The Corvette Factories – Building America’s Sports Car, by Mike Mueller
The Corvette Factories – Building America’s Sports Car, by Mike Mueller. Click image to enlarge

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By Russell Purcell

The label “icon” gets thrown around quite liberally when the discussion turns to charismatic politicians, exceptional athletes, celebrities long past their shelf lives, and ground-breaking products like the Yo-yo, Frisbee, Ginsu Knife and the Ronco Pocket Fisherman. As an automotive writer, I tend to use the term for car models that have survived multiple generations like the Porsche 911, VW Beetle, Ford Mustang and one of the greatest American icons of them all, the Chevrolet Corvette.

Author Mike Mueller has penned numerous books – all focused on automotive subjects – many of which proved to be iconic models themselves. His latest title, The Corvette Factories: Building America’s Sports Car, is unique in that it gives the reader some insight into the six-decade development of America’s favourite two-seater, as well as an in-depth look at the three factories responsible for producing Chevrolet’s remarkable “halo” car.

A picture is worth a thousand words

General Motors provided Mueller with liberal access to the wealth of material housed in the GM Media Archives and it’s obvious that he dug deep into the photo collections for the images that illustrate this very thoroughly researched book.

A surprising amount of information can be gleaned by simply perusing the photographs included in this tidy tome. For example a photo depicting a group of designers tweaking a clay mockup reveals that the fourth-generation (C4) Corvette was set to debut in 1983 (as there is signage denoting the mud-Vette as a 1983 model), but development delays bumped the launch to the following year.

He also chose to incorporate artist David Kimble’s cutaway illustrations which are sprinkled throughout the book. These elaborate works help drive home how incredibly complex the mechanical and electronic systems are that hide beneath the shiny bodywork of the modern automobile.

Six decades of innovation

Zora Arkus-Duntov (Chevrolet’s legendary Director of High-Performance Vehicle Design and Development) is often credited with bringing the Corvette to fruition, but Mueller corrects this by introducing readers to GM styling guru Harley Earl, the man responsible for many of the company’s most memorable concepts.

The drop-top “plastic fantastic” (complete with slip-in Plexiglas side curtains) was revealed in 1953 at General Motors’ “Motorama” auto show at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, kicking off an almost uninterrupted six decades of production (there was no 1983 model Corvette). The Motorama concept was a huge success for General Motors from 1949 -1961. The company used these events to showcase both technical and styling innovations to the consumer, as it toured through several major cities each year. It could be considered the prototype for the auto shows we flock to today.

The book kicks off with a look at the first engine to provide the “heartbeat” for the Corvette, Chevrolet’s Blue Flame six-cylinder. This was the sole engine choice for the first two years of the car’s production (1953 and 1954). All cars afterwards came equipped with V8s.

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