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Watch the First Corvettes Being Built By Hand – 1953

Although it has been written about extensively this year, we couldn’t let 2013 end without posting something about the 60th anniversary of the Corvette. Today’s silent video chronicles the interesting details involved with the building of the first examples of the fiberglass-bodied car from start to finish. Only three hundred of the cars left the factory in Flint, Michigan that first year. All were white with a red interior and were equipped with a three carburetor 150 HP version of Chevrolet’s 235 CI six cylinder engine, mated to their two speed Powerglide automatic transmission.

Although production ramped up on a dedicated assembly line in St. Louis, Missouri in 1954, the car was nearly scrapped by GM after that due to lackluster sales. It was saved from oblivion due to the almost single-handed persistence of Ā Zora-Arkus Duntov who convinced a reluctant upper management to offer their new 265 CI small block V-8 as an engine option the following year. There was no turning back after that. It remains an American icon that offers more bang for the buck than any other performance car in the world today. Video courtesy of King Rose Archives via YouTube.

10 responses to “Watch the First Corvettes Being Built By Hand – 1953

  1. Gene,

    I have never seen this footage of the build of the 1953 Corvette. It is truly amazing and labor intensive job. I marvel at the guys who did this day in day out, bare hands and for the most part no regulator mask. Makes you wonder how many of them came down with some kind of lung disease, or brain damage from smelling the fumes of the epoxy mix.

    I’ve done little repairs with that stuff, and unless you are in a well ventilated area you will get sick. It’s no wonder why GM is still footing the medical bills for there workers all these years later.

    I need to show this to my buddy who’s a big Corvette guy, and I don’t think he’s seen this yet. He still has his ’69 in all original condition. Sadly it just sits in his garage not driven in over ten years. His excuse? Can’t get the gasoline. He’s right too.

  2. I was going to post the same reaction to that video. The resin fumes, dust from sawing and paint fumes must have been awful. It’s amazing to realize that, even in the early 50s, worker safety was not a consideration. Beautiful cars, but someone paid a price…….

  3. I always thought the Corvettes were made with pieces of chopped fiberglass sprayed into a mold. Didn’t realize any were hand laid, except for the Grand Sports. Those white uniforms look like they’re selling ice cream.

  4. I was surprised they were not wearing rubber disposable gloves. That resin gets hot and the only way to wash it off, is with solvent on your hands. All the gel coat overspray just going out in the room and the worker breathing it, unbelievable. I have a ’56 and wonder if they were built the same way.

  5. To establish context, we need to remember that GM never had a fiberglass molding facility for production parts – all Corvette fiberglass body parts were molded by outside suppliers like the Molded Fiberglass Company (MFG), and St. Louis was strictly an assembly facility, with no parts manufacturing capability. Most of the footage here was shot at GM’s “Parts Fab” facility on the south side of 12 Mile Road in Warren, Michigan where they made one-off and prototype parts, at MFG in Ashtabula, Ohio, and at the old Flint Pilot Line building on Van Slyke Road where the 300 53’s were assembled.

    Very early Corvette body parts molding and subsequent assembly processes were pretty crude (almost medieval in some cases), but we had to start somewhere. šŸ™‚

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