THE Corvette is not just a car, it is America’s homage to itself. That would be a nice introduction to this illustrious sports car, but it probably wasn’t.
What’s true was that Americans were experiencing more prosperity than the world had ever seen after World War 2, and the time was right for the birth of an all-American sports car.
The euphoria of the economic boom was further excited by the various technological advancements being offered to the consumer, and made even more exciting by the space race and the rise of futurology.
Everything started to look sleek and racy. When designers had no clue about aerodynamics, they just put huge fins at the back of cars, which by this point had grown larger than any car before them.
With all that extra money floating around, it was inevitable that car companies would start taking seats out and chopping off the roof.
General Motors in the 1950s was the most powerful corporation in the world, and it had it’s own roving motor show called the Motorama, which featured design, styling and technology ideas of the future. It was in 1953, at such an event, that the Corvette was born.
The original design, with faired in headlamps, looked like an Americanised version of some indistinct British sports car, but it generated enough interest that General Motors decided to put it into series production.
They quickly learnt that Motorama euphoria doesn’t always lead to long waiting lists. In fact, they actually had to limit production during the early years to reflect laggy market conditions.
When Chevrolet came up with scalloped sides and exposed headlamps in 1956, sales picked up and the Corvette was finally embraced by her devotees.
The second generation was nicknamed the Stingray, thanks to the distinctive side vents that mimic that of the flatfish. Is it a fish?
The first Stingray looked like a missile on wheels and cemented the Corvette’s reputation as a true American sports car.
However, in my opinion, the third generation has the most fantastic design, with exaggerated curves everywhere, a long sloping nose that ends like the pointed nose of a shark, side vents that make it look like it could breathe fire and a rump that is impossibly perky and sexy.
Some may say that the C3 is a bit much, but all these thoughts will vanish when you see photographs of NASA Apollo programme astronauts with their ‘Vettes.
By the way, my choice of the C3 as the best Corvette is based more on those photographs than anything else.
Those pictures left such an impression that it has stayed with me 40 years later.
From the astronaut campaign, I figured that this car must be the best car in the world because these men, they fly the most powerful, most sophisticated piece of rocketship that money can buy.
If these men, among the smartest, most perfect specimen of the Homo Sapiens they could find, who risk their lives sitting on top of huge canisters of rocket fuel like the Corvette, it must be the best car in the world.
In reality, the C3, which lived on for 14 years until 1982, is testament to the advanced engine and chassis design of the C2, which donated most of the underpinning.
The car came with 420 horsepower if you ticked the ZL1 engine box at the showroom. All that horsepower running through those basic rear independent suspension created a car for real men, as they would say.
Which is another way of saying that it doesn’t turn very well, but that didn’t really matter in traffic light drag races and for rumbling down High Street before hanging a left at Cresthill for a spot of drive-thru movies.
Actually, that last imagery is completely untrue because the Corvette was never a cheap car. It was bought mostly by men in their 30s who have comfortable jobs, a suburban home, a station wagon for the wife and a full size sedan for themselves.
Due to this target market, the Corvette, like the Ford Mustang, had a certain maturity to the design and came with many creature comforts and were tuned mostly for comfortable and stylish driving.
Corvettes are rare in Malaysia, but every now and then, you can spot a car on one of the online classifieds websites, and these are likely to fetch a strong premium due to its rarity.
It’s time a specialist for American classic cars be set up to give us access to the gorgeous machines that came out from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler during the golden age of the autmobile. A time when American cars were undoubtedly superior to the small and simple machines that came out from the rest of the world.