Two American legends were given starring roles in a revolutionary type of television program that debuted on CBS on October 7, 1960 – the Chevrolet Corvette and Route 66. Before the program ended in 1964, American’s eagerly followed the adventures of Todd Stiles and Buz Murdock in 116 episodes of Route 66. But, surprisingly, only a few epsidoes were actually filmed at Route 66 locations. In fact, episode 23 entitled Go Read The River was filmed at Site Six and other locations in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
The television program contributed greatly to transforming the highway into an American icon, and to linking the Corvette with top down adventures on the open road. But the origins of the highway and the Corvette were anything but spectacular. In the beginning U.S. 66 was just one of the newly minted highways in the federal network created in 1926. The Corvette was a concept car designed to stir excitement and highlight styling ideas from General Motors.
It was officially designated “EX 122” and made its debut at the New York City Motorama in January 1953. It was an instant winner and soon the management at the Chevrolet division were overwhelmed by the inquiries about when production was to commence. There had been no plan to produce one of the first fiberglass bodied cars in the United States but this was not an opportunity to be missed.
Initially each car manufactured at the factory in Flint, Michigan was hand built. Except for the fiberglass body all components were off the shelf Chevy parts, albeit with some modification. The 235 c.i.d. six cylinder engine used in pick up trucks was outfitted with a special exhaust and intake manifold with three carburetors that was coupled to the two speed Powerglide automatic transmission. To further expedite production all cars were only available in Polo White with Sportsman Red interiors.
The consumer may have expressed excitement when the car was on display but the sports car enthusiast felt different in the showroom. The car had the styling but lacked the performance and excitement of European sports cars. And so for 1953 the company only built 300 Corvettes but sold less than half of them.
But Chevrolet was working on development of a V8 engine, the comapny’s first V8 since 1918. And so the decision was made to not drop Corvette. After all, a dealer with a Corvette on the showroom floor was assured a steady stream of traffic of potential customers for a sedan or truck.
In 1954 three new paint colors, black, red, and blue, were offered as options. The engine received a slight boost to 155 horsepower, but sales were still sluggish. Only 3640 Corvettes were produced in 1954.
Everything changed in 1955 when the Corvette was outfitted with the company’s new V8 engine. This, chassis improvements and an optional manual three speed transmission transformed the Corvette into a true sports car that could compete with its rivals across the pond.
The Corvette underwent a major redesign in 1956, getting a sleeker and more aggressive look. It also gained features such as roll-up windows, outside door handles, and an optional hardtop. The V8 engine was upgraded to 210 horsepower and later to 225 horsepower with dual four-barrel carburetors. A four-speed manual transmission was introduced in 1957, along with fuel injection that boosted the output to 283 horsepower.
Fast forward to 2019 and the introduction of the C8 Mid-Engine Corvette. With its rear mid-engine layout that improved weight distribution, center of gravity, and performance, the legacy of the Corvette as America’s sports car was assured.
If you have dreamed of open road adventure, of reliving the adventures of Todd and Buzz in Lake Havasu City or on Route 66, stop by Findlay Chevrolet GMC and Buick in Bullhead City, Arizona today and we will help make those dreams a reality. And if your dreams are a bit more sedate, and you want to simply enjoy the adventures of Route 66 or the scenic wonders of the Grand Circle in a car that doubles as the family sedan, we can help with that as well.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America.