Chevy’s Corvette has been around since 1953, and the model line now comprises eight generations of mostly awesome cars. The current iteration, known as the C8, is a mid-engine supercar so wild that if a Martian came down to earth and squinted its eyes, we’d bet that the ’Vette might easily be mistaken for a multimillion-dollar hypercar.
Yet it wasn’t always that way, because from 1955 until 2019, every Corvette was distinguished by its front-mounted V-8 engine, stuffed into an often-extreme fiberglass body with room enough inside for two people and little else. The early 1950s saw some fierce competition among America’s “Big Three,” and in the turf wars for market share, a sports car afforded an opportunity to shine a spotlight on any brand that could deliver something really special: one that nipped at the heels of European finery from the likes of Jaguar, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche.
With the specter of Ford’s 1955 Thunderbird looming, General Motors beat its peers to the punch with the Chevrolet Corvette, debuted at the Waldorf-Astoria in January of 1953 to an avalanche of praise from press and public alike. Its groundbreaking shape, by GM’s head of Styling, Harley Earl, was a sensation, although a mere 300 examples were made that year. But like some dogs, the first ‘Vette’s bark was more formidable than its bite, powered as it was by an inline-six-cylinder engine that was rather enthusiastically called “the Blue Flame.” The flame ignited by Chevy’s 235 ci inline-six mill amounted to 150 hp, further humbled by a lethargic two-speed “Powerglide” automatic transmission—the only choice. With a V-8-powered Thunderbird about to take to the tarmac, Chevy had to make some quick decisions.
GM engineer Ed Cole and his team developed the 265 ci small-block engine that GM’s marketing mavens called the “Turbo-Fire” V-8, which made 195 hp—45 hp more than the “Flame.” Though leisurely today, its 8.5-second zero-to-60 mph time shaved two seconds off its six-cylinder predecessor. While Euro-exotica boasted of 120 mph, 130 mph, and even 150 mph top speeds (often only in their dreams), the Corvette hit a legitimate 120 mph.
With an MSRP of $2,909, the 1955 Corvette came in Polo White, Pennant Blue, Corvette Copper, Gypsy Red, or Harvest Gold. A variety of colors for the interior and vinyl top—replacing the canvas—were on the menu, and in the 1955 production run, a three-speed manual transmission was made available. Despite the headlines, residual blowback from the lackluster “Blue Flame” thwarted sales for 1955, which reached just 700 units. But the die was cast, and with the engineering and competition acumen of engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette started on a roll.
Chevy’s 1955 entry in the Pikes Peak race set a record, as did an entry into the Daytona Flying Mile. By 1956, the “Father of the Corvette,” as Arkus-Duntov became known, was in charge of high-performance vehicle design and development for Chevrolet. Production in 1956 rose to 3,467 units, and the C1 series continued until 1962. By that time, Corvette had earned the moniker “America’s Sports Car.”
The 1955 Corvette Roadster being presented by Worldwide Auctioneers is one of 180 examples produced that year in Gypsy Red, and has benefitted from an extensive multiyear, body-off restoration by Russ Corvette Restoration, LLC in Mount Holly, N.J. This little red Corvette will be offered through the auction house in Auburn, Ind., on September 2.
Click here for more photos of this 1955 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster.