C2 Corvette History

The sketch that started it all

Peter Brocks 1957 sketch for the new C2 Corvette

When GM Design Chief Bill Mitchell returned from the 1957 Turin Auto Show he was inspired. He had seen the Alfa Romeo 'Disco Volante' and Abarth streamliners and knew that they represented a new direction for automotive design. Given the task of designing a new Corvette, Mitchell briefed his design team to develop ideas inspired by these Italian designs.

Peter Brock, the youngest member of that team, created the sketch above (dated 22 Nov. 1957). This sketch shows the essence of what would become the new Corvette — how it was chosen as the direction for the C2 has become part of legend.

Above: ‘65 Sting Rays on the line at GM's St Louis assembly plant. Bodies from Ionia were sent by rail to St. Louis for final assembly. The car in the foreground could be the Red Rocket’s twin — Rally Red with Kelsey Hays wheels and white sidewalls.

A.O. Smith Ionia Plant

The first Corvettes produced in 1953 featured all-fiberglass bodies, an exotic new material in the ‘50s. Fiberglass offered an economical way to create the low-volume Corvette without investing in expensive sheetmetal-stamping dies.

The fiberglass body for the Red Rocket was produced by A. O. Smith in their Ionia, Michigan plant. Under a variety of names and owners, the Ionia works produced bodies, components, and vehicles for virtually all the Detroit automakers.

As the photos below show, the bodies were virtually hand-made, with more than 30 individual panels bonded together before being hand finished and sanded ready for paint. Completed bodies were shipped by train to the GM plant in St. Louis, Missouri for final assembly.

Above: Documenting the story of Ionia Body, this video includes some great old footage of C2 Corvette body production at the A. O. Smith plant (skip to 12:40 for Corvette production).
35 individual panels made up the C2 Corvette Coupe body.
Panels were bonded together using resin 'bonding strips'.
Body assembly was a labour-intensive and highly skilled task.
Corvette bodies were hand-finished before heading to the paint booth.
Completed Sting Ray bodies loaded up for their journey to the GM assembly plant in St. Louis.
Body and chassis mated together in St. Louis — a Sting Ray is born.
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Lew Williams Chevrolet

The Red Rocket was sold by Lew Williams Chevrolet in Sacramento, California — being delivered to its first owner, Lee Day, on 10 March 1965. Lee Day worked as a mechanic at Lew Williams, so I'm guessing the Corvette was well looked after in it's early years.

Lew Williams is long gone, however there is still a Chevrolet dealership on their old Fulton Avenue site.

Lew Williams Sacramento
Above: This photo of Lew Williams Sacramento appeared in Hot Rod magazine alongside an article on the new ‘57 Corvette.
Lew Williams Chevrolet Oregon
Above: The Lew Williams Chevrolet dealership in Eugene, Oregon was an icon of modern design. It featured a space age display pavilion that perfectly complemented the rocket-ship styling of the cars of the 50's and 60's.

Park Performance

In 1990 the Red Rocket found its way to Park Performance in Milpitas California. Park Performance was founded by Larry Park, first in his home garage and then expanding to the small shop in Milpitas, before growing to become 'California Corvettes'. Larry loved fast Corvettes, to him anything else was a “sh!tliner.”

In 1994, just 4 years after he sold the Red Rocket, Larry was shot dead by his wife in his office on the California Corvettes lot.

Many of the current Corvette autocross cars running today began as a Park Performance or California Corvettes-built car.
Larry Park of Park Performance

1965 Corvette Sting Ray road test

This article from the January 1965 issue of Car and Driver magazine provides a fascinating insight in to how the revised '65 Sting Ray was received at the time.

So much has been written about the car since, but the impressions of the writers from the day reveal that the Corvette was regarded as a true competitor for the best sports cars of the period — including the Aston Martin DB-5 and the Ferrari 250/GT.

The Corvette has always been (and, with the C8, continues to be) a performance bargain.

Driving a 65 Corvette in heels is such a chore.

'65 corvette Advertising

Advertising for the ‘65 Sting Ray highlighted the new disc brakes, and value for money (when compared to European competitors). Rally Red (new for '65) was the hero colour that year, appearing on the Corvette brochure cover and much of the advertising (despite this, Nassau Blue proved to be the most popular colour choice in ‘65).
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