Lightweight Garage #6 Fibre-reinforced Plastic Body of GM Corvette C1 (1953)

The Vehicle

The history of cars with bodies made of glass-fibre-reinforced plastic (GFRP) dates back to the 1950s. Paving the way for mass-produced cars with plastic bodies, the Corvette C1 appeared in 1953 and was the first stage in the Corvette success story.

©Sicnag, CC BY 2.0, 1955 Chevrolet C1 Corvette Roadster

The MFG's CEO Robert Morrison can be named as the main person responsible for this turn of events, since he was able to convince the decision-makers at the GM company to use GFRP despite advanced talks about steel body components. All generations of the iconic car, which has been on the market for almost 70 years, have body elements made of fibre-reinforced plastics.

The Technology

The body of the Corvette C1 was made from glass fibres embedded in a thermoset matrix. From a structural-mechanical point of view, such fibre-reinforced plastics have a strict separation of tasks, which has a very beneficial effect on the properties of the structure. The fibres absorb the loads that occur, and their orientation has an excellent effect on the direction-dependent properties of the component. The matrix protects and supports the fibres and is responsible for load transfer.

©攝影師, CC0, Fiberglass

The possibility of precise shaping, immense weight-saving potential and rust-free properties are further arguments for using GFRP. On the other hand, the production of the Corvette C1 was a major challenge, which meant that the number of cars produced in the first year was severely below average. A significant improvement in manufacturing technology had to wait until 1968, when all components were manufactured using the press mould process.

The Lightweighting Effect

Manufacturing the body from a GFRP can significantly improve the mass/performance ratio of the vehicle. However, the use of GFRP bodies is not common nowadays due to the increased demands on structural components. One conceivable solution is additional use of a stiffer and stronger frame, which significantly reduces the holistically viewed lightweight potential of the GFRP components.

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