All American Sports Car: 1954 Corvette

1954 Corvette

When Chevrolet began developing the Corvette, they set out to create an all American Sports car. They knew it needed to handle better than anything else America had to offer, but still have all the looks and style Americans had come to expect. They couldn’t have ever imagined the impact the Corvette would have on the automotive world or how desirable they would become. Of all the generations, the first few years are the most sought after and many a Barn Finder has dreamt of discovering one of these gems! Whoever found this 1954 Corvette must have felt like a million bucks when they pulled it out of the barn. It can now be found here on eBay, with bidding already over $20k.

Corvette C1 Engine

It’s funny how things go sometimes. When the Corvette first went on sale, demand was extremely low. Like usual, Chevy matched production to demand so very few were built over the first few years. It wasn’t until years later that these early cars were given the attention and appreciation they deserve. It’s always struck me as being ironic how the lack of demand for a car when its new can turn into incredible prices for it down the road. Early Corvettes are the perfect example of how limited production, good looks, and nostalgia can add up to some serious numbers.

Corvette C1 Interior

Speaking of numbers, I’ve found that they don’t always add up when it comes to these cars. The first few years had lots of hiccups and the Blue Flame inline six didn’t offer that amazing of performance, yet these cars can easily demand six figures at auction. What is even more incredible is that a car in rough shape can even fetch serious money. This example is believed to be a survivor, which adds some value, but it is in need of some serious attention. The body has had some previous damage, the engine currently isn’t running, and worst of all the frame is quite rusty. On the upside, all the original pieces are here and the interior looks to be in beautiful condition. Even with these pluses, I’m having a hard time justifying the current bids. Fixing or replacing the frame certainly isn’t going to be cheap or easy!

Corvette C1 Frame

I’ve always loved the looks of the early Corvettes, but I’ve never fully understood why they are worth so much. There are plenty of other cars out there that can outperform them and I know of several cars that offer just as good (if not better) looks, yet these fetch top dollar. Perhaps it is nostalgia that drives their values or maybe it’s something else? Maybe, just maybe, these are so valuable because they represent the first time America built a sports car that got the balance of performance, looks, and reliability right? I don’t know, but I’m curious to hear what you guys think of the C1 Vette?

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Comments

  1. jon howell

    I love these emails and love your page! I do agree with the memo you sent a couple weeks ago that it has moved away from “real barn finds” (aka; affordable cars that need some attention) to Ferrari’s, Corvette’s and Porsche’s that are not easily obtained by most of the fans, here. I love all cars with a passion but would rather see the moth-balled 289 Mustang for sale that sat since it’s owner never returned from the war over a basket case Aston Martin in France with bids starting at 40,000.00. Otherwise, I still love it! Happy Holidays!

  2. L.M.K. Member

    I always admired the front on these early Vettes but I’ve never liked the rear . Not that it matters but I doubt the original low mileage claim. Just too much undercarriage rust and wear showing in the engine compartment for such a low mileage car. But none of this matters. It’ll still pull a decent set of numbers . It’s worthy of a complete restoration.

  3. Tracy Carver

    I am having a hard time with the frame rusting. I looks to me that the car was stored outside on the dirt but covered. If the frame is that bad then I wonder what the body will look like when stripped. The front floor board on the driver side gives me concern . It is an original survivor now but definitely not when it will be restored. I too am having a hard time with the price.

    • Ric Parrish

      Hello…..the body is plastic.

  4. DRV

    It seems as though in the past there have been many 53 to 55 Corvettes in good original shape. They were quickly out of date and stored away because everyone wanted the newer and much better next generation as this one only lasted 3 years in looks and performance if ever. I worked on a 54 with 14k miles on it and litterally had the original air in the tires in 1994. A fluid change and anything rubber change all around and it was a good driver. This one has crossed the bridge over to needing everything to be a driver so I would have to fully restore it if it was mine.
    I had a 58 for 25 years and to me they were no sports car and very similar to driving a stiff Belair with a little more motor. The reason I had one was to build it exactly the same as my dads and it truly brought back that feeling as a kid I remembered so well. My favorite memory was seeing that back end when the garage door opened and staring into the red lenses of the tail lights wondering what it looked like under them! The teeth and fake scoops were a wonder also if you were a kid. The puffing of the exhaust up high and out of the bumper had to make a motor head out of any 8 year old kid. The grab bar and separation of bucket seats by the “glove box” was way cool to play with as a kid. My dad rallied it, but also rallied his 55 Belair , 53 Jaguar and 52 MG before owning the 58 Corvette only to get rid of it a year later because it hurt his back from sitting on the rear axle he would say.
    What makes them so valuable is all you have mentioned together and a huge , cheap, and diverse supply system for every nut and bolt on them backed up by clubs. I can’t think of any old car with so much support available.
    I am not your regular Corvette guy, almost anti Corvette guy, but still always wanted and eventually had those memories restored and made a ton of money at the same time when I was done with it.

  5. DRV

    Did I mention that at $30k and above you will be upside down on this as soon as you fix anything on it.

  6. Ric Parrish

    I live five miles from the Barrett/Jackson, you guys are clueless. Done right that’s easily 100k + at Berret. You guys couldn’t have been any part of the car/drag craze of the 50’s 60’s or 70’s and make those incredible statements about Vettes

  7. Dolphin Member

    These ’54 Corvettes can reach $100K or more as Ric said, but they need to be perfect or almost perfect to do that, and although I have not restored one of these I would not take the chance myself and then expect to be ahead financially at the end. They made 3,640 of these in 1954 but only 300 in 1953, which is why the ’54s are worth half or less what the ’53s are worth in comparable condition. So the model year and how correct the car ends up after the restoration count for a lot.

    As the seller says, the frame on this car needs to be replaced. Much of it is either gone or very thin. Once you replace the frame on a car the question comes up whether it can still be called the same car, or whether it’s a cobbled-together car with less value. I think this car is best restored by someone with lots of experience and some spare parts around.

    The seller is in Scottsdale and sells a lot of cars, so the fact that he listed this early Vette on ebay makes me think it doesn’t have a lot of appeal as a project for most Vette guys.

  8. Rancho Bella

    I am not a Corvette guy, I was, but I learned my lessons. Exception? the earliest ones.
    I find them to so nice looking. Don’t know if I like a steering wheel rubbing on my thighs but whata’ ya gonna do?

    Speaking/writing of the steering wheel…………if the car has so little mileage, why is the color gone from the steering wheel.

  9. geomechs geomechs Member

    Since Corvette and I both got started in ’53, my goal is to have a ’53 Vette. Of course I’d have to have a significant shot in the arm to accomplish that. The only other Vette I would want would be a ’60-’62, just because that model appeals to me. I’ve heard a lot of cons about how the early Vettes are poor handling and don’t even compare to the ones 10 years down the road. I’m sure the early cars are quicker and handle a lot better than my ’49 Chev, and let’s face it: ’53 was just the beginning; ’63 had a lot of testing and design experience so it was bound to be a lot better. And so on… Bottom line: I really don’t care if they lack the handling of a newer car; I’d just love to have one and enjoy it.

  10. John b

    The reason the corvette has been so successful over the years is because when purchased new, it has always been the best bang for the buck when you think about it. Sure you will pay 70k for a Z06; however, it will out perform almost, if not all, production domestic or foreign cars….for a fraction of the price.

  11. Fred

    Good call on the steering wheel Rancho – there’s only one way that layer of white will disappear like that- lots and lots of miles of driving

  12. Charles

    I doubt the mileage claim on this car also. That much rust with that few miles does not add up. A very good friend of mine has the twin to this car. His car has 70K documented miles since new. We know this for a fact, because his parents bought the car from a friend in 1955 with 14K miles on it. This is the exact same car, except his has no rust on the chassis, and only needs a cosmetic restoration to make it 100%. My friend’s car has spent its entire life in the sunny south and has never been exposed to road salt. I wonder what his car is worth? This car is worth saving, however that undercarriage is scary. I would be afraid to drive the car in the condition it is currently in, for fear that one good speed bump could cause it to break in two pieces. At the least it will take a new chassis, and then it will not be an original car any more. My first thought would be to install an aftermarket chassis like one available from Art Morrison. But then the car would be far from original…

  13. jim s

    i wonder why the new exhaust on a car which needs a new frame. i also wonder when and why it was repainted, stock exhaust tip looks body color and should have burned the paint off if run after painting. what is with the angle iron welded on the A arm, flat iron welded to the frame, and tack welded exhaust? if car was damaged how bad was it. still it will bring a lot of money and get rebuilt, i think. great find

  14. Ray L

    I really don’t buy that a 54 ” was a barn find … And who owned it and sold it ? How much ? I want the real story from who ” found ” this ….

  15. DT

    Looks like pieces of a cyclone fence welded to the frame to keep the car from breaking in half.and whats with the original exhaust painted white,the seller likes to use the word beautiful alot…as much as I like these,if I was in the market for one,I would most likely forget this one and move on to the next one to come along

  16. Ric Parrish

    The frames for a C1 Vette are from a 1950 Chevy, with the end pieces cut off with a band saw. Twenty five years ago we found rusted out frames, of course usually in the salt areas. Back then you just hauled a 50 Chevy out of a junk yard for your frame.

  17. Ric Parrish

    Good observations guys, it looks like a rust belt car, about all of the steel needs to be replaced. I see it with the body on a roll around table and the frame practically built back up from scratch. I don’t think I would even show it with that steering wheel. But then the guys who buy this will do a frame off, they need the basic car, they tear them down anyway.

  18. Dave Banks

    In 1965 mother bought a white mustang with white paint and red interior. Sitting in the used car lot was a 54 Vette convertible. They threw this car in on the deal for 250.00, this the old Harry White Ford company about three blocks from where fords were built in Hapeville, Ga. This vette needed work, lots of work. When folks say its fiberglass and will not rust. Mayby not rust but this one was rotton, the drivers door was rotted off the hinge, you could poke a finger thru the body in many places, the six cyl engine did run, barely. I Kept the car in pops barn where it sat till sometime in 1967 when mother sold it while I was in Nam. Even in 67 she got 4,500.00 for it. When the man hooked it up to his wrecker mother said it almost broke in the middle due to rust and rot. I now live south of Atlanta and at a recent car show at Summit Auto Parts a 54 caught my eye because with the car was a picture album showing before and after photographs ,with the build takeing 3 years. After speaking with the owner that bought the car from mother I returned home, dug up the original bill of sale from Harry White ford to mother for the 250.00. He offered to sell it back, for 100,000 bucks. Nice to see something you once owned, in such terrible shape, be rebuilt to be such a beautiful car. As with this 53 vette, it was white with red interior. I am a Dodge man owning a Dodge Coronet but had always wondered what happened to my “first” car.

  19. pauline

    omg, delicious!

  20. Charlie Member

    I bought one in l966 from a poor guy who was headed for Vietnam, he was 18 and really scared, we talked for a few hours about the military (I was in the Reserves at that point), paid him $600, and drove it as a daily driver for two years. Since it was really just a shortened ’54 Convertible frame, with the GM truck 6, heavy duty valve springs, and three Carter side draft carbs (which despite rebuilds tended to leak gasoline), the local mechanic had no problems fixing things I could not, and parts were easy to get. It was, for 1954, but not 1966, fast off the line, in a straight line, it could be beaten by a stock Olds Rocket 88, or a modified Ford or Merc, (or a Jag XK 120), but not a lot of other cars off the lot when it was new. But, all in all, it was NOT a great car. The exhaust tail pipes were designed to go though the portholes in the back bumper. If that was done, the exhaust was pulled up over the trunk into the passenger compartment, top up, or down, so CO poisoning was always a threat (the factory then put in fake tail pipe ends that routed the exhaust to the ground). Given the heavy in line 6, it was very front heavy, and not inclined to go around corners. The fiberglass was VERY brittle, and the front end was full of cracks and crazes from being driven in the cold for 12 years. The “spinner” wheel covers were, by l966, not available with the “spinner” (a fake knock-off hub, the Jag and Austin Healy had real ones), since some governmental agency decided they were dangerous to pedestrians. One of my originals was stolen and then sold back to me for $10 (this was l967), it was Waterbury CT, so if you know that city you know why I just paid and kept my mouth shut. The ergonomics of the driver’s position were such that if you were tallish (6′ 1″ here) the top of your head stuck up above the top of the windshield. BUT it started every day, even at 5 below zero. I sold it for $1600 to a kid who already had a Fitch Corvair, which really did handle well, and got married and bought a Chevelle station wagon.

  21. Vince Habel

    the vettes before 63 drove like trucks. I love the look of the 56 & 57

  22. Woodie Man

    I have to agree with most that the ’53 and ’54 are wonderful antidiluvian designs. But the cars themselves were basically “trucks”. Especially when compared to a a Healey 100 or any similar sportscar of the time.

    That said, wheres the poster whose name I forgot who bought a later Vette , maybe a ’66 and the car broke in half as he either put it up on the hoist or dragged in on a trailer? As I recall he was mighty detail oriented. This might be just his cup of tea, seeing as how he has somewhat similar experience with rusted through frames.

  23. Alan (Michigan)

    Wow. That underside is really shot, isn’t it? I don’t think I have ever seen big, strong pieces such as suspension A-frames and the frame itself so consistently eaten from rust. I can see why someone tacked the fence-post pipe under the whole thing, it would be flexible to the point of breaking or fracturing the body if it were not held together somehow.

    No dreamers need apply here. This car needs not only a new frame, but an entirely new suspension as well. So, anything steel or iron on the underside can be considered to be unusable, good only as a very basic template for replacement.

    At the 34.5K current bid, is it possible for someone to even break even after a restoration? Get out the calculators, and the parts catalogs, and start adding.

    The thing which makes me curious is this: How could the underside get so bad, unless it has spend many years in a damp environment? That kind of rust does not just happen overnight. It is possible, I suppose, that an early owner drove the car through the surf on an ocean beach, completely saturating the frame, etc. with salt water, and then not rinsing it off. That might do it. But long-term damp storage would bring on a large-scale deterioration of the interior, with mold and corrosion throughout. Original top? Really? How did the canvas escape rotting over time?

    I think I’ll place my wager on the ocean surf theory, and leave it there.

  24. DRV

    A real price for a well done one as a 54 is all over the map. BJ is the high price you throw out and CL may have a too cheap one sometime and that would be the low you throw out before you talk about worth. A perfect NCRS top or gold flight one needs a 30 grand paint job with 40 grand in parts restoration and 30 grand to put it together right and then add what you paid for the car. If you see one sell for over a hundred chances are there is much more money into it.
    Usually missing are the bullet carb intakes which are a few thousand to find and have done correctly for instance. The water pump intake housing set me back 900.00 in 1994. The side windows and frames are unobtanium, and the list goes on. One thing I noticed on this one is the door bottoms fit almost to well compared to the best ones I have seen.

  25. L.M.K. Member

    Dave Garroway introduces the 53 Corvette..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKqupcmTjWo

  26. JagManBill

    I bought my one and only Corvette (a 54) at the ripe old age of 19 for $500 in 1976. I had gone to look at a 56 XK140 but that car was too butchered to bother with…even for the $100 he wanted. But sitting next to it was this Vette. Both cars had been sitting behind the guys shop for years. Guy said “the Vettes for sale as well if your lookin”…or something like that – don’t remember. Anyway, it was all there just dirty. When I asked him what he wanted and he said $500 I said ‘throw in the XK and its a deal”. We shook on it.
    Loaded the Vette first in case he changed his mind. Took it to my Dad’s station and gave it a Westley’s wash (white wall cleaner works great on old white paint!). Rolled it outside and went to lunch. Got back from lunch and the car was gone. My Dad had sold it to the first guy that drove in for $1,500. Never went back for the 140…

    to borrow the catch line from another site…Bring a chassis

  27. John Kilker

    You do not wear the paint off a Chevy steering wheel in 19000 mi. This car has the earmarks of every flood car I have ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty of them. Everywhere you look are signs of mud and water and the frame damage is very telling. One thing that always gets me when it comes to sellers, even the ones who expect top dollar, they never do the basic things to achieve the best prices. “I have a new master cylinder to make the brakes work and will include that in the sale” Why not install the darn thing and have working brakes?

    • Alan (Michigan)

      (Because the brake lines are all rusted out/gone and the master cylinder is only the beginning. None of the rest of the system can deal with the new hydraulic pressure….)

      But they won’t tell you that….. Concentrate on the positive, never talk about the negative, that is the method of operation.

  28. Dolphin Member

    Sold for $35,100, with 33 bids.

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