The Chevrolet Corvette saw the light of day at the 1953 Motorama, the concept coming from Harley Earl, head of GM's Art and Color Department, who sought to produce an American counterpart to the imported Jaguar XK 120. Until then, America had been without a real postwar sports car. The Corvette was the first quantity-produced car to use a fiberglass body and was initially fitted with a straight six-cylinder engine producing 150 bhp through a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. Only two years later did the V8 become available, together with a three-speed manual gearbox. As the model evolved, it became both more powerful and offered a wider array of options. The 265-cubic-inch V8 became standard in 1956, and in 1957 a fuel-injection 283 cubic inch V8 that produced 283 horsepower became an option.
The 1958 Corvette was visually unmistakable, with its quad headlights and prominent "shark's tooth" grille. It was also ten inches longer, two inches wider and 200 pounds heavier than the 1957 model. The car was an immediate hit with the buying public, with 9,168 units selling, allowing Corvette to turn a profit for the very first time.
The car pictured here was delivered new with the penultimate specification for the year including a four-speed manual gearbox and dual four-barrel Carter carburetors. It was restored to a very high standard a few years ago by the renowned Carrosserie Lecoq in Paris and has only covered a few thousand kilometers since. It was acquired by the vendor in 1999, who successfully finished the 2000 edition of the well-known Rallye Classic du Maroc.
The car's condition is commensurate with the extremely high standard of its restoration. Since, it has had service bills for about $8,000, which accounts for its outstanding presentation in all respects. In addition, the car features whitewall tires and a modern CD player.
The car described here sold for $42,935, including buyer’s premium, at Christie’s Rétromobile auction in Paris, France, on February 12, 2002.
But before I begin taking this car apart, a word of explanation. I’m an ex-pat living in Paris. My Venetian-born wife, Sabrina, and I met the Martin-Banzers when we went on one of their now-fabled SCM Tahiti/Moorea tours (talk cars in the morning, snorkel in the lagoon all afternoon, drink French wine in the evening). I’ve always been a Corvette guy. I grew up next door to an NCRS judge, owned several ’57s and ’60s, and have examined literally hundreds of cars in my continuing search for “the next one.”
In 1958, Chevrolet, following the trends of the time, sought to “upgrade” the Corvette to make a bigger, bolder visual statement. The body changes from 1957 included quad headlights, hood ridges, chrome trunk strips, revised side scoops and a different taillight treatment. Not all of these changes were well-received by the public, and Chevrolet quickly deleted the hood ridges and trunk strips for the 1959 model year. Corvette enthusiasts either love or hate the 1958 model-very few are ambivalent.
This car still presents well, as one would expect from a high-dollar restoration. The objective of the restoration was obviously to make a unique and different car to the owner’s (and restoration shop’s) particular interests, even at the expense of some original features. Carrosserie Lecoq has done several restorations in their characteristic yellow and black paint scheme, and this Corvette, with a color combination that was never in the original GM paint chip book, was featured on one of their advertising brochures and is well-known and appreciated in Paris.
Coming from my NCRS “original-is-best” perspective, the car pictured here was a shock. In addition to the color combination, a peculiar custom air cleaner assembly, incorrect carburetors, various other underhood pieces, black leather interior and the CD player are just a few of the immediately apparent things that are not correct.
The well-appointed interior, close-fitting convertible top, and roll-up windows, however, do make this Corvette an enjoyable and comfortable late-’50s sports car for European touring events. And the dual-quad engine and four-speed transmission provide a very nice-albeit expensive, at $4 per gallon-driving experience. With a responsive small-block V8, every Parisian will take notice and nod appreciably as this classic ‘Vette thunders by.
In this instance, the seller put the right car in the right venue to achieve a very strong price. In America, Corvette owners are beyond fanatic when it comes to originality, hence a seriously wrong car, from colors to carburetors, would suffer greatly in the marketplace. Who would want to be known as the owner of “the yellowjacket Corvette”?
But, for Paris, the car was perfect. The bidding was heated and resulted in a final price that was above market, certainly for the US, and even to a lesser degree over here.
In a country dominated by small-displacement econoboxes, the new owner will enjoy the dual displays of ostentatious appearance and stupendous performance. Chances are he will find that French Corvette enthusiasts, and there are many, think the car is perfect just the way it is. I would only suggest that entering the car in a Bloomington concours is probably not the best of ideas.-Don Wilson