The complete history, 1953-1982
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Published on Thu, Sep 4, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
CORVETTE - America’s Star-Spangled Sports Car
The Complete History – 1953-1982
By Karl Ludvigsen
784 pages, 989 photos, illustrations, and diagrams
Review by Doug Stokes
Yes, you’ve read the above specs right: Seven hundred, eighty-four pages. And this book only* covers the first twenty-nine years of the Chevrolet Corvette.
If the title seems familiar, hey, good eye! This is a brand new edition of Karl Ludvigsen’s seminal 1973 book that first explained and delineated the iconic All-American automotive phenomena.
Okay, maybe this is a wee bit more than simply a new edition. By actual count, Ludvigsen has added 364 pages, 489 photos and/or illustrations, 33 new chapters, and 12 pages of (very) valuable appendices beyond the original ’73 book (add your own exclamation point here). This book also has a feature that we rarely see in books about motoring and motorsports, and that’s a book mark ribbon. Here it’s an obvious help in saving one’s place in the book. Its inclusion signals that this is meant to be a serious reference book. It is.
“Encyclopedic” is a good word for this one. For those who are seriously interested in the history, lore, and legend of the first three decades of a fiberglass-bodied two-seater that’s named after a small fighting ship, this book can well-function as their Corvette (lower case) bible
This book is as much about the people who pushed hard to make the Corvette a world-class sports car as it is about the hardware, styling, and engineering. The 29 years presented here (1953-1982) reveal how and where the legend was crafted.
This is the expert and fully-detailed re-telling of the star-spangled history of the Corvette brand name. Ed Cole, Bill Mitchell, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and the less well-known (but utterly brilliant) chassis engineer/designer Maurice Olley, are all present here. All played vital roles not only in the birth, but in the critical formative years of this magical marquee—always steering it towards performance rather than pretty.
Chapter after chapter, author Ludvigsen not only gives us the full and complete details (both verbal and visual), he seasons each passage with deep insider details from the people who were there—as he was, early on as a GM staff person himself. The genealogy of the C1, C2 and C3 are all here, with all of the players top to bottom.
We mentioned performance above, and the early racing career of the Corvette was a very important part of this car’s halo effect on the entire Chevrolet vehicle line. Shortly after they suck that first 265 cubic-inch V-8 under the hood, the Corvette design group started to get serious about racing.
Corvette had a pretty good time of it for a while, and then one day in the early ’Sixties, they turn around and suddenly have Carroll Shelby snapping at their heels with his Cobras (lightweight Anglo-American hot rods that were really not production cars). The Cobras were called “Corvette Killers” and did a lot of that in its day. As it turns out, the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, prevailed, and it’s the Corvette that’s still running strong some 50+ years later. Chevy still sells every one they can make.
The racing heritage that begins here in this book features a set of names that reverberate through the halls of motorsports history: Bob Bondurant, Dick Thompson, Roger Penske, A.J. Foyt Jr., Don Yenko, Doug Hooper, Tony DeLorenzo, Jerry Hansen, Dick Smothers, Masten Gregory, Betty Skelton, John Fitch, Bob Grossman, Andy Porterfield, Dick Guldstrand, Piero Taruffi and countless others—all proudly drove Chevrolet Corvettes to glory at one time or another.
There is physicality to this book that’s almost intimidating. It’s a big, heavy, nearly 800-page book that has the aforementioned built-in page bookmark ribbon (as if to remind its reader that they are not going to cruise through it in one sitting). Holding it (comfortably) on one’s lap begs for one of those Brookstone “reading pillows”. But as physically weighty as this one is, the writing is clean, quickly-paced, and totally free of any artifice. The stories are told and the information is made available in a true and straightforward voice.
The above said, this incredible augmentation of Ludvigsen’s classic 1973 book, is truly one of the easiest to read, most interesting, and most seriously informative of any of the multitude of books on the Corvette. Pick it up, look up a name (car, people, and places) and dive in where you like, or read a chapter a night; in strict chronological order for a month and twenty-two days. Either way, the classic Corvette charisma is fully present and well-stated.
For this reviewer, one of the best features of this book is the author’s sharp and enlightening use of direct period quotes from contemporary automotive magazines. As the Corvette progresses from the C1 to C2 to C3 iterations, these well-chosen comments give today’s reader a real time understanding of how the Corvette was regarded by the media over the twenty-nine years that this book chronicles. And a light peppering of some of the best of the Corvette print ads extends the feel of authenticity. This sense of the times is one of the features that make this book so worthwhile as a living history lesson.
Then there’s the inevitable listing of the what-might-have-beens; luscious project cars that 30 and 40 years later still stop the eye and start one seriously wondering why they didn’t build the damn things.
Known by captivating names like: The Corvette SS, Aerocoupe, Aerovette, Cerv I & II, Stingray, Mako Shark II, Grand Sport, GS-11b, GS-3, Astro I & II, XP-64, Manta Ray Endura, Astro-Vette, Hurricane, X-15, and the Wankel-powered XP-987GT. They were all Corvettes. As readers will discover, one of them became the progenitor of Texan Jim Hall’s incredible dynasty of Chaparral race cars!
A full chapter and more is dedicated to GRP (we always called the Corvette bodywork “fiberglass” but that’s a brand name) “glass reinforced plastic” is the stuff and the Corvette people having been using the material to good effect since the beginning of the line. At one point early-on (when they were building less than 10,000 copies per year) it was far easier and faster to mould limited production run bodies with GRP (rather than stamping them out of steel). As the years went by, Corvettes and “fiberglass” … er GRP bodywork became part of the car’s DNA … a metal-bodied Corvette would simply be wrong then and still would even now.
Of course, one might thoroughly expect (and will get) a good set of appendices in book. There are fully 35 pages of technical background information including the marque’s racing history thorough 1982 and extensive year-by-year charts of the following items of interest: Engines (size, bore/stroke, compression ratio, horsepower, and year it was offered, Production and Sales, Serial Numbers, Colors (including what company supplied the paint!)By Model Year, Base Specifications, and even Equipment Buying Trends, and Corvette’s Racing Record.
Add in an excellent bibliography that will lead readers to other important Corvette articles and important books. Two examples: Paul Van Valkenburgh’s 1972 secret-spilling (NO … make that truth-telling please) “Chevrolet – Racing Fourteen Years of Raucous Silence! 1957-1970” and Jerry Burton’s sparkling 2006 bio of the iconic Arkus-Duntov simply titled “Zora” . As with every other tool in his repertory, Ludvigsen gets maximum impact out of these references without ever a trace of overuse.
And then there’s my personal measure of any book that purports to be a serious recitation of historic fact … the index. A quick check of my book reading M.O. will invariable find me there churning though the listings, right after reading the author’s introduction.
From what’s been reported so far the reader should conclude that this book has an extensive index. It runs fully 15 pages and it is the place where one might find: Al-Fin process, 146, 207-208, 304; Von Trips, Wolfgang, 319; Rattlesnake Raceway, 483, 503, 504; Guldstrand, Dick 189-190, 440, 441, 466, 476, 477, 564-565, 581; McClurg, Bob, 316-38; Lister-Corvette automobile, 266; Mears, Rick 699; Hydrovac brakes, 269; Traco Engineering, 439, 442, 476; ZF transmission, 146,171; and fourteen and seven-eighths pages more of Corvette-critical information.
A quick note here about the photos and illustrations (as noted in the books physical description there are almost 1000 of them, 989 to be accurate (and this book is very accurate). There’s a wealth of great photos from all over the map: from staged studio PR kit shots to rarely-seen photos borrowed from private collections. Ditto the above praise for the illustrations, cutaways, and sketches that likewise serve the text with alacrity.
The inside front and inside rear covers have a lovely Corvette Genealogy chart which portrays both the show cars and the production vehicles across the pages as the years go by from 1954 to 1982. About my only complaint with this whole book is that this important visual depiction of the family tree from inception to ’82 was not included as a full foldout page as well.
As we leave the first twenty-nine years of Corvette story at the end of 1982, Ludvigsen simply thanks his reader for the sort of support that the original version this book received over the years and expresses his hopes that “… this version and the C3-C7 counterpart will deserve being welcomed with similar enthusiasm.” -DS
*On further review, that word “only” seems a bit misplaced here. These are the first twenty-nine years of a brand that quite easily could have become a silly toy or a flash in the pan. It did not … and the reader will find out here precisely why that did not happen.
A PERSONAL NOTE While working for Mickey Thompson in the mid-80’s I came upon a strange looking trophy that was shoved away under a work bench. Shaped like a very tall/thin modernistic interpretation of a water pitcher it was inscribed: “LA Times Grand Prix – Three Hour Invitational Race – October 13, 1962”. I asked Mickey what it was for and he indicated that he had forgotten. Did I want it? Sure! I took it home and found a wonderful place for the oddity, in a niche on the outside of my home’s fireplace … it was perfect fit and stayed there though rain/shine and anything else that the outdoors could through at it for many seasons. A number of years later I was reading an account of racing at Riverside in one of the magazines that covers vintage racing and come across the story of the ‘Times 3-hour Enduro and how Mickey Thompson’s (factory) Corvette, driven by Doug Hooper, won the first-ever showdown with the vaunted Shelby Cobras on … right … October 13, 1962. The trophy was brought inside the house shortly thereafter. The next day I got on the phone to ex-Mickey Thompson employee, ex-San Fernando cop Doug Hooper who then was operating a Corvette-centric auto shop in North Hollywood. I asked what he received for winning the ’62 Times race at Riverside. Of course there was no prize money, but he did say that he clocked in on Friday at M/T’s shop and was allowed to clock out (and then back in again) on Monday. I asked if he remembered a trophy. Sure, Mick had long ago sent it back to Chevy HQ in Detroit for their trophy case. I asked when he’d next be in the shop. Silly question of course, because when the lights were on and the door unlocked he was there. … And so, a day or two later, with a couple of bewildered customers standing in as an admiring throng, I re-presented the iconic trophy to Hooper by ceremoniously pulling it out of a brown paper shopping bag and asking the big guy if it looked familiar. Doug is gone now, but in 2007, when he was being inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame in Bowling Green, he called to once again thank me for taking care of the trophy all that time and to tell me that he was taking it with him to the ceremonies in Kentucky. –DS BOOK NOTES Many readers will know of Bentley Publishers and a number of the other cool Corvette books that they publish. Books like “Zora”, Jerry Burton’s terrific bio of Chevrolet’s godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov, “Corvette from the Inside” by former chief engineer Dave McLellan, and the Alan Colvin “Corvette by the Numbers” series of tech-spec books. If Corvette fever has you by the short hairs, one or more of these excellent books are recommended as an antidote (though more the likely, they’ll act more like an accelerant!). WANT A FREE COPY? Doug Stokes closes his above LA Car review of this book with a very personal Corvette experience of his own. Do you have a personal Corvette experience that we can share with our LA Car audience? Send us your story (350 words or less please) and we’ll not only publish the best one here at LACar.com, but the writer will receive the actual review copy of the book. This offer is open to anyone and everyone. Send your special personal Corvette story by October 17, 2014 to: LA Car - Corvette Story 618 West Palm Avenue Monrovia, CA 91016 Or email it to our managing editor at [email protected], or send it as a message to LA Car’s Facebook page at facebook.com/lacarcom To purchase the book on Amazon, click here