From GM press: Corvette in the 1950s.
Corvette debuted in January of 1953 as a show car in the GM Motorama. It was a stylish two-seat convertible, designed to show the world that GM could create a sports car to compete with European nameplates like Jaguar and MG. All 1953 Corvettes were Polo White with red interiors.
The response to the Motorama show car was overwhelmingly positive, and production began that June in Flint, Michigan. It would change the landscape of the American road forever.
The 1953 Corvettes were built by hand and appeared nearly identical to the Motorama car. They were powered by the existing Chevrolet 235-cu.-in. 6-cylinder engine that was modified with a three-carburetor design and dual exhaust to give it more sports car-like performance. Named the Blue Flame Special, this engine generated 150 horsepower, and it was teamed with a 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. This powertrain, however, did not live up to the performance expectations of sports car buyers. Although sales climbed to 3640 units in 1954, they fell off dramatically to just 700 in 1955 setting off rumors that Corvette might be a short-lived automotive experiment. But Zora Arkus-Duntov had different ideas.
Arkus-Duntov, an engineer on the Corvette team since 1953 and a former European road racer, set out to give Corvette the two things it needed most -- better performance and better handling. Corvette's evolution into a true sports car began in 1955 when a 265-cu.-in. V8 that generated 195 horsepower was offered; and by the end of the model year, a 3-speed manual transmission was also available.
In 1955, driving a prototype V8-powered Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov set a new record in the Daytona "Measured Mile" at just over 150 miles per hour.
Corvette received its first major styling update in 1956. Changes included an all-new body with "scooped out" sides, outside door handles, roll-up windows and an optional removable hardtop.
Corvette got a performance boost to go along with its styling in 1957. The 283-cu.-in. V8 was modified with fuel injection to produce an unprecedented 283 horsepower, and a new 4-speed manual transmission was offered as a $188 option -- making Corvette one of the first cars in the world to mate a fuel-injected V8 engine with a 4-speed manual gearbox.
Corvette lit up the streets in 1958 in more ways than one. The fuel-injected 283-cu.-in. V8 was now producing up to 290 horsepower, and Corvette's new body design featured four headlights.