Of The Marques)
This hot rod and customizing craze in California was the genesis for the Corvette in that it was to foment the career of a designer named Harley Earl who would soon work for GM. He was installed as a designer by Alfred P. Sloan, created the Art and Color studio, the first ever design studio, and soon brought out the first concept car the Buick Y Job. W. W. II put a halt to this activity but it soon began again after the war.
The returning GI's, and this story has been told a hundred times. Were now unhappy with the large uncontrollable vehicles provided by the American manufacturers. They were impressed by the MG TC's and later the TD's. They were aware of the smaller more fuel efficient European cars which they had seen and sometimes driven and wanted more of these nimble machines. They also had enough of austerity and were looking to enjoy themselves after a depression and four years of war and K rations.
The first Corvette took a long gestation period and was more of an evolutionary process rather than a full blown out of the hat creation. As for the name we have to remember that designers and marketers are always looking for images that appeal to the buyer and after the war the buyer was the young GI starting a family or often in the post war period postponing a family longer than was proper for his parents. There were also young women who were now interested in driving the same cars that the men had found appealing overseas and both sexes were no longer tied down on the farm. A new mobile society had sprung up across the continent so the name had to reflect that image. Because the war had had such an affect on the American consciousness military imagery played a large role. GM settled on Corvette an old French naval term for a fast, maneuverable armed vessel often used for escort service. This fit the bill perfectly.
Chevrolet Division was not the only one thinking along the lines of a sports car like the Corvette and there were certainly many manufacturers producing sports cars in the U.S. at the time. Many of them were limited production hand built affairs coming out of California but they served to wet the appetite of young and not so young Americans. They ranged from the petite Crosley to the fabulous Kaiser Darrin. There were also the hybrids some from England and some from the U.S. which mixed bodies and chassis with American engines. These included the Allards, Muntz and Cunninghams where the distinction between racing and sports car became blurred. Of course the importers took advantage by bringing over the Jaguar XK 120 and upstart Ferraris so Detroit realized that here was a market they must not overlook.
Kaiser-Frazer was soon to leave the American automotive scene for Argentina, the specialty market was too expensive and the cars too cantankerous for the general public and the imports had their own problems to contend with in the late 40s and early 50s. So it would soon become a battle between the American giants.
The second motivating factor for a sports car which the Corvette was to become came from Harley Earle's creation of the Show Car Scene.