The Chevrolet Corvette was almost called a Chevy Opel. Would it have sold as many as it did with a boring name like that, I wonder? However a public relations man named Myron E Scott, who was the originator of the All American Soap Box Derby, thought it sounded too tame. A corvette on the other hand was a fast and highly manoeuvrable ship, which was usually a lot more powerful than it looked; an ideal name for the new sports car. The name was adopted and it may have had no small a part in the 'Vett's eventual success.
It wasn't only a new sports car; it was probably the first production car ever built in America using a lightweight body made of fibreglass. The model first appeared in 1953 at the General Motors Motorama at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel but when the first ones were sold to the public sales were, to say the least, disappointing.
These first Corvettes had six cylinder 3.9 litre engines pushing out a rather desultory 150 brake horsepower; top speed was a modest 100 mph with 0-60 acceleration of 11 seconds, which was not going to set the world alight. There were, to be blunt, more exciting cars on the market. By 1954 a more powerful engine was fitted and 3,640 were built but not all were sold, and it took a while to shift them; but by 1955 a V-8 engine was available and that was more like it!
By 1956 Corvettes could hit 129 mph with a nought to 60 time of under nine seconds; and by 1962 that acceleration time was reduced to less than six seconds. Finally people were sitting up and taking notice.
Development of the 'Vette', as it has come to be known, has continued ever since; all with either fibreglass or composite bodies. Sales of them, now in their eighth generation, are still going strong and so far more than 1.7 million of them have been sold. Not bad for a car which only sold 300 or so units when it was first launched in 1953!