linkage, with dual selector rods, was a natural adaption again. That's not to say there was any real criticism of it, as the changes were positive, fast and smooth. The clutch took plenty of punishment and, given the power it needed to cope with, was not all that heavy. It was strong, an essential element in a car which in top, fuel-injection tune did something over 130 m.p.h. The handling
on rough roads, corners and dirt was good. At 1200kg with lots of weight on the front, fairly slow steering and the psychological effect of so much bonnet in front, the Corvette had a "big-car" feel. If you have ever driven an American classic car from the 1950s you will know what we mean.
On the Road
But that big car "feel" was not at the expese of handling. Provided you had big cahonies and were prepared to take the Corvette by the scruff of the neck, you would find its driving qualities to be decisive the car will go around corners like a glued rocket, hanging on grimly until there was a grudging and immediately-correctible slide at the rear. The front stayed anchored no matter what. There was sufficient power to induce a slide with over-exuberant use of the throttle in a corner - and sufficient power to get that "driven-around" cornering effect of the powerful sports car. The steering was good, although there was some wheel-winding. An optional steering ratio was offered, giving 23 turns from lock to lock and corresponding advantages in directness. But there was no difficulty, even on the slower ratio, of putting the car to an inch anywhere, even on bumpy, winding roads, although correcting a slide needed quick action and could lead to trouble on a car with the slow steering.
The brakes were the weakest point of the car as it was in standard form, and probably the only real criticism of the car. Most road testers of the time managed to fade the brakes pretty quickly, and some motoring journalists found that they developed disconcerting snatch as well, which, with, the familiar cooking smell, told the story of overheating. The factory did offer a kit of brakes - not discs - which enabled more heat to be dissipated from the same 157 sq. in. of lining area. There were air ducts to the drums, finned drums, and metal-ceramic linings. G.M.'s policy world-wide seemed to be to offer a basic kit and the bits as extra, so we suppose that was fair enough. However, for real competition discs were the answer, and the factory cars were so fitted.
But the Corvette was a brilliant car none-the-less. Sure, it had design limitations, but these were not really faults. Within those limitations it could see off plenty of European machinery with little more than the switch to the optional brakes. In fact, the options gave a pretty flexible specification - a range of powers, range of three transmissions, four back axle ratios, a limited-slip diff or normal diff, kit brakes and different steering
. Not a bad selection from a factory that, at the time, was dedicated to a million-plus production figure - and in contrast to the take it or leave it attitude in some manufacturers who would have produced in ten years what Chevrolet produced in a month, and should be in a far better position to supply what the individual customer wanted.