The EX-122 prototype was called Corvette, apparently at the suggestion of assistant director for the public relations department, Myron Scott: the name denotes a fast naval escort vessel and submarine hunter. And such was the public reaction to its Motorama reveal that six months later the Corvette (code C1) went into production in Flint, Michigan. Caution was the watchword: only 50 cars per month were scheduled, all finished in Polar White with Sportsman Red interior, whitewall tyres and a black hood.
For 1954, production was moved to St Louis, Missouri. Minor running changes were made during the year, including a 5hp power increase, and there were now four official body colour options. Pricing was a problem, and the story goes that Chevrolet reduced the base price for 1954 but made the Powerglide a ‘mandatory option’ (there was still no manual available) along with other necessities that were listed as options, resulting in a reasonably specced car that cost the same as a ’53... The trick did not fool customers either and the Corvette’s future looked to be in the balance.
But then two important things happened. Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole introduced the small-block V8, which would provide the answer to the Corvette’s dull performance, just as fellow engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov made some simple changes to the car’s underpinnings to improve its handling. The transformation was timeous: now with a 265ci (4342cc) V8 giving 195hp (145kW) under the bonnet, the Corvette had some go to match the show – and was better able to compete with Ford’s newly introduced Thunderbird V8, which had stimulated the two-seater market. A spin-off effect of the V8 was that it was lighter than the six, so the car’s front-rear weight distribution improved to 52:48. And electrics were changed from six- to 12-volt.