1955 Chevrolet Corvette Brochure CoverClose
A new focus for the Corvette arrived in the form of a thoroughly new V8 engine which would be known and loved as the "Chevy small block". More than what the Corvette needed, it was also a major milestone in automotive engines. The engineering was advanced and featured a compact design, overhead valves and low production costs. Whenever a list of the worlds most significant automobile engines is compiled, the Chevrolet small block is always included.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette EngineClose
1955 Chevrolet Corvette Engine - David Kimble Cutaway illustrationClose
Above: Cutaway drawing by David Kimble of the new small block engine.
Below: As installed in a 1955 Corvette. Its weight of 531 pounds was 41 pounds less than the six cylinder, which aided handling.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette Engine InstalledClose
All but seven of the 1955 Corvettes received this wonderful new engine; the remaining very rare cars were delivered with six cylinder engines. Additional colors were available. A few "Corvette Copper" (kind of a bronze) Corvettes were built along with Gypsy Red and a Harvest Gold. V8 engined cars would get a 12 volt electrical system; six cylinder Corvettes made do with a six volt system. An electric windshield wiper was also part of the V8 package.
700 Corvettes were produced in 1955. Chevrolet wisely did not repeat the overproduction mistake of 1954 and instead produced only what could be sold.
1955 Corvette Three Speed Manual ShifterClose
A few late production 1955 Corvettes, approximately 75, were equipped with a three speed floor mounted manual transmission. The remaining performance element - a four speed transmission - would have to wait for another time.
1955 Corvette three speed manual transmission - three pedalsClose
1955 Corvette ignition shieldingClose
1955 Corvette V8 ignition shielding.
Corvettes, and their fiberglass bodies, had a special problem. Since they are, unlike conventional steel cars, electrically inert, EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference) would cause static in the radio reception. The problem was resolved by shielding the ignition wires and distributor.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette front fender emblemClose
Above: 1955 V8 equipped Corvettes can be identified by the gold "V" in the "Chevrolet" side marking.
Thank You, Mr. Ford
Early Ford ThunderbirdClose
We still have the Corvette over 60 years later because Ed Cole, the GM executive who believed passionately in the car and Zora Arkos-Duntov, the engineer who would later be instrumental in the direction of the Corvette. There was also the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
Ford and Chevrolet fans do not normally get along. But this is one instance where Chevrolet followers should be offering to purchase their Ford counterparts a beverage of their choice. In 1955 Ford introduced the two seater Thunderbird which was classified as a "personal luxury car". Ford did not make the same mistakes Chevrolet did with the Corvette and equipped it so that it would have a market. It succeeded, which presented a dilemma for Chevrolet: should they abandon the Corvette, it would appear that they had lost in the two seat category. Corporate egos are powerful things and a new Corvette would be available in 1956.
What happened next is well known. The Thunderbird would cease as a two seater in 1958 and then go in a confused direction, gaining weight and losing performance along the way. It would disappear from the lineup and then reappear as a clone of its old self in 2002, only to disappear again after three model years. The Corvette, despite shaky beginnings, would find its groove, survive and prosper for many more years.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette in Corvette CopperClose
Above: 1955 Corvette in "Corvette Copper", one of only 15. Other colors included Pennant Blue (45), Gypsy Red (180) and Harvest Gold (120). Almost half of the 700 unit production was Polo White (325). Photo courtesy of Corvette Fever Magazine.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette Press PhotoClose
Above: : Official GM press photo of the 1955 Corvette.
1955 Chevrolet Corvette at Barrett Jackson auction, October 2008. Hammer price was $102,000.