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How the Corvette Changed the Sports Car Industry Forever

Harley Earl was an automobile design expert at Chevrolet who noticed the influx of small European sports cars into the United States after World War II. He knew there was a market for a two-seat roadster and convinced Chevrolet to introduce their own version: The Chevrolet Corvette.

In 1953, the first Corvette's were unveiled. The cars were unique in their construction. Instead of the steel bodies common for the time, the Corvette was actually built from a much lighter material--fiberglass. This innovation, combined with its Earl-designed appearance, however, was still not enough to make the car an overnight success.

At the time, Chevrolet was known for producing inexpensive, but unexciting vehicles. The Corvette, despite its sex styling and innovative construction was "just another Chevy" at heart, and lacked the performance sports car enthusiasts craved. The original Corvettes featured a less-that-impressive V6, a two-speed automatic transmission, and a brake system taken directly from the regular Chevy line. In essence, the original Corvette was a sports car in appearance alone. Sales lagged and there was even talk of discontinuing Earl's pet project after a few years.

Sales were simply too low. Although the fiberglass design wowed potential buyers and critics within the sports car industry and the appearance of the Corvette was beyond reproach, the car simply lacked the kind of performance those searching for a true sports car expected to find.

Then came Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Russian émigré and engineer who found a home at Chevrolet, and a project in the Corvette. In 1955, Chevrolet introduced its first V8 engine. Arkus-Duntov redesigned the V8 especially for the Corvette and placed the bigger, more powerful motor into the small-bodied car. He also replaced the old two-speed "powerglide" automatic with a 3-speed manual transmission. Suddenly the Corvette was no longer just a pretty face. The Corvette became a legitimate competitor for the other major U.S. sports car, Ford's Thunderbird, and its popularity soared dramatically. Arkus-Duntov is often considered the father of the Corvette due to his line-saving alterations.

Over fifty years later, Corvette remains a leading name is sports cars and is currently offering its sixth generation of products, including a rumored high performance model known as the Blue Demon.

The Corvette is now known as the "poor man's super car" and is noted for its relative affordability and impressive reliability records.

But before there was a Blue Demon, a Z06, or any of the Corvette C classes that sports car enthusiasts love today, there was Harley Earl and a cute design with a V6 they called the Corvette. Chevrolet embraced the idea of a truly American sports car, and with the help of a Russian émigré, built one of the most popular and lasting sports car labels in the world.

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