ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Archive photo from the Chattanooga News-Free Press by Bob Sherrill. This 1953 photograph shows Wilburn C. Hailey, president of Hailey Chevrolet, presenting the keys to a new Chevrolet Corvette convertible to Gordon P. Street, president of the Wheland Company here.

What looks like a normal car purchase in this mid-century newspaper photo was actually a historic handshake.

The year was 1953 and General Motors had just begun limited production on what would become the company's iconic sports car, a two-seat convertible called the Chevrolet Corvette.

In this photo, Wilburn C. Hailey, Sr., president of Hailey Chevrolet located at 1700 Broad Street, hands over a new Corvette convertible to Gordon P. Street, a prominent Chattanooga industrialist who was president of the Wheland Company here at the time.

The photo caption notes that it was the first Corvette sold in Chattanooga. There were about 300 of the 1953 Corvettes manufactured and sold nationwide.

Interestingly, Street's foundry made the oversized steel brake drums that were standard equipment on the new Corvette, which sold for about $3,500 in 1953. Inflation alone would push that price up to about $35,000 in 2022 dollars, but some early 1953 Corvettes (which are extremely collectible) have sold at auction in recent years for more than $1 million.

"The first Corvette went into production in Flint, Michigan, on June 30, 1953. Since then, Corvette has become an American icon that continues to offer the best in today's technology and performance," touts the General Motors media website.

Today, the Corvette is the world's longest-running, continually produced passenger car and is available in an array of colors. In 1953, the only color available was Polo White with a red interior. Were this photo in color, you could see the red seats. The Corvette was produced only as a convertible for 10 years.

Chattanooga History.com

Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.

If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives or original nondigital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

In 1953, Hailey Chevrolet was one of two Chevy dealerships in Chattanooga. The other was Newton Chevrolet, 329 Market Street. Today, the 1700 Broad Street address is occupied by DosBros Fresh Mexican Grille, Smoothie King and Smart Furniture Studio.

According to newspaper archives, the Hailey Chevrolet dealership was later operated by Wilburn "Buddy" Hailey, Jr., son of the original owner and a graduate of the Baylor School and the University of Chattanooga.

In 1971 the Hailey Chevrolet family dealership was sold to Ed Wright, a former GM executive who had worked in the Atlanta area prior to acquiring the Chattanooga car store. Afterward, the Broad Street dealership was known as Ed Wright Chevrolet.

Hailey Chevrolet was part of a cluster of auto dealerships on Broad Street in the first half of the 20th Century. Other Broad Street dealerships included Cadillac-Oldsmobile Co., Austin Motors (Hudson), D.S. Etheridge Co. (Ford-Mercury), Broad Street Garage (Packard) and Crescent Motors (Studebaker).

This photo is part of collection of historic images archived at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website curated by local history enthusiast Sam Hall.

Follow the "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group on Facebook.

Remember When is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPcolumnist.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT