After the pops of the flashbulbs and after the gathered Chevrolet staff and managers returned to their stations on the swiftly thrown collectively meeting line in a Basic Motors storage in Flint, Michigan, the very first manufacturing Corvette rolled out of the storage and into thriller. Some claimed it was destroyed, the pure aftermath of torture testing by the hands of GM engineers. Others believed it might have been restyled as a Motorama present automotive. However, as early Corvette restorer and researcher Corey Petersen claims to have proved, that VIN #001 automotive nonetheless exists and has made its strategy to his Utah storage in preparation for full documentation and restoration.
“I have been sniffing round for it for 15 to twenty years,” Petersen stated. “It has been a enjoyable chase.”
In reality, Petersen stated it wasn’t his intention to seek out, not to mention purchase, the automotive all alongside. As an alternative, he and fellow Corvette researcher John Amgwert merely got down to doc the three pre-production Corvette prototypes and the primary dozen or so Corvettes that Chevrolet constructed on the Flint meeting line. Each 1953 Corvette got here geared up in the identical configuration – six-cylinder engine, Powerglide automated transmission, Polo White paint, Sportsman Purple inside, and whitewall tires – however as with many other cars, the earliest manufacturing variations of the Corvette had minute variations from the remainder, and Petersen and Amgwert wished to know precisely how the Flint-built automobiles differed from the remainder of the 1953 manufacturing automobiles inbuilt St. Louis.
As Karl Ludvigsen wrote in “Corvette: America’s Star-Spangled Sports Car, 1953-1982,” Ed Cole and his employees at Chevrolet had been beneath a good deadline. Harlow Curtice, then the president of GM, wished the Corvette in manufacturing in June of 1953, only a 12 months after it was accredited for manufacturing. That meant quite a lot of adjustments needed to be made on the fly, together with the choice to construct the manufacturing automobiles out of fiberglass reasonably than metal and the conversion of the storage situated on Van Slyke Highway in southwest Flint beforehand used for Chevrolet buyer deliveries into an meeting line whereas the St. Louis plant was being readied for manufacturing.
Whereas manufacturing did certainly begin on June 30, 1953, the frenzy to get underway meant the earliest automobiles differed from the later automobiles in quite a lot of delicate methods. Most individuals level to the wheel covers – domed to start with, however finally changed with the extra recognizable knockoff fashion – and Petersen already knew of different variations like a change within the convertible high design and the swap from foot-operated to vacuum-operated windshield washers. “Some adjustments had been made late in 1953, others in ’54, and that was largely because of the stock inventory,” he stated. “They did not wish to throw away what they’d, in order that they used up the ’53 stuff till it was gone.”
Observe the Analysis
He’d additionally recognized that the primary three automobiles off the meeting line that June 30 did not go on to clients. In reality, of the primary 9 automobiles off the meeting line, solely three left GM, and people three – serial numbers 004, 005, and 006 – went to members of the Du Pont household or to executives within the Du Pont group. The remainder all went out for additional analysis to GM or Chevrolet engineering departments. Petersen figured the work orders produced by the automobiles’ time in these engineering departments ought to shed some gentle on his analysis, so he began to gather the entire related work orders he might from GM’s Heritage Heart. Happily, Petersen stated, Jim Perkins had Artwork Armstrong collect as a lot Corvette documentation from all through the corporate as doable “simply to get the Corvette neighborhood off his again,” in any other case lots of these supplies would have remained inaccessible or misplaced.
Whereas it had lengthy been presumed that the primary two production-line automobiles had been destroyed after their instances within the engineering departments, Petersen found completely different fates for them in some work orders he solely obtained a pair months in the past. The second manufacturing automotive acquired a designation of 3951 and was in the end used to check the viability of putting in a V-8 engine as an alternative of the Blue Flame six-cylinder engine. The primary, VIN 001 acquired a designation of 3950 and put aside for just a few completely different makes use of. It served because the go-to automotive for numerous GM executives who wished to expertise the brand new Corvette sports activities automotive; it was available when GM introduced the 1954 Corvettes on the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; and most importantly, Chevrolet let a complete battalion of GM engineers choose it aside to search for numerous deficiencies that had made it by the rushed growth and manufacturing course of.
In complete, these engineers discovered 22 objects to repair on 3950, in response to the work orders that Petersen dug up. These objects ranged from minor rattles and changes to design enhancements that Chevrolet would go on to implement on later manufacturing automobiles. Among the many latter, three particularly stood out to Petersen: an order to make extra room between the seat and the steering wheel by each decreasing the seat 1-1/4 inches and by elevating the steering column, an order to revise the gasoline filler field and its hinge for higher physique clearance, and an order to cowl the uncovered rivets seen within the recessed license plate field.
These three particularly stood out to him as a result of he’d seen all three on a 1953 Corvette as soon as earlier than, and he knew precisely the place that automotive rested.
Forgotten and Pushed Apart
Precisely the place 3950, the primary manufacturing Corvette, went after it left GM stays a thriller. In line with the paperwork Petersen rounded up, the MSO on the automotive was not triggered by a vendor, as could be anticipated for a manufacturing automotive, however by the producer, Chevrolet. As Petersen identified, GM workers had bought different early Corvettes after their instances with the engineering departments (VIN 002 went to Russ Sanders whereas VIN 008 went to designer Waino Hosko), so it is seemingly one other GM worker managed to purchase VIN 001.
Rumors inside the Corvette neighborhood had the automotive within the Cincinnati space someday within the Seventies, however not even essentially the most ardent of Corvette historians had been in a position to acquire an viewers with the household that supposedly owned it.
Nonetheless, 1953 Corvettes are few and much between and thus typically well-known to Corvette fans. Amgwert, together with different founders of the Nationwide Corvette Restorers Society, had already tracked down VIN 003 and despatched it to Lloyd Miller’s store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a full restoration. That restoration, in flip, led one other 1953 Corvette proprietor to ship his automotive to Miller’s store. That automotive, nevertheless, got here with quite a lot of oddities that no one might clarify on the time, and the East Coast-based proprietor had made some noise in regards to the automotive presumably being VIN 002, which drew Petersen’s consideration.
He and Amgwert examined the automotive after it arrived in Miller’s store, about 20 years in the past, and could not reconcile what they noticed with any manufacturing 1953 Corvette. The ground beneath the motive force’s seat had been reduce out and lowered. The firewall had been notched on the steering column. It had the 1954-style gasoline filler field and hinge. Woven fiberglass fabric lined what remained of the rivets they anticipated to seek out within the license plate field. As a result of these alterations did not make any sense on the time, Petersen figured the automotive was an anomaly, seemingly a later manufacturing automotive, and practically forgot about it. Miller and the proprietor of the automotive practically forgot about it too; shortly after the restoration started, the proprietor turned his consideration to well being points inside the household and de-prioritized the Corvette’s restoration. Miller pushed it to the again of his store and the 2 misplaced contact.
The Corvette’s Historical past Uncovered
With the work orders seemingly confirming that the automotive in Miller’s store was 3950 all alongside, nevertheless, Petersen organized for an additional viewing, throughout which he re-examined the lowered seat, the firewall notch, and the gasoline filler field. He discovered just a few different oddities undocumented within the work orders as effectively, together with fabricated plugs rather than the exhaust openings within the tail panel. Sadly, as a result of the automotive had been stripped of lots of its components and sat with out a drivetrain for a few years, he could not verify lots of the different work orders that, for instance, referred to as for a bronze gear on the distributor drive or a revised tachometer cable.
He reached out to the proprietor, initially simply to assist “get the automotive transferring alongside,” Petersen stated. “The automotive deserves to be completed up, so let’s get to work on it and see if we will show what it’s.” His conversations with the proprietor finally turned to purchasing the automotive and, with a title in hand, he retrieved the Corvette earlier this month.
With one other 1953 Corvette restoration (VIN 087) beneath means and the Utah snow making it tough to jockey automobiles round, Petersen stated he hasn’t been in a position to extra absolutely study the automotive since bringing it house and even to carry the physique off the body to seek out the VIN stamped on the latter. Nonetheless, whereas emptying out the components stuffed within the Corvette’s trunk, he occurred to look beneath one of many flaps on the underside of one of many cardboard containers and located a door jamb VIN plate with a serial quantity ending in 001. He additionally put together a presentation on the car for his local NCRS chapter, which has since been uploaded to YouTube.
Petersen’s plans name for a full restoration. “The automotive is obvious and easily not on the market,” he stated. “I believe I’ve obtained yet another restoration left in me, and I believe I have already got all the things that I want to finish the reassembly and restoration. Restoring a automotive similar to this, it’s important to assume by what time limit you’re going again to. Are you going to incorporate the entire engineering adjustments? I believe it’s important to. That is one concern that needs to be resolved earlier than the restoration will be accomplished.”
Is It the Oldest Corvette?
Ought to Petersen’s persevering with analysis on the automotive completely confirm the automotive’s standing as the primary manufacturing Corvette, it might additionally show the automotive to be the oldest Corvette recognized to exist.
In line with Amgwert’s research, Chevrolet assigned 5 engineering automotive numbers – 852, 853, 854, 855, and 856 – for the event of full-size operational pre-production Corvette prototypes however in the end used simply three. Automotive quantity 852 turned EX-52, distinguished by tiny scoops on the tops of the entrance fenders, which went on to develop into the Motorama automotive proven to the general public on the Waldorf Astoria Resort in New York Metropolis. Automotive quantity 853 turned EX-53, one other Motorama automotive that primarily toured Canada. Automotive 856 went on for use on the GM Proving Grounds.
EX-52, after its Motorama tour, was ordered to be stripped of its physique, which was then despatched out for a burn check. The chassis, in the meantime, went on to be stretched and positioned beneath the Corvette Nomad idea automotive, which Corvette historians consider not exists.
Work orders directed EX-53’s physique to be positioned on 856’s chassis. The latter, after its time on the proving grounds, began to look shabby, and GM executives wished it to look nicer for visiting dignitaries. The chassis of EX-53 and the physique of 856 had been ordered to be crushed, and neither the physique of EX-53 or the chassis of 856 have surfaced within the years since. “That is nonetheless an ongoing analysis challenge,” Petersen stated.
As for the naysayers who doubt Petersen’s analysis and claims about any of the pre-production or early manufacturing Corvettes, Petersen stated he hopes that by bringing this specific automotive to gentle, it will spur others to supply additional proof for examination. “I get that this can be a controversial topic,” he stated. “However I welcome different factors of view with documentation to again it up.”
He stated he expects the restoration of the automotive to take 4 or 5 years.