1951 How it all began

One of the most famous concept cars was the 1951 Buick LeSabre. Designed by General Motors' chief stylist Harley J. Earl's studio with styling cues from jet fighter planes and used by him for years as an everyday driver, the LeSabre offered a preview of the aircraft styling that would follow in the '50s. The LeSabre contained such technological features as a dual gasoline and alcohol fuel system and a moisture sensor which would raise the convertible top if it began raining when the owner was away from the car.

On September of 1951, Harley Earl takes the LeSabre dream car to the Watkins Glen sports car race. Earl is impressed by the small European sports cars, and decides to begin designing a new American sports car. In November of that same year, the Parts Fabrication group within GM Engineering Staff begins setting up a plastic department in Detroit.

Post World War II, senior figures at General Motors saw American GI’s returning from Europe with souvenirs: relatively lightweight, nimble two-seater sports cars. Design chief Harley Earl had a particular admiration for the Jaguar XK120, and aimed to create an all-American alternative. Although initially unsure which GM brand should market such a vehicle, he shared with Chief Engineer Ed Cole a desire to rejuvenate the image of Chevrolet, then seen as somewhat staid and unimaginative.

In March of 1952, Naugatuck Chemical sales executive Earl Ebers shows the Alembic I to General Motors in Detroit, Michigan. Harvey Earl is impressed with the shape of the car, and the possibilities of glass-reinforced plastic. This encourages him to speed-up his own sports car work.

On June 2, General Motors executives are formally presented with Harley Earl's proposal for a two-seater sports car. General Motors president Charles Wilson and Chevrolet general manager Thomas Keating approve completing a prototype for the 1953 Motorama. The project is code-named "Opel Sports Car". Chevrolet's director of research and development, Maurice Olley, creates a sketch for the new sports car frame, showing locations of radiator, wheels, and body mount points. On July 3, General Motors and Chevrolet management teams initiate work orders for two Motorama fiberglass bodies of the sports car, one test body, and two full-size passenger cars for development and testing of the sports car drivetrain. The Opel project sports car prototype is named Corvette, after a light fast type of World War II warship. The name was suggested by Myron Scott, employee of Campbell-Ewald, Chevrolet's advertising agency. Strong consideration had been given to naming the car “Corvair”. Chevrolet executives wanted a “C” word, and rejected 1500 suggestions.

In the end of 1952, a boot-legged picture of GM's proposed sports car is taken to Ford's styling studio. Staff there have already produced several drawings and renderings of their own sports car prototype: the Thunderbird will emerge in early 1954.