1956 through 1962 Corvettes are still part of the solid rear axle C1 generation (’53-’62), but we separated them because they represent what many people feel is the “real” birth of the Corvette. All the things that designers hoped the first Corvettes could be finally came to fruition in 1956. The Corvette was now a real sports car. The very handsome restyling was an instant hit. The ’56-’57 body style is considered by many enthusiasts to be one of the most attractive designs ever produced by General Motors.
Besides stunning good looks, the ’56 Corvettes were all-V8. The Powerglide 2-speed automatic was still available along with the 3-speed manual transmission, but buyers interested in performance usually opted for the manual transmission. Dual four-barrel carburetors were new and another sign of the increasing emphasis on high performance.
1957 was a highlight year for Chevrolet in general and Corvette in particular. The legendary Rochester fuel injection was introduced. Several versions were available with horsepower ratings of either 250 or 283. The 283 hp engine put Corvettes at that vaunted performance benchmark of one horsepower per cubic inch.
To match the 283 horsepower, a 4-speed manual transmission was introduced in April 1957. Heavy duty racing suspension and Positraction rear axles with ratios as high as 4.56:1 were additional indicators of the changing attitude of Corvettes.
As great as 1957 was, 1958 wasn’t so good in many ways. Styling was altered to reflect the greater flash of domestic cars in general. Purists might have complained, but sales jumped almost fifty percent. Horsepower exceeded the one hp per cubic inch marker by hitting 290 hp on optional fuel injected engines.
1959 and 1960 were pretty much an extension of 1958. A few ’58 exterior flourishes were eliminated and sales climbed slightly. Horsepower ratings remained constant.
Bigger changes came in 1961 when the bodies were mildly restyled. The iconic grille “teeth” were replaced with a more conservative mesh. The inset top-of-the-fender taillights were replaced with four round lights in the upswept rear panel. The new rear styling was a strong indictor of what was coming on the ’63 Corvette.
Horsepower was upped to a peak of 315 on the top ‘61 fuelie motor. Displacement and horsepower numbers both jumped in 1962 when the 327-cubic inch engine was introduced. The top 327 produced 360 hp. Sales increased substantially for 1962, but that was nothing compared to what was to come.
The all-new 1956 Corvette body was a radical change from the first three years. The cove that ran from the front wheel well to the door was a very distinctive and well-received feature. The removable Auxiliary Hardtop was a very popular option selling 2,076 units.
The ’56-’57 rear view was noticeably different from the ’53-’55 models although a form of the split bumpers and exhaust exiting through the body remained.
The introduction of dual quad carburetors in 1956 started the trend of ever-increasing horsepower. This is a 1957 engine with 270 hp; the ’56 version topped out at 225 hp officially although it was generally believed to be under-rated.
The ’56-’57 dashboard was very similar to the ’53-’55 cars. The symmetry is one of those handsome styling touches that not everyone catches at first. The “waffle” pattern on the seats and door panels was a new feature. Greatly appreciated were the rollup windows.
Corvette introduced another iconic feature in 1957—fuel injection. If you look closely at the deck lid and coves of this Venetian Red roadster you’ll see the magical “fuel injection” script. Although people associate two-tone Corvettes with this era, in 1957 more cars were solid color. The two-tone treatment was a twenty-dollar option. The small hubcaps identify this ’57 as having the optional half-inch wider wheels.
Any fuel injected ’57 Corvette is highly desirable, but the rare (43 produced) 283 hp “air box” fuelies are the cream of the crop. The air box designation is derived from the unique fresh air ducting on the left side of the engine compartment. These cars had mechanical drive tachometers.
A very welcome 1957 option was the late-arriving 4-speed manual transmission.
Styling-wise, 1958 was a pretty wild year for all cars. The Corvette got quad headlights, fake hood louvers, chrome spears on the fender tops and chrome spears on the trunk lid. The unique trunk trim was a one-year-only feature. The dashboard received a major makeover.
The ’59 Corvette was visually a slightly tamed down version of the ’58. The hood louvers and trunk trim were eliminated. The use of 4-speed transmission continued to rise.
1960 Corvettes looked the same as 1959 models. This marked the end of the multi-“tooth” grille and the rounded rear fenders with inset taillights. Sales topped ten thousand units for the first time. Four-speed transmissions were ordered on slightly more than half the cars.
Corvettes received a moderate makeover in 1961. Up front the grille was now a rectangular mesh and the headlight bezels were body color instead of chrome.
The more substantial body changes were at the rear of the car. Everything was more upswept with a sharp styling crease between the four taillights and the trunk opening. This was a strong hint of what was to come in 1963.
Visually the changes for 1962 were subtle. The cove design/trim was different and not surrounded by chrome. Because of this two-tone paint wasn’t available. Ribbed rocker trim panels were added. 1962 was the last year of the solid rear axle Corvettes.
BY THE NUMBERS
|1956||3,467||$3,120||265 V8||210--225||PG, 3-sp|
|1957||6,339||$3,176||283 V8||220--283||3-sp, PG, 4-sp|
|1958||9,168||$3,591||283 V8||230--290||3-sp, PG, 4-sp|
|1959||9,670||$3,875||283 V8||230--290||3-sp, PG, 4-sp|
|1960||10,261||$3,872||283 V8||230--290||3-sp, PG, 4-sp|
|1961||10,939||$3,934||283 V8||230--315||3-sp, PG, 4-sp|