Clift’s White Test Mule: 1954 Corvette

If you are a Corvette fan and historian, chances are you know who Robert Clift is. For the rest of us, Mr. Clift was the development engineer at the Corvette Division of GM during the early days of the Corvette’s creation. He reported directly to Zora Duntov and was instrumental in making the Corvette the success it is today. Like Duntov, Clift had his own test mule he took racing. His car is often referred to as the “White Mule 54”, but it went missing shortly after he sold it. It supposedly surfaced in the ’90s and after being restored, Clift was reunited with it in 1997. The only problem, well at least according to the seller of this 1954 Corvette, is that that car was a fake. They claim that this project is the real White Mule, but they don’t have much evidence to prove it. You can take a look at what could be an incredibly significant find here on eBay in Walker, Louisiana with a current bid of $3,500.

So according to the seller, this car has all the right modifications and features to be Clift’s car. There’s a few issues with the seller’s claims though. First of all, they are lacking documentation of any kind that would link it to Clift. Secondly, the engine and transmission are long gone. Clift’s car was equipped with a V8 and a prototype 4 speed. This car has a z bar style “prototype” clutch pedal, which would be correct for the White Mule and they state that it doesn’t look homemade. Of course, there’s the possibility that someone installed a factory made clutch assembly from a later Corvette.

Their explanation for why the drivetrain is gone is that it was removed to be used in the “fake” White Mule. While the clutch pedal is an interesting conundrum, it doesn’t really make sense that someone would have found the real car only to remove the engine and transmission to put in a fake. Why wouldn’t they have just restored the actual car if they had access to it? It seems a bit fishy to me, but perhaps they are correct and this is the real car?

The strongest pieces of evidence the seller presents is the uniquely mounted roll bar, the coil over style suspension and the body damage that Clift’s car had suffered prior to him acquiring it. Of course, those are all things someone could recreate if they thought there was a big pay day in store. Just to be clear, I’m not accusing this seller of anything, this car could really be the real White Mule for all I know. I just think their evidence seems a bit circumstantial. Now if they could find some identification numbers or documents that link this car to Clift, I could see it fetching impressive money. The other White Mule is said to be part of the Lingenfelter Collection, so perhaps they would let someone compare the two cars and see which one has all the right features.

If this car really is Robert Clift’s test mule, it is a significant piece of automotive history and could cause some serious issues for whoever restored and sold the other car as the real White Mule. So what do you think? Is there enough evidence here to prove that this really is Clift’s car or does something seem fishy? Even if it isn’t the real deal, it’s still a ’54 Corvette and deserves to be restored!

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Comments

  1. RichS

    Not sure which is the real white mule, but someone for sure is gonna come out looking like a jack@ss…

  2. Bill

    Seller claims the engine was pulled out of the original and put into a fake?

    • Anastos

      Stranger things have happened…but this one would be pretty damn strange…

  3. AMXSTEVE

    So why did this guy wait 20 yrs to sell it?

  4. Andre

    I guess it could be argued the trunk lid isn’t right, and the hood isn’t right… But to me the full windshield installed makes me very doubtful.

  5. KEN TILLY

    Yeah, nothing like breaking an original car in order to build a fake heh?

  6. Madmatt

    Maybe Elvis owned it too! Stories are interesting,but
    without actual facts and documents are little more than fables,
    Some people feel a need to “invent”a story about their car,
    in hopes of creating more value,I know that it is sad, but true!,
    especially when it comes to rare/exotics.I hope the buyer “KNOWS”
    what is real from fiction,and can provide the seller
    with some more accurate info,
    IT would be a lot more valuable for sure!

  7. Steve R

    I could claim that my 1/64 scale die cast is the real white mule. Words mean nothing unless backed up by documentation. It also helps if the story makes sense, this one doesn’t.

    Steve R

  8. RaGiN Z

    The asking price seems weak for the genuine car. Usually something this rare starts high and keeps going from there. $3500 doesn’t reach out to me as something of value or a rarity.

  9. Bob Baird

    Take a look at this article when that car was found. It had a lot more pieces with it. https://www.hotrodhotline.com/walt-womboughs-1954-corvette-find#.WeUSM0yZOc4

    • Steve R

      Maybe some of those pieces found their way onto the other 1954 Corvette the seller currently has listed on eBay.

      Steve R

  10. Horse Radish

    I call B.S.
    ,
    because I have the REAL white mule right here.
    They took the real engine out and the real body off, and swapped out the frame , but what I have is the real deal.

    .
    .
    .
    .
    … and it’s not a 1954 but close.
    I think her mother was,
    or was it her grandmother ?

  11. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    I would think when Mr. Clift was reunited with the other white mule he would have known it intimately and confirm as the real deal. I am guessing, but there are probably some small details to the race car that only he and a small handful of people knew about. Not that it matters but my money says the real one is in the Lingenfelter Collection.

  12. Cory

    Kinda funny that his as found pictures show the six, but now his ebay add says it was found without an engine. I don’t know which is worse, if this guy really believes his own story, or that he is clearly trying to scam a bidder. Numbers don’t lie, and if this guy had them, he would post them. Since this has a 1959 scca tag, that is probably the year it was hacked into a race car. Hopefully the corvette gurus will chime in soon

  13. Alford Pouse

    This real and fake brings back memories of 2 Sunbeams for sale. 1 a Tiger with running gear, suspension, and VIN plate but body collapsing into it’s self. The other an Alpine with body in very good condition without running gear.

  14. Mike Ensor

    Could very well possibly be, the hood is period correct. With flaw’s. Pay attention to the head light bessels and the way,the body is aligned. It was definitely used and abused. And sat for a long time. Even the rust . I used to work for one of the largest Corvette restoration companies on the east coast. It’s pretty hard to fabricate this unless you are a professional. At what you do and have read many specs I would look into the owner first. My buddies Uncle is Lance Jordan I’ll find out more. Yes the guy who owns the LeMans Corvette. It sits in a concrete room with two windows. In audobon pa. Along with the McLaren

  15. Mike Pep

    Did anyone buy a vintage Corvette that did not come with some sort of romantic past? For some reason most have no documentation. Oh well.

  16. Mike Ensor

    Definitely not the car. Fender wells in the front. To much of a difference in curve. Could be duplicate may very well be original but nobody will ever know those guys were very secretive, back in the day. Built something didn’t like it then destroyed it. So nobody else had it. Second give away is the roll bar to close to the Head rest. And the original didn’t have chrome on the tail lights. The roll bar back then consumed the driver not the back of the car. Behind the seat.

    1
  17. Ron Bunting

    There are hundreds of examples of expensive cars being cloned from something as small as a chassis plate .I had a guy working for me who owns a Bugatti type thirty five . it was bought new and raced by Earl Howe who blew the engine up. A different engine was installed and the car came to my country. it was raced continuously for 70 years and along the way it gained a new body,then the chassis was used to restore another with a genuine 35 engine. A new chassis was bought from Argentina and the remaining parts used to build it back up. It’s still the same car although the diff is the only original part remaining ,even the trans came from yet another type 35 which has also been cloned. So, i would take a wild guess and say the seller is most likely correct as in the 1990’s a 54 Vette was probably easier to find and it was quicker to build a clone than spend the time restoring a car to look like it was in it’s heyday.

  18. gbvette62

    To start with, the dash plaque on the car doesn’t prove anything, because it’s for an SCCA rally, not an SCCA race. A race and a rally are two different things. As resident of Michigan, and a full time employee of Chevrolet, Clift raced mainly in the upper Midwest and Canada, at tracks like Waterford Hills, Road America, Harewood Acres (Canada), Mosport, etc., but not Texas.

    From what I know, the first 54 test mule to get a V8, was designated EX87. This car was used by various departments at Chevrolet, in preparation for the production V8 powered 55’s. The EX87 was then modified by Duntov for use at 56 Daytona Speed Weeks, for top speed record runs. Besides the EX87, there were also two 55’s prepared for Speed Weeks. The engine from the EX87 “mule”, was removed and installed one of the 55’s Daytona Beach cars, when it was raced at Sebring in 56.

    I don’t really know much about the Clift “White Mule”. I don’t think it was the EX87, or one of the two Speed Weeks 55’s. Overall, the history of all of the 53-55 prototypes is a little sketchy. Like the EX87 engine, that ended up in the 55 race car, Chevrolet Engineering had a habit of swapping Corvette engines, bodies and chassis around on these cars, as they made changes to them, or before selling them. When GM was done with the EX87, the body was removed and replaced with a new 1955 body, and EX87’s body was installed on a 55 chassis.

    I think the original 265 V8 engine from the EX87, was found in Smokey Yunick’s Daytona Beach Shop, about 15 years ago, after he passed away. This may be the engine the seller of this car is referring too????

    • Rocco

      @gbvette62,
      Great info.

  19. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Winning bid:US $16,099.00
    [ 32 bids ]

  20. JTK

    This car is not the White Mule. We own the Mule, and were lucky enough to meet Bob after we restored the car. We spent time with him on three occasions, once when he came to stay at our house for a week.

    We rebuilt the 283 using dual four barrel carbs before we met Bob. After meeting him we found out that much of the parts he installed years ago were still on the car. He appreciated we had rebuilt the engine to full racing specs. The fuel injection unit was missing when we purchased it. He said the first year he raced the car it had dual four barrel carbs. He told us a lot of “scrap” from corporate racing was used on the car, and he purposely raced it in the modified category because it gave him more freedom.

    When he stayed with us he came bearing gifts, copies of many old black and white photos from his racing days. Both of the ones posted here were probably taken at Waterford Hills. For fun, we re-created the shots. During his visit we went to the San Diego Automotive Museum where his other “baby”, the CERV II, was on display. The museum staff was gracious enough to let him sit in it for a few photos.

    Of all the photos he brought, the best was one of him and Zora standing on the track at Sebring, shirtless in shorts, without a car in sight. Sorry, but we won’t publish it or any other photos, or answer any questions about the car. We like to lay low, but saw this post last year and finally decided to set the record straight.

  21. JTK

    I see the only photo that posted was the one of Bob Clift in the CERV II. I will Post the other 2 separately.

  22. JTK

    One more of Bob Clift in the White Mule.

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