When purchasing a new car, many consumers hesitate to purchase a “first-year of any model and prefer to wait a year or two until the “bugs” are worked out. This gives the manufacturer time to work out all the baubles that arise as all those engineered pieces come together for the first time. But, when you’re talking about the first year of Corvette production, the earlier, the better! We have seen numerous prototype Corvettes restored to their original glory and for decades, the earliest example of a production Corvette known to man was a Polo White sports car bearing the serial number 003.
In a video posted a few days ago, Corvette historian Corey Petersen explains why he believes the world’s first Corvette has indeed been found. Of course, that is not a proclamation one makes without significant documentation and evidence to push for such a quantum shift in thinking. For many reasons, finding such information is also not as easy as Wikipedia and Google might want you to believe. You can go check out the video posted on YouTube by Lifebeginsat170 showing Corey presenting his find to an NCRS chapter in Utah.
When Chevrolet started churning out Corvettes in 1953, the entirely new fiberglass two-seater had its share of updates and changes made “on the fly.” While Corvette would eventually establish itself as the finely-tuned powerhouse we see today, its first year of production was shaky at best. Reportedly, the overwhelming demand for the car caught even the folks at GM empty-handed and the car was rushed into production. Everyone’s effort was focused on bringing a production car to market, which meant that filing paperwork and documentation took a backseat to spinning wrenches and laying out fiberglass. Even the hubcaps on the early cars were a substitution as the Corvette-specific ones weren’t ready in time!
This concerted effort to get cars rolling off the production line profited the world with 300 production examples of Corvette’s abbreviated first year. Scores of enthusiasts have poured through piles of documentation within GM’s archives and scrutinized the timeline of Corvette production, trying to locate the “big bang” of Corvette’s existence. They typically find the water increasingly murky the closer you get to the dawn of Corvette.
In the video, Corey explains a little bit of this Corvette’s history, and why he feels it is the one that everyone has been seeking for so long. There are numerous reasons why looking for “the one” is not as easy as locating a serial plate or comparing some photos. To start, it has been regarded that the very first Corvette to roll off of the assembly line never made it to a dealer’s showroom. Instead, it was believed to suffer a fate worse than languishing on the dealer’s lot. The car was believed to be destroyed by GM, as it was never intended for public consumption.
First Corvette Phoenix Or Amazing Barn Find?
It’s been widely accepted that the very first production Corvette was destroyed during testing and Chevrolet Engineering never intended the car to see the open road. Corey’s video disclaims this belief and he gives evidence and a timeline of where the car has been hiding all these years. If so, this would mean Corvette 001 did not rise up out of the ashes of GM’s trash heap but instead is an amazing barn find. His evidence is backed by information brought to light by fellow Corvette historian, John Amgwert. John is an original founder of the National Corvette Restorer’s Society and a long-time editor of the organization’s The Corvette Restorer magazine. John penned a story in the Summer 1993 issue including information that coincides with Corey’s understanding of the history of his early Corvette.
Corey, as well as many other enthusiasts, have known about the car for some time, but its true identity hadn’t been recognized until now. Corey contends that the car has been in the possession of Lloyd Miller, a Corvette specialist, who had done some work on the car decades earlier for the car’s then-owner. The service bill was left unpaid, and Lloyd held onto the car for 20 years, not speaking to the car’s owner about it for the last 15 to 18 years.
Corey contacted the owner and worked out a deal for what he believes to be the first Corvette. He also confirmed the car had no stolen vehicle history and that the proper paperwork was in hand before announcing his newest, and earliest acquisition. Corey’s investigation shows that the vehicle’s MSO (Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin), the official document of ownership the OEM sends to the vehicle dealer, listed Chevrolet itself and not one of the brand’s dealers. A testament to the car’s in-house intentions.
John and Corey contend that Corvettes bearing serial numbers 001, 002, and 003 were not prototype cars. The prototype cars include the Motorama Corvette, which was famously shown at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on January 17, 1953. Corey and John also note there were five prototype chassis ordered in all. One going to the Waldorf Astoria car, another for the Canadian Motorama, and a third as a Proving Ground test vehicle. The remaining two prototype chassis possibly went to another GM brand – Pontiac Bonneville.
At this point, the lines between vehicle serial numbers and Chevrolet’s (or GM’s) engineering numbers become quite blurry. To help muddy the waters even more, stories of swapped chassis and body changes on the fly only serve to dim the faint light shown on what really happened before these cars made it out of GM’s possession – or didn’t.
Noted Corvette historian, author, and long-time GM engineer, Ken Kayser, contends those early prototype cars were repackaged and used for the official photo, announcing the beginning of Corvette production. His thoughts on the demise of cars 001 and 002 are much more dismal in that both cars were destroyed by GM. Both Kayser and Amgwert cite the GM documentation showing the Motorama car body was destroyed in a burn test, but they disagree on whether it was VIN 001.
That is perhaps the best reason why Corvette 001 has never been definitively located. Early Corvette archeologists have used non-production holes or repaired areas of a car’s fiberglass body to help tie specific Corvettes to their past, but when you’re exchanging entire bodies or repairing early-production flaws or damage inflicted during testing, the past can become embedded in a pile of body filler dust.
News of this Corvette’s existence has sent shock waves around the Corvette world and many are waiting on bated breath to see how these claims hold up against the scrutiny of the Corvette knowledge base. While finding any Corvette from its first year of production would send shivers up the back of any enthusiast, unfurling the dog-eared scrolls of Corvette history only to find you’re in possession of the world’s long-lost “first Corvette” would truly be the find of a lifetime!