Cars We Love: 1956 Corvette

1956 Corvette

The 1956 Corvette is recognized by many experts as the car that saved the Corvette brand from extinction. The Corvette’s first three years, from 1953 through 1955, were rife with confusion. Neither Chevrolet nor potential buyers knew what kind of car the Corvette was supposed to be. It had an anemic six-cylinder engine coupled to a two-speed automatic transmission, so it didn’t have the performance of a real sports car. Was it a luxury car? No, it didn’t have any luxury features – it lacked outside door handles and didn’t even have roll-up side windows. Sales for 1955 were so bad that Chevrolet seriously considered killing off the Corvette.

All questions about the Corvette were emphatically answered in 1956. Designer Bob Cadaret and his team gave the Corvette an exciting, all-new body, introducing the “side cove” treatment that remained a Corvette styling fixture until 1962. Luxury and convenience features such as outside door handles, roll-up windows, an optional power top and a removable hardtop made the car a pleasure to drive.

Now the Corvette was a styling hit and had all the features for comfortable driving, but what really put the ‘56 ‘Vette on the map was its performance and racing capabilities. An updated 265 cubic inch V8 and options like dual 4-barrel carburetors, a special “Duntov” high-lift cam, and dual exhausts, made performance available to everyone.

To put an exclamation point on Corvette’s performance, racers John Fitch and Betty Skelton, along with Chevrolet engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, drove modified and stock 1956 Corvettes at the Daytona Speed Weeks in February of 1956 and took first, second, or third place in five different events.

In addition, Corvette entries performed very well in races like the Twelve Hours of Sebring and in Sports Car Club of America events.

Corvette sales jumped from 700 in 1955 to 3,497 in 1956, an increase of 395%! The Corvette no longer had an identity crisis. 1956 proved to everyone that the Corvette was the real McCoy – an all-American, fire-breathing sports car.


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