Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile. Chuck Yeager and the sound barrier. Zefram Cochrane and warp drive. The history of the human race is filled with examples of brave souls pushing the boundaries of speed and power ever further with their courage and cunning. In the 1950s, the goal of achieving one horsepower per cubic inch of engine was one of these seemingly insurmountable challenges.
The 1957 Corvette met the challenge, though it was actually the second production vehicle to do so. The first was the Chrysler 300B with its 354-cid hemi V8. This didn’t stop the ad men at Chevy from using the accomplishment to their brand’s advantage, by blaring the news that the “one horsepower per cubic inch” threshold had been reached.
That magic powerplant responsible for the feat was the now-legendary 283-ci V-8, one of the most highly regarded engines ever built. The 283 was actually the already-existing 265 ci engine with the cylinder bored out an additional 1/8”. This modification, along with Chevy’s breakthrough Ramjet fuel injection system, boosted the engine to 283 hp, just enough to give its builders room to boast.
While the 283 fuel-injected engine got a lot of press from the publicity department, the ’57 Corvette’s performance was boosted as much if not more by the optional four-speed manual gearbox introduced late in that year. Other options available for the ’57 were a hydraulically-operated convertible top, upgraded suspension and brakes, power windows, and a Delco AM radio that used both traditional vacuum tubes and newfangled transistors in its internal circuitry. Standard features included dual exhaust, vinyl bucket seats, carpeting, and an ultra-cool three-spoke steering wheel. Base price was $3565.00, or about $29,000.00 in today’s money.
Due to ongoing technical issues, only a few ’57 Corvettes were sold with fuel injection. The majority came equipped with a more traditional – and more dependable – four-barrel Carter carburetor. A total of 6,339 were built, far more than just two years before, when over 700 rolled off the assembly lines. The next year, 1958, the new cars turned a profit for the first time, a sign of greater things to come.