Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Tri-Five Chevrolet Corvette (C-1)

The Tri-Five Chevrolet Corvette (C-1)

 -Alan Arnell

This article is about the first generation (C-I) 1955, 1956, 1957 years of the Chevrolet Corvette.

The Chevrolet Corvette during the years of the Tri-Five Chevy are called the C-1 generation. The 2016 Corvette is the seventh generation of the beloved Corvette and is called the C-7.  The Tri-five model years were a part of the first generation of the Corvette sports car produced by Chevrolet. The Corvette was first introduced late in the 1953 model year.  The C-2 generation was introduced to the car buying public in 1962.  1962 was the the first year that a Corvette was produced with a rear independent suspension.  The C1 is thus also referred to as the "solid-axle" generation.

In the beginning to keep costs down Chevrolet used off-the-shelf parts of 1949–1954 Chevrolet passenger vehicles to make the Corvette. The drivetrain and passenger compartment for the Corvette were moved rearward to achieve a 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution and a 102-inch wheelbase. Still, even with the hand me down car parts, owners of C-I Corvettes scored the car, in user surveys, as better than the foreign sports cars they had own in their past.

Plastic-fiberglass was used for making the body of the Corvette. because Cheverolet needed to quickly make a concept car and the availability of new-better fiberglass technology.  Designers originally planned for the Corvette to have a steel body.  The body of the original show model using plastic was first displayed at the Waldorf Car Show.  

The plastic body of the concept Corvette captivated critics and car buyer alike at the Waldorf show.  That buzz about the new body material and advances in fiberglass technology sealed the use of plastic body parts for all Corvette to come.

The Corvette almost did not make it into the Tri-Five years.  Low sales and small runs of the car put the Corvette on the chopping block.  Luckily, for us Corvette lovers, three events interceded and the Corvette stayed in production to blossom into what it is today.   

In 1955 Chevrolet introduced its first V8 engine for its full size cars.  The small block revolutionized the car market. The new engine was a big factor as to why the 1955 Chevy was to become the classic it has become for the ages. The makers of the Corvette In 1955 replaced the ho hum 6-cylinder engine of previous years with the new V8. The Corvette’s new engine was a vast improvement and produced a 195 hp with 265 ci.  Coupled with a three-speed manual transmission, connected to a 3.55:1 ratio rear axle ratio, the light car became a boulevard monster.

During this time Zora Arkus-Duntov went to work at GM.  He wrote an internal memo entitled, "Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet".  This legendary memo laid the foundation for a new way of thinking for Chevrolet.  The new focus used the Corvette as one of the principal methods used to create a successful and profitable performance parts programs.  Arkus-Duntov became the director of high-performance vehicle design and development for Chevrolet helping him earn the nickname "Father of the Corvette”.

The Ford two-seat Thunderbird, billed as a "personal luxury car", not a sports car, introduction in 1955 helped the with the survival of the Corvette.  Chevrolet took the Thunderbird as a challenge, that it could not back down from, even if the bean counters said otherwise.

Still, the small run and sales of the Corvette kept the car during the Tri-five years to continue to be made from early 50’s chassis and suspension technology, even after the full size cars were redesigned for the 1955 model year. This was due to the combined factors of the relatively high re-engineering and re-tooling costs for the Corvette’s low production-volume.

The 1956 model came with a new body, a much better convertible top with power assist optional, real glass roll up windows (also with optional power assist), and an optional hardtop. The three-speed manual transmission became the standard transmission. The Powerglide automatic was now optional. The V8 remained at 265 cubic inches but power ranged from 210 hp to 240 hp.

Visually, the 1957 model was a twin to the 1956 Corvette. The only changes made to the new model was to a one inch piece of chrome trim around the convertible top bay. The chrome piece guides the convertible top and was also changed from a hole holder to a grooved holder to better guide the top down. The other change was the factory drilled holes in the floorboard to drain water leakage.  1956 Corvette owners complained of the top leaking rain water into the floorboards that kept the floor wet.  To solve the problem instead of fixing the leaks, engineers had the production line drill holes into the floorboards to drain the rainwater.  Small production run; small effort, I guess?

Engine displacement in 1957 was increased to 283 cu in. Fuel injection became optional. A four-speed manual transmission was available after April 9, 1957. The Rochester injection used a constant flow system that help the 283 small block produced about 290 hp.  The updated engine became one of the first mass-produced engines in history to reach 1 horse power per cubic inch.

Chevrolet went all in for high-performance and racing during the Tre-Five years.  Car buyer were blessed in 1957 with Corvettes that could be ordered ready-to-race with special options. Sadly, fuel injection was in short supply and only 1,040 Corvettes were sold with this option.  The rarest options sold in 1957 were the RPO 579E 283 hp engine with a fresh air and tachometer package, RPO 684 heavy-duty racing suspension,15" x 5.5" wheels, power windows and the coveted four-speed transmission

The Tri-Five Corvette fails in comparison to the standards of performance and handling produced by today’s Corvettes. Yet, in its day, the Tri-Five Corvette was an inventive, highly-revolutionary, high performance American two seat classic sports car.

Specifications: 1955, 1956, 1957 Corvette

Constructed in St. Louis, Missouri.
Body style-2-door convertible
Wheel base- 102 inches
Length-177.2 inches
Width- 72.8 inches
Class-Sports Car

1950s automobiles

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