The problem was that the Corvette was already failing, and failing badly.
Rushing to market in 1953, Chevrolet produced only 300 Corvettes. To build prestige, dealers were told to restrict sales to V.I.P.s, such as mayors, business leaders and favorite customers.
For 1954, G.M. geared up to produce 10,000 Corvettes. But faced with low demand, it built only 3,640. The year ended with about 1,100 unsold. Part of the problem was the Corvette’s humdrum 150-horsepower Blue Flame Six. Then there was the expense; the Corvette listed for $2,774 (nearly $27,000 in 2020 dollars), reduced from the $3,498 (roughly $34,000) list price for the 1953 model. But thrill seekers could buy a Jaguar, a Triumph, an MG or an Austin-Healey for about that price or less.
G.M. discussed ending production.
Then Chevy got wind of a Ford project — a two-seater. The Thunderbird. To cancel the Corvette when faced with the Thunderbird would look like surrender. The Corvette got a fortuitous reprieve.
Fortuitous because Cole, who had joined forces with Arkus-Duntov, had their small-block ready for production.
Chevrolet officially named the small-block the Turbo-Fire. Hot-rodders called it “Mighty Mouse.”
In 1955, Chevrolet fretfully built only 700 Corvettes. “They pretty much sold out,” Mr. Moore said.
More than that, it put Chevy head to head in the two-seater market against Ford.