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Chevrolet Corvette 1953 – The Real Deal.

Written by lombreblanche

In today’s world of Matiz, Kalos, Tacuma and Captiva, the fact that the name Chevrolet still stands for something aspirational and something powerfully American, has more to do with this car than anything the company produces today. The classic Corvette, after all, is one of the few cars for whom the word ‘iconic’ could have been coined, meaning that, at a certain level, General Motors can do whatever it likes with the brand (and the name) because whatever happens to Chevrolet there’ll always be the Corvette.

These days indeed most people call a ’Vette a ’Vette rather than a Chevy, presumably because nobody with an ounce of soul could bring himself to link magnificent monsters like the ’63 Sting Ray or the even wilder Grand Sport to Korea’s unsold Daewoos (which GM parent cynically rebadged as ‘Chevrolets’).

Naturally enough, in more than 50 years of Corvette production there have been a few cars which didn’t quite shape up: the earliest iterations -incidentally the world’s first glassfibre production cars – had only six cylinders, for example, and some of the emissions-strangled stuff in the 1970s is also of only very little interest. But today the Corvette is more or less back on track with the current ZO6 not just the fastest-ever street-legal Corvette – ZR1 included – but also the fastest and most powerful passenger car ever produced by the whole of General Motors.
And that’s saying something, when you think it was GM which built all those Indy pacecars back in the 1970s and 1980s, all those massive Cadillac Fleetwoods and Coupe de Villes, all the IROCs and the Z28s. They also built Caddy’s ’74 Eldorado, a great slab-sided mobile straight out of Shaft or Cannon, which boasted the world’s largest production car engine of all time at 8.2 litres and a full 495 horsepower. (‘Four hunnert and nahndy-faahv’ – and this nearly 35 years ago.) Also, finally, that the aforementioned ZR1 was so powerful that it required not one but two separate igntion keys to access its full power band.

In other words, GM might be in a bit of a mess now, the Chevrolet harcore might be in a strop at having to sell all those itty-bitty Korean hatchbacks and stuff, but at Bowling Green, Kentucky – home of the Corvette for more than 40 years – it’s still, and thank goodness, business as usual. Not, mind you, that if we were in the market for a Corvette we’d buy one of the new ones. No sir, we’d have a Sting Ray.

Truth is many people don’t know the difference, and indeed you might be one of the many who assumes that just as all Sting Rays are Corvettes so it is that all Corvettes are Sting Rays. In fact strictly speaking the name Sting Ray is correctly applied to the mid-60s cars, from 1963-67 with the last of these very much the most sought after -even if it takes something of a gricer to tell one year’s car from the next. Mostly that’s because, superficially at least, they all look much the same, the differences being in the detail which, in typical US fashion, changed gradually from year to year as the model’s evolution gradually unfolded.

The 1967 is the cleanest of this shape however and the one with the sharpest details, regardless of whether you go for the coupe or the roadster. Also it has got the best engine, with its 427 cubic inch displacement (that’s seven litres in new money) a pushrod set-up with a Holley quad-barrel carb, 390 bhp at a comparatively lazy 4,600 rpm, and a three-speed Powerglide transmission with the attractive option of a Positraction limited slip diff.

Bizarrely the roadster was only a last minute addition to the range, but in the event it rapidly outsold the fastback by almost two-to-one. That said, if it were my money, the fastback would win every time. It looks more brutal, for one thing, but also more of its time. Watching the SoCal evening sunshine play across its complex, shark-like fuselage, highlighting every curve and crease, one can quickly grasp how it is that the Corvette has attained (and maintained) its almost mythic status in the America of the Beat generation, the road movie, the hotrod and the surfing sub-culture.

The Mustang’s got a similar wow-factor too, of course – the early ones were such a success that a bakery near the Ford factory is said to have put up a notice boasting that its hotcakes ‘are selling like Mustangs’ – but somehow the ’Vette (with its whitewall tyres, Wurlitzer dash and what one enthusiast magazine identified as the authentic V8 woogadah-woogadah soundtrack) has always edged it out and to my mind continues to do so.

In the UK at least the cars are probably still slightly undervalued, which is good for the obvious reasons although it means that a lot of cars at some point fall into the wrong hands. In turn that means many may not actually be what they first appear to be as it’s relatively easy for the unscrupulous to dress up one car to look like another.

Accident damage is also common, so if you’re suspicious take along a tape and measure both flanks when the car is parked on the flat. Bear in mind too that whilst parts supply is not a particular problem the interior is the really expensive bit to fix so try to find a car with a cabin which is both complete and intact. Be aware too that whilst parts can be inexpensive, labour costs can be high: rear wheel bearings are highly labour-intensive to replace but the job needs doing every 30,000 miles or so. The handbrake mechanism can also also tricky, but you’ll fail your MOT if it doesn’t work properly.

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