For decades, EX-122 has been known as the Corvette in which the V-8 was developed. But, was this car also the famous Motorama show Corvette displayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in January 1953?
We also have some evidence EX-122, although show, was the car Chevrolet counted as the first of the 300-unit production run numbered for the '53 model year. This last theory is new and will ruffle a few feathers in the hobby. Keep in mind, at this point it is conjecture.
According to George Kerbeck, EX-122 was re-bodied by Chevrolet. So, the unique show-car features were missing when Jack Ingle bought the car from Russell Sanders on October 10, 1959. We have a photocopy of Ingle's check, written for $1,000.
Perhaps the re-body is why Ingle did not promote the car or restore it as the Motorama show car of 1953. Under the hood was a 265 V-8. The body was a '55. The hubcaps were '56.
Nonetheless, Ingle received a letter postmarked December 8, 1959 from R.F. Sanders, then director of Engineering & Sales of Rochester Products Division. In this business-formal, three-page, typed letter, Sanders explained the car he sold Ingle was EX-122. It was built in the "Experimental Department of Chevrolet Engineering" in Detroit in the "latter part of 1952." EX-122, he wrote, was to be the Motorama show car put on display at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. It was "carried, babied, and handled" in shows in the United States. Afterward, it was parked in the lobby of the General Motors Building for public display. Later, it went back to the Engineering Department and was used as a test car.
The new V-8 was under development, so engineers installed the 265 in place of the inline six with three Carter side-draft carburetors. Sanders cites the car became a "plaything for the Engineering Department" and was used for "various performance demonstrations."
When Chevrolet decided to go ahead with a V-8 in the production Corvette, EX-122, still 265-powered, ran a 25,000-mile durability test. On completion, it was torn down, each part was inspected, and reports were made. Finally, the car was reassembled, repainted red, a new top and new seats were installed, a new speedometer was installed, the transmission was completely overhauled, safety items were replaced, and a new set of tires were put on.
Sanders explained in his letter that EX-122 was next used as a courtesy car for about 5,000 miles, then put up for sale. He bought it on April 11, 1956. He writes of the "considerable difficulty" to license the car in the states of Michigan and New York due to the serial number, EX 122, which denotes an experimentally built automobile. His daughter drove the Corvette while she attended the University of Rochester, where she was known as "the girl with the little red sports car." When she transferred to Michigan State University at East Lansing, she was not permitted to have a car, so EX-122 went up for sale.
In his final paragraph of this letter, Sanders addresses the subject of the first Corvette ever built. He says EX-122 was not the first Corvette ever built. It was the first Corvette built for show. However, the previous Corvettes were test cars and "looked nothing like a Corvette at all, having some handmade bodies in place of the smooth plastic body which was finally released for production."
From the facts in this letter, EX-122 is the car pictured here. It's documented by both the VIN plate (EX-122) and the fact it has been in the possession of Jack Ingle from 1959 until recently, when the Kerbeck brothers (Charley, George, and Frank) of Kerbeck Chevrolet, the largest Corvette dealer in the country, bought the car. They maintain a modest collection of about 30 Corvettes and various GM musclecars. You can see them at www.kerbeck.com.
George recalls first seeing EX-122 in the Special Collection at Bloomington in 1993. His brother, Charley, was with him. "We were walking around and saw this car. At that time it was painted Venetian Red, or a shade similar to Venetian Red. It had this V-8 engine and the placard out in front of it that said 'EX-122.'"
George and Charley were "totally intrigued." In all their searches for unique and interesting Corvettes, they never knew such a car existed. Having the "car-dealer mentality," George "had to own" this Corvette. He figured it was "just too special to go through life without."
They met the owner, Jack Ingle, and his son, David. Jack explained he bought the car in 1959 from a good friend who worked for General Motors. The car was not for sale. Jack planned to own the car until the day he died.
"He went on to tell us he had this house on Lake Canandaigua," Jack continued. "He built a living room for the car, and the car sat in the living room and overlooked the lake. It was his prized possession. He loved going to shows and showing the car."
Being persistent, George would call up Ingle "probably twice a year." If you know George, you know he's not the pushy type. He's polite and cordial. He would explain, "You know I'm in love with your car and I know it's not for sale, but if you ever change your mind."
The conversation went on for seven years. In "1997 or 1998," George almost bought EX-122. Jack just couldn't go through with the deal and it was left to his family to sell the car after he died three years ago.
When the Kerbecks bought the historic Corvette from the Ingle estate, they began a restoration to return it to its Motorama show-car looks. For the first time in about 50 years, inside and out (but not under the hood) the car looks like the original show Corvette that appeared at the Waldorf Astoria in January 1953.
It's a sight to behold with its exterior door buttons, special gold body emblems, and other unique features of the show car which did not make production. The Kerbecks reproduced these items by scrutinizing original photographs and transparencies retrieved from Noland Adams and Chevrolet archives. (It was Noland Adams who blew up a photo of the shift knob. On a regular '53, this knob is white. On this car, it is red.) In this way, the show car came back to life.
At the '53 Corvette 50th anniversary celebration in Flint, Michigan, in the summer of 2003, George Kerbeck was surprised when Ken Kayser, who works for GM, handed him a blueprint of the exact body-side molding. Painstakingly, the Motorama show car surfaced.
There were two Motorama show Corvettes, the Waldorf car (for the U.S.) and a second one that George Kerbeck told us was built for Canadian display. Apparently, these two show cars were very similar. The Waldorf version, EX-122, had two scoops on top of the front fenders. The Canadian car had white piping around the glovebox and door pouches.
"We had to re-create the cowl scoops. We also had to re-create the body-side spear molding. On a production '53, the headlight doors are much fatter, and on a production '53 the headlight doors don't open. But, if you study the pictures of the Motorama car, you can see they are hinged into the body. And so we made the headlight doors an exact duplicate of the headlight doors that were originally in the car."
The Motorama show car also came with door buttons. The bullets on the bumpers front and rear are two-piece. "Corvette" is also spelled out in script on the nose and decklid on the Motorama show car. Apparently, Chevrolet wanted the public and press to read the name of this car when they saw and photographed it.
The interior is considerably different from a production car. George pointed out the main difference is "a great big frame around the seats." The dashboard is all fiberglass. It doesn't have the vinyl "roll" that comes down the door panel and goes around the dash. The Motorama car also had a different arrangement of knobs and two extra knobs, as well. The knobs left and right of the dash opened and closed the cowl scoops on top of the front fenders.
The Kerbecks sweated over what to do with the 265 under the hood. They decided to leave it, for one big reason. Historically, this car was quite possibly the first V-8 installation ever in a Corvette. For the record, Chevrolet pulled the test engine and replaced it with a fresh 265 before it was put up for sale in 1956. But, it's still a 265. It's still the original installation. George pointed out the notch in the frame to fit the V-8. He speaks of a "fraction" of the Corvette cognoscenti who think they should have left EX-122 in the configuration it left GM in 1956. At that time, the car looked like a production '55 model.
They did not make their decision without counsel. George called Noland Adams, the straight-axle guru and author of the exhaustive book, "The Complete Corvette Restoration & Technical Guide, Vol. 1, 1953 through 1962," for his opinion.
"I said, 'Before I do this, you're like the king. What do you think?' And he said, 'I've told everybody from the beginning, the car never should have been put back together like a '55. It's too significant to the hobby not to look the other way.' So I figured, You know what? That's the way we're going to go."
The Corvette hobby is embracing EX-122 today as the Waldorf Astoria show Corvette. At the prestigious 2002 Concours d'Elegance at Meadow Brook Hall, the Kerbecks received the Matilda and Alfred Wilson Award for the Best Featured Sports Car.
In the 2003 GM Styling Dome, it won an award for Privately Owned Concept Vehicle in the Eyes On Design show.
And when the new C6 Corvette is unveiled at Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance in 2004, Bill Warner has requested EX-122 be parked right next to it.
EX-122, it appears, is right back on the show-car circuit where it started. Any day of the week, it is on display at Kerbeck in Atlantic City. Anybody can have their picture taken next to it. George, Charlie, and Frank are not fussy types. They're good, old Corvette boys.
What If?Could the long-lost and thought destroyed Corvette No. 1 actually be EX-122 seen here? A July 24, 1953, Chevrolet interoffice memo from Mr. H.R. Yount to D.W. Thomas of the Engineering Department, is evidence to support this belief.
The memo states, "To facilitate identification of the Corvettes, it is suggested that they be numbered as follows:
Corvette #1 will be the car which has been used in the Motorama and is the car with the hydraulic hood and rear deck cylinders presently installed.
Corvette #2. This car is the second show car which, at present, does not have the hydraulic cylinders installed.
Corvette #3. This car will be the first production car designated for use by the Sales Department."
The memo goes on to state, "There are to be eight more production Corvettes designated for Sales Department use during August. Continue to number these cars consecutively from three up as they are received from production."
If, indeed, EX-122 was Chevrolet Corvette No. 1, and the second show car was No. 2, and No. 3 was the "first production car," then the historic photo of those first three cars coming off the assembly line at Flint, Michigan, on June 30, 1953 might actually be Nos. 3, 4, and 5, rather than Nos. 1, 2, and 3.
This is conjecture at this point, but it does makes some sense. Actually, all '53 Corvettes were handbuilt show cars. So, it would be logical for Chevrolet to number the two show cars with the production cars.