Drive Or Restore? 1954 Chevrolet Corvette

For a fairly rare car, we have covered an awful lot of ’54 Corvettes here on Barn Finds, and to keep the trend going, here’s another for your review. This example is referenced as, “… a highly original unrestored barn find that could be cleaned up and serviced for use as is or restored.” It is located in Greer, South Carolina and is available, here on eBay for a BIN price of $54,000. There is a make an offer option too.

Whereas the first year ‘Vette was built in small numbers, only 300, copies, the seemingly identical ’54 put up ten times that number. It was also offered in blue and red, and even a scant few black-finished examples found their way off of the St. Louis assembly line. Most, however, were finished in Polo White like this example and all ’53 versions. It was far and in the way the preferred color for ’54. And while “seemingly identical” to the ’53, there were differences mostly mechanical in nature or convenience-wise like the position of the choke pull and a new single handle mechanism for the hood. According to Corv Sport, other mechanical enhancements included: “a new-style rocker arm (valve) cover (of which approximately 20% were finished in chrome – serial numbers 1363 through 4381 and of which all were now held down by four bolts through the outer lip of the cover instead of two center studs), a better-designed wiring harness, dual air filters, a new type of starter and plastic insulated wire (instead of fabric insulated”.

The seller refers to this car as a matching number, unrestored original. Obviously, the wheel covers are not installed but the seller states that he has them. He claims that the frame is rot-free and from what can be seen, the body looks like it is in sound shape.  The trim is all in place but the Polo White finish is degraded and flaking here and there. There is a tan, folding soft top in place and the seller advises that he has a removable hardtop that is available but is not included in the price of the car. There are no included images and he doesn’t know the manufacturer.

Under the hood is a 155 HP (a 5 HP improvement over ’53) 235 CI, in-line, six-cylinder engine attached to the only transmission available, a two-speed Powerglide automatic. The seller adds, “This car runs and drives brakes have been redone carburetor has been rebuilt.” Actually, there are three carburetors that draw air through two air cleaners. He also mentions that the fuel tank has been flushed out.

The interior of this Corvette is seatless, the existing ones have been removed as he has new replacements along with carpet and door panels, though the original panels are claimed to still be in good condition. The original Wonder Bar radio has been removed but it’s not stated why or whether it is included in the sale.

As the seller states, this is not a “Frankenstein” car and he has plenty of documentation dating back to 1962. It would seem that this Corvette needs two items of attention, one is installing the removed and/or new parts (and that begs the question, why not do that before advertising for sale?) and two, a repaint, though it’s presentable enough as it is. Corvettes of this vintage seem to flow only one-way, and that is as restored to original condition, and this example looks like a pretty solid start for just such an undertaking. I have never known anyone who has owned one of these early first-gen Corvettes; if any of you have, do you a story that you care to share?

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Comments

  1. angliagt angliagt Member

    Why the extra wide white walls?
    I think it’d look good with some thin red walls.

    Like 2
    • Frank Sumatra

      They are the standard tire.

      Like 13
    • David G. Revel

      Jay, perhaps you didn’t actually read the article but the ‘54 on was offered in red, blue, or black as well as the most common, white. Speaking of white, the 300 1953 models were all white with the red interior. I personally respect the white as the original color of the Corvette.

      Maestro, I will defer to you with your experience of owning one new but I seem to recall reading somewhere that GM considered ending production of the Corvette at the end of the ‘54 year because there were so many that had not sold and that’s why so few were built in 1956.

      • David G. Revel

        Correction; 1955. I need to proofread my own work! Sorry, guys.

  2. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    Funny you say that about the whitewalls. For some reason they attracted me to this car. I usually am not all that interested in these early Corvette’s.

    Like 5
  3. BlondeUXB Member

    Glad someone spotted/posted this.
    Saw the ad and saved it with bidding expectations.
    Freshen the fluids/repack the wheel bearings and run what ya brung…

    Like 14
    • Steve R

      There is way too much emphasis on restoring a car. Doing so raises the price and often makes them unaffordable, which is a constant theme in this site. Then again, so is the cry that every car needs to have beautiful, flaw free finish. There is nothing wrong with a car they shows it’s age and the use that comes with it, that is what the initial draw was for cars with “patina”, though it often times goes overboard. Driving an old car that is mechanically sound, but is bit rough around the edges is the only way many can afford to enjoy the hobby, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      Steve R

      Like 60
      • Curt Lemay

        Couldn’t agree more.

        Like 18
      • Jesse Stout

        I happen to be one of those people, Steve R. Great comment!

        Like 17
      • Kevin Member

        Here, here!

        Like 2
  4. Curt Lemay

    Never understood why the early cars only had autos. Surely a 3 speed at least, was readily available.

    Like 1
    • Evan

      Please recall that this was the most powerful engine in the Chevrolet passenger car lineup for 1953 and 1954. According to what I read, the engineers were unable to state whether the clutch and 3-speed manual could handle the additional power with appropriate durability, and there wasn’t the time or budget to determine this. And the light-duty trucks didn’t have bigger engines, either, and the medium-duty truck transmissions would not fit.

      Like 8
    • Frank Sumatra

      Keep in mind the first few years had very low production numbers and GM marketed the Corvette in a method typical of the 1950’s. The dealers would target “prominent” citizens and minor celebrities to buy the Corvette. So doctors and insurance salesmen were the target audience. Without Zora Duntov getting involved by writing a letter to GM with his ideas to improve the performance of the car, the Corvette would have not seen its fourth year of production.

      Like 5
    • JoeBob

      I read somewhere that Chevrolet thought that along with the sporting triple carb six, and with automatics being something of cutting edge tech in the early 50s that they thought including it in a ‘modern’ sports car would be appropriate. I don’t know if that’s valid, but it’s one explanation for something that seems odd looking back at it from today.

      Like 2
  5. Rex Kahrs Member

    Well said, Steve.

    Like 2
  6. alan Brase

    Agreed about the “automatic only” policy. Chevy was clearly aiming at the Jaguar XK120 as its competition. But they seemed to be also trying for posh upscale buyers.
    Back in the early 1970’s, a friend bought a hot rodded 1954 with a 327 and 4 speed. Really badly cobbed together. As I had a shop and a couple Corvettes of my own, I sourced clutch linkage bits from a wrecked 1959 car and made the clutch work flawlessly. Parts fit right in.
    I think it would be a fun car with a more modern 5 speed and maybe the BLUE FLAME turned up to about 200hp. These are pretty light cars and probably would be less than 3000lb. top down for sure.

    Like 5
  7. 70SuperSport

    I purchased a ’66 convertible that had been off the road for 22 yrs due to a small accident. I had the right rear quarter replaced (left in gel coat), changed all the fluids and brakes, tires, etc. to make it safe. It’s white with tan interior. I then just drove it from spring until fall to/from work a few times a week and every weekend. Parked it anywhere and really didn’t worry about it as the paint had runs from prior owner and I knew I’d either sell it or restore it. Still got Thumbs Up from strangers. Now that I’ve had it painted and I put a new leather interior in it, I once again double check where I park and don’t drive it much – dumb me => “Drivers” are the best if you actually want to use ’em, not show ’em. :)

    Like 16
  8. Drizzle

    Pass. Uncomfortable ride, low power, automatic. Not a fun car to own.

    Like 1
  9. Maestro1

    I owned one when they were new. And I’m that Old. At the time they were wonderful and a big adventure, even though they rode like trucks. Someone should buy this, don’t overdo it, and drive it. That’s what it was meant for.

    Like 10
    • 370zpp

      Maestro, you have a unique perspective here if you owned one of these as new. There is nothing like the new car experience, especially when the car happens to be something like this.

      Like 1
  10. Gerard Planche

    Hastily bought a ’57 AT just before repatriating from Detroit to Europe and -when cleaning it at reception noticed…the left pedal stuck up against the firewall: bloody seller had replaced the manual trans!
    Sold it (of course too low!) to finance the house…
    Now looking for a ’55

    Like 2
  11. Old Beach Guy

    Do the necessary mechanicals and enjoy it. An old car can be restored multiple times, but they’re only original once.

    Like 4
  12. JagManBill

    I was 18, working at my Dad’s service station in Longview TX. If anyone here is familiar with Longview from the mid 70’s to the late 80’s, they know the place. There were usually 5-6 Jags around there in various points of repair or restoration. I digress…

    Someone had told my Dad about an XK140 not too far away. So he sent me to look at it (with trailer). Got there, looked it over and made the deal ($300) but sitting next to it was a 54 Corvette roller. I didn’t even ask – the guy brought it up asking if I knew anybody that wanted the Vette. He’d take $500.

    I loaded it up first.

    Back at the station I got a ton of crap from my Dad about buying “the POS” Vette. Well, one of the other guys working there and I rolled it in to the wash bay and cleaned it up with bleach-white (what you use on whitewall tires). We rolled it out side by the front curb to dry and got back to work. It actually looked pretty good. I went for lunch and back to get the XK.

    I got back about an hour and a half later and the Vette was gone. Seems with it sitting out front a guy stopped about 15 minutes after I left and offered Dad $1,500 for it. He said it was the best money he ever got for a car wash.

    Like 8
    • Ike Onick

      Here is what I remember about Longview- I was sent to the Eastman Chemical Plant to oversee some in-tank welding operation on one of the large fluid mixers we built in Rochester, NY. 1) When I checked into my hotel at midnight it was 98F. 2) When I registered, the desk clerk looked at my last name and said ” Eye-Po-Lee-Toe?” We don’t get too many Eye-Talians here” (Huge surprise) 3) Calling it “Sweet” Tea is a gross mis-understatement 4) Walking past a row of 30 Port-A- Pottys that have been baking in 100F all day is something that still gives me the creeps.

      Like 3
  13. charlie Member

    I owned one from 1966 to 1969, paid $600 for it, sold it for $1200, only change was new tires. Wide whites are correct. No mention of side curtains, plexiglass, and mine were so beat up on a 12 year old car, you could barely see through them. They are curved so I could not find anyone to replace them (the internet now does wonders at finding things like this). The tail pipes LOOK like they go through the rear bumper, but if they do, you will get exhaust pealing up over the trunk lid into the passenger compartment. Chevy made a modification in the run so that the tip is a dummy and the exhaust is directed down at the road from before the tip goes through the bumper area. The 6 had plenty of guts for 1955, as long as you wanted to go in a straight line, it was fun to drive. If you were over 5’10” the top of the windshield was in your line of vision, if the top was up you had to sort of hunch over to fit if you were 6′ 1″ like me. The fiberglass was prone to crazing, but some bondo and sanding could make it look good again. Now the question is, is this one the one I had? If there is a dent in the X of the X frame, and the spare wheel cover does not have a “spinner”, it is. It was really not practical even in 1966, you could not park it in the city or the rare parts – wheel covers, headlight screens, side curtains, rear plate cover, or, the whole car, would be stolen. It did not want to go around corners on dry pavement, let alone snow where it was useless, even with big studded snow tires – yes I drove it in the snow in New England, remember it only cost $600. The kid (18) who sold it to me was drafted and headed for Ft. Dix and scared to death. I had just gotten off active duty and talked to him for a couple of hours about what to expect, and, that guys a lot dumber and in a lot worse shape made it through basic, and what he really needed to worry about was going to Viet Nam, which was just then heating up, and if he could type, which he could, he should try for a clerk job, and maybe stay behind the line of fire. OH, and I sold it so I could pay cash for a ’68 big engine, all heavy duty options, special order Chevelle wagon to pull my girl friend’s two horse trailer, 4 speed standard, economy rear axel, so you only used 1st to get it moving with the trailer, and, in 4th the gas mileage
    was not too bad. Once it had Sears radial tires it was one of the best cars I ever owned.

    Like 6
  14. Jay McCarthy

    I never understood the attraction of this car lack luster performance, crippled by that slip n slide Powerglide and you could only get it in the worst color for ANY Corvette…white

    • Frank Sumatra

      Try really hard to use your imagination and picture seeing this for the first time in 1953. Then try really hard to picture what other American cars looked like in 1953. If that doesn’t help you understand, then you are on the wrong website.

      Like 4
      • On and On On and On Member

        Couldn’t agree more with your statement except for being on the wrong website, more like being on the wrong planet.

        Like 2
      • Alan Brase

        I agree. About 10 years before my time (I remember being in the showroom looking at 1957 models at age 8!) .
        I’m sure the 1955 with a 265 V8 was less of a pig than the similar 1955 Ford Thunderbird. AKA “thunder capon”.
        but given the choice between a 1954 Corvette and a 1954 Porsche Cabrio, hell, The original owner would still be in love with the Porsche! (If he thought to keep it away from rust worms.)
        Yes, I’ve had both. Shook hands with Zora in 1991. At Bloomington.

        Like 1
    • BlondeUXB Member

      Such a shame Zora didn’t think of metal-flake and velour…

      Like 1
      • Frank Sumatra

        UXB- Did you know Elfi Duntov was a dancer in Paris with the Folies Bergere in the 1930’s? He had all the metal-flake and velour he could shake a stick at.

        Like 1

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