`Corvette Black Book' Details Line's History

Article excerpt

The trend toward ravishing two-seater roadsters heats up this year with the debut of Chevrolet's dazzling fifth-generation Corvette, the first major redesign since 1982, when the blueprints for the last of that particular generation went home to heaven.

Some of the industry's favorite styling cues of the popular roadsters have been incorporated into the new version. There's a hint of the Sting Ray heritage in the slightly raised shoulders of the front fenders, a nod to Mazda RX-7's sweepingly curved doors, and new side air scoops similar to those on the Acura NSX. Chevrolet has retained the Corvette's signature chopped-off rear end.

Since its birth in 1953, Chevrolet has kept America's favorite sports car continuously in production, although there were no 1983 versions. Chevrolet skipped a designation year in order to prepare introduction of an all-new model. The automaker took its time before once more redesigning Chevrolet's legendary sports car, not unveiling its fourth-generation Corvette until 1984. With smooth, graceful lines, some grumbled that much of the Corvette's distinctive character was lost, but there were still racing cues with the raked windshield and aerodynamic styling. Along with the 20-year wait, prices soared almost as high, to $21,800 for a coupe powered by a 205-horsepower engine. A radio now cost $153, and power door locks, $165.

The rarest of models, of course, are the first generation, when, in mid-1953, a grand total of 300 fiberglass-bodied cars were built, mostly by hand. As many as 225 are reputed to be still around.

Each of the originals had a black canvas convertible top, subtle chrome trim, and no choice of colors: every Corvette was painted polo white, with a scarlet interior. According to Mike Antonick's "Corvette Black Book," each had a six-cylinder, 150-horsepower engine with automatic transmission.

The only options were a $91.40 heater and a $145.15 AM radio; the radio antenna was standard equipment. However, Chevrolet felt sure everyone would want both options, and each car was produced with a heater and radio already installed. The first 175 off the production line had foot-operated windshield washers. Base price for the 1953 Corvette was $3,498. …