Last Saturday, the world’s first Corvette returned to its birthplace.
The Corvette concept was unveiled at the 1953 Motorama show in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue, in Midtown Manhattan. That car, a white model with red accents, was on hand Saturday to illustrate a presentation by Ed Welburn, the General Motors global vice president of design, to the company’s international sales executives. General Motors is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet this year and expanding sales efforts outside the United States.
“The whole story is new to them,” said Mr. Welburn, referring to the struggles of Harley Earl, Mr. Welburn’s predecessor, who envisioned the small, sporty car but had to battle G.M. executives to get it into production.
“Earl saw small, sporty European cars at Watkins Glen,” Mr. Welburn said, a reference to the racetrack in upstate New York. “Originally, the car was called the XP-122. He named it Corvette after a kind of ship from World War II.”
Mr. Welburn regaled his guests with tales of Motorama’s opening day at the Waldorf, when police had to control a 45,000-person crowd intent on viewing the Corvette and other dream cars like the Buick Wildcat, Pontiac La Parisienne, Oldsmobile Starfire and Cadillac Orleans.
The show was accompanied by a revue with singers and dancers. After a couple of weeks, the cars were loaded into streamlined trucks, and the show moved to other cities. A total of 1.4 million people saw it.
Unlike most of its 1953 Motorama peers, however, the Corvette went into production.
“Kerbeck has the nameplate that reads XP-122,” he said. “It attaches with Philips head screws, so I think they keep it locked in a safe.”
After addressing his international colleagues at the Waldorf, Mr. Welburn sat in the car and pointed out the graceful, scalloped pattern of the instruments. “That makes it feel open,” he said, before calling attention to the double-cockpit format of the dash — a frame of instruments are positioned behind the wheel and balanced by a wedge of speakers on the passenger side.
“Talk about design DNA, we still have the double cockpit theme in the Camaro and Malibu,” he said.
For Mr. Welburn, sitting in the car in the ballroom was like being in a sacred place. “I can’t believe I’m sitting here,” he said. “This is very emotional for me.”
While behind the wheel, Mr. Welburn made a call to the jeweler Nicola Bulgari, a friend of Mr. Welburn and an avid collector of vintage American cars. “Nicola?” he said, “I’m sitting in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in the 1953 Corvette. 1953. Yes, 1953.”