Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Corvette Origins

1953 Vega RoadsterAnswer to last week's trivia question: 1953 Vega Roadster. This car was displayed at the latest Barrett-Jackson auction. There is some debate between the Street Level crew weather or not this could be considered a concept car for the T-Bird. You be the judge. "This one off prototype was commissioned by Ford Motor Company and financed by Henry Ford II. Willys Wagner, stylist for the International Division of Ford Motor Company and the legendary Indy racecar designer Frank Kurtis awarded the project to automotive designer Vince Gardner. Vince's resume includes Studebaker, Ford, Budd car body manufacturer, and most notably, the Auburn Automobile Company design department under the direction of Gordon Buehrig, the design team responsible for the famed Cord 810. Vince's influences from his days at the Auburn Automobile Company are clearly evident in the Vega's (Cord like) disappearing headlights. Vince spent over 2 years building the lightweight aluminum bodied roadster. Henry Ford would check on the progress and sometimes bring his celebrity friends, Groucho Marx and Red Skelton. Howard Hughes also paid a visit. Upon the cars completion, Ford Motor Company summoned the "one off" Vega roadster back to Dearborn to celebrate the firms 50th anniversary. Ford displayed the Vega for several years at its Rotunda Exhibition Hall in Dearborn. Then it slipped into obscurity. However, not before a seed was planted. While strolling through the 1953 Paris Auto Show, Henry Ford II, first acknowledged interest in building his own two seat roadster, which would become the 55 Thunderbird.'' - Barrett-Jackson

This week's trivia: Name the three different cities in which corvettes have been produced. Lets not get cute and talk about how someone may have built one in their garage. I'm talking about normal production corvette plants.


Cope said...

Conveniently, Ford has an article online specifically detailing the development of the Thunderbird. It tells the story of an upper-level executive and an overly enthusiastic designer walking along the aisles of the Grand Palais in Paris in 1951. Louis D. Crusoe had openly wondered why Ford didn't have a two-seat sports car, and George Walker made an empty promise of just such a thing already in progress back in the U.S. A quick phone call later, and a project was put in motion in time for the gentlemen’s' return.
The article details the inspirations for the design, and techniques used to develop the car. It also makes mention of an internal naming contest that resulted in the first and only name, "Thunderbird."
What the article does not mention is Willys Wagner or his one-off Vega. My interpretation of the Barret-Jackson article is that Henry Ford II had the Vega built for his own, personal use. After discovering the merits of just such a car, he gave the green light to the fledgling Thunderbird project so that the Ford Motor Company could offer a model of its own.
Suggesting that the Thunderbird was based on or inspired by the Vega, or that the Vega was a concept or design study for the Thunderbird is, in my opinion, totally false.

LymanSS said...

I have to agree with Mr. Cope on this one. It appears as though the Vega played no part in the actual development process of the Thunderbird. Neither its body styling, nor its engineering were carried over to the Thunderbird. It does not share a name with the car, nor even appear to have been part of the same development program. It might be argued that the car planted the seed for the Thunderbird by illustrating the gap in Ford's product line. However the same could be said for the 1953 Corvette.