Jay Leno presents four classic Vettes

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IOL mot pic dec28 1953 Chevrolet Corvette Dream Car

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Publicity material for 1953 Chev Corvette emphasised elegance rather than performance, which with only 107kW and a two-speed tranny, was probably just as well.

What better way to whet enthusiasts' appetite for the upcoming seventh-generation Chev Corvette than to invite GM vice-president Ed Welburn into America's most famous garage and let him walk you around four iconic early 'Vettes that helped shape the car we know today.

The garage is, of course, car-enthusiast supreme Jay Leno's, and the four historic cars start with the original, all-white 1953 model.

Legend has it that GM chief engineer Ed Cole and head of design Harley Earl were walking around a European motor show in 1952 when Cole bluntly asked: “Why aren't we designing cars like these?”

“Oh, but we are,” was Earl's instant, if untruthful, reply. He made a frantic phone call to his colleagues in the US that night and, by the time he and Cole got back home, what Cole was later to christen the Corvette was already starting to take shape.

The concept car was part of the GM Motorama exhibit at the 1953 New York auto show and so overwhelming was the reaction that it was rushed into production by the end of June, even though it didn't have wind-up windows or sports-car performance - to keep costs down Earl had used the 1952 Chevy sedan's outdated 107kW straight six and a two-speed Powerglide transmission.

But Cole was already busy creating the engine that was to define the Corvette - and, in fact, the company - for the next half-century: the iconic small-block V8.

MUCH-NEEDED STREET CRED

The second car in the video is GM CEO Dan Akerson's own 1958 model, with the distinctive four round headlights and a 202kW V8 to give it some much-needed street cred.

By then, Earl had retired and his successor created the Corvette-based Stingray racing car in 1959; when Welburn joined the company he found the one-off concept in poor shape and made it a personal crusade to restore it to perfect condition, as you see it here.

By 1963 it had become the street-legal Stingray coupe with distinctive split rear window, which Welburn says has had a definite influence on the shape of the upcoming Corvette C7.


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