Today doesn’t mark the 60th anniversary of Chevrolet’s plastic fantastic sports car, but it’s still an important milestone in Corvette history nonetheless. On June 29, 1953, the first production Corvette rolled off the assembly line.
Although Corvette production has largely occurred in both St. Louis, Missouri, and Bowling Green, Kentucky, the first production car -- along with all 1953 Corvettes -- were built in a city ironically known best for its ties to Buick. A rudimentary production line was configured in a building off Van Slyke Avenue, deep in the heart of Flint, Michigan.
“Production line” is perhaps a generous term, seeing as the ’53 ‘Vettes were essentially hand-built by employees. The space allotted for the production line -- formerly used as a customer delivery building -- could only hold six chassis at a time, which further restricted the pace of assembly. The first production car reportedly took workers three 16-hour days to build, although that pace improved within two months to the point where three Corvettes were built daily.
General Motors wound up building 300 roadsters at that very site, and all were clones of one another. Buyers had little say in how the cars looked; each and every example was painted Polo White (like the original 1952 Motorama show car), trimmed with a bright red interior, and capped with a black soft top. Likewise, each car was mechanically identical: power (a meager 150 hp) came from a 235-cubic-inch “Blue Flame” inline-six-cylinder engine, which was mated to a two-speed automatic transmission.
Customers did, however, have the choice of two options -- a heater and an AM radio added $91.40 and $145.15, respectively, to the car’s $3498 base price.
Corvette activity in Flint ended on December 24, 1953, as production was shifted to a retooled assembly plant in St. Louis, Missouri. That plant had the capacity to build 10,000 cars annually, although that metric wouldn’t be achieved until 1960. The original building was demolished in 2003, although its bricks are available for purchase through the National Corvette Museum.
A handful of the earliest production cars were handed off to GM engineers for validation and testing before either being scrapped or resold to the public. The whereabouts of Corvettes 001 and 002 are unknown, although production car 003 -- which rolled off the line on July 2nd -- is one a couple hundred known to still exist.