Former Award Winner! 1954 Chevrolet Corvette

Corvettes are a staple here at Barn Finds and there is a large variety of them discovered weekly. That said, the earliest of the C1s (’53-’55) don’t make a regular appearance but as luck would have it, here’s a beautiful ’54 example to review. It is located in Merritt Island, Florida and available here on eBay for a current bid of  $42,612, reserve not yet met. Thanks to Scott for this tip!

Years back, I wasn’t aware that there was a Corvette that preceded 1956 until I happened upon a C1 purple barn-find example, sitting outdoors, in the ’70s. I had read that the earliest ‘Vettes had tail-fins, so when I saw this neglected, metaflake-sprayed sports car at a distance, I assumed it had to be the earliest model that I knew nothing about. You can imagine my surprise when I further learned that C1s were powered by a six-cylinder engine with a Powerglide automatic transmission.

Fast forward to this example and it’s a far cry from the neglected example that I spied so many years ago. This ’54 Vette, according to the seller, had a frame-off restoration in the ’80s but spent twenty years in storage. The seller advises that it was his father’s car and he inherited it four years ago. Mentioned, is the fact that this Corvette was an award winner and it looks the part. What immediately grabs your attention is the depth of the finish, it is very strong. For 1954, Corvettes were available in Polo White, Sportsman Red, Black and Pennant Blue which is the shade that adorns this example and is verified by the accompanying features poster. The body integrity, per the images, appears straight and well-aligned. Fiberglass flexes and cracks, especially with usage and age, and there is one image that reveals some minor distress occurring but it doesn’t appear to be serious.

For a frame-off restoration, even as far back as the ’80s, the underside looks crusty. Nothing appears to be inherently wrong, I would just expect a cleaner environment. Perhaps the frame-off restoration focused only on the body and not the frame/suspension.

Under the bonnet is a 235 CI, six-cylinder, in-line, triple carbureted engine, known as the “Blue-Flame 150” that developed an impressive 150 gross HP, certainly impressive for the time. The seller states that the engine turns over but that’s about it. He further adds that it has old fuel and the motor will require a mechanical refresh. It may be advantageous that this Corvette doesn’t move forward on its own because apparently it doesn’t stop on its own either, the brake pedal meets the floor. This is initially a troubling matter but is probably easily correctable; brake systems on this vintage car are pretty simple affairs. As I mentioned earlier, all of these early Corvettes, at least the ’53 and ’54, came equipped with a Powerglide, two-speed automatic transmission.

The interior of this ‘Vette is fantastic! Nothing looks out of place and it has maintained its fresh appearance all these 30+ years. The upholstery material/carpets look little to not used at all and match the convertible top fabric perfectly. While I don’t think generally of saddle tan working really well with this exterior shade of blue, I’ll have to stand corrected as they both greatly complement each other. The same goes for the trunk interior, it is finished to match the passenger compartment and other than a scape or two, it coincides with the general overall flavor of this Chevy.

I haven’t given these early C1s much consideration, I think it is the niggling thought in the back of my mind that, “Yeah it’s a Corvette but it has a six-cylinder engine and a slip and slide Powerglide transmission.” Seeing an example as nice as this can help one to render a different opinion regarding these essentially rare and meaningful cars. It is especially interesting to compare this ’54 with the just-about-out ’20, they have truly come a long, long way! If I’m not mistaken, I believe “Corvette” is the second oldest nameplate in GM’s line-up after “Suburban”. And to think, with only 3,600 Corvettes sold in ’54, Chevrolet was getting cold feet about continuing with the model – glad it worked out the way it did. So to all of you Corvette fans, and those that aren’t, if you were in the market for a classic Corvette, would you consider one of these early of earliest C1s?

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Comments

  1. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    C1 and C2’s are beautiful cars, but way off of my radar. They values are so high that I don’t see myself having the funds to purchase one. Should I come into said funds, I can think of a very long list of cars I would spend it on before early Corvettes. C3 and up for me. I do like the colors of this one.

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  2. JohnfromSC

    Nice C1, but I wouldn’t call the Corvette’s 6 cyl 150 HP impressive. The Jaguar XK120, in the same price range (and early inspiration for the corvette in 1948-49) was producing 210 HP on its 6 cyl by 1954 with the C-head and reached 265 HP by 1959. Chevy was much better at turning performance out of its V8s, starting with the 283.

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    • RodCa

      I use to buy xk120’s for $800, did some minor restoration and sold them for $2000. Big money in my day. I even had my hands on an XK 120S with matching numbers, bought, drove it for a couple years and sold it for $800. Thought I cut a fat hog for breaking even. Now you buy the exact same car buried in weeds in a pasture for $125,000. Funny

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  3. jerry z

    Did the 53-54 Corvettes ever come with a manual trans or all powerglides? A Corvette with a slushbox is just wrong IMO!

    2
    • Jam

      The powerglide was the transmission of the future back in 53. People were looking for automation in everything. It was a different time. The corvette was an expensive car at the time with a revolutionary body construction. I’m going to guess that the average buyer was at least 40 years old. That means that they would have been born in 1913. They wouldn’t have had electricity in their homes growing up. Only the most expensive cars had automatics just a few years earlier.

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  4. JOHN Member

    The original Corvette 6’s with the triple Carter YH side draft carbs looked so cool… although I question how much power they actually added, I would think the car would be over-carbureted and with the automatic, not exactly quick. I think the triple carb look was part of the appeal, certainly more exotic looking. The Carter YH was also used in all of the turbo Corvairs and some Nash’s and marine applications

    • Jam

      The triple carb allowed the engine to fit in the engine bay as well as improve performance. The standard six cylinder was much taller and would not fit under the hood.

  5. Chas358 Chasman358 Member

    53 & 54 Corvettes were all Powerglides.

  6. Capt RD

    If the powerglide tranny was the only one standard for the year why charge $178 as an option?

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    • Tom Member

      Hmmm the Capt has quite a good question!!!! I do not know the answer but, like the Capt, would like to know.

      Now, nice car. My question, with an undercarriage like that, what awards were being won?

      Anyway, this condition would be great in that you can drive it and not feel bad about a little dust and dirt or the occasional rock chip. Enjoy it !! RE-restore it again some …..maybe?

      • Steve

        Tom,
        I think this was in unheated storage on bare concrete causing the rusted underneath. Temperature changes and condensation did the rest.

    • Jam

      They were playing a game with the price. This allowed them to offer the car at a lower price to entice buyers. All the cars were built with all available options. The only difference was the color. In the end the price was too high. They planned on building 10,000 cars that year but stopped at 3600. There were too many sitting on dealers lots unsold. It seemed likely that 55 would have been the last year of production. Then ford releases the Thunderbird and that changed everything.

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  7. Dual Jetfire

    Contrary to popular knowledge, the 53 Corvette was not America’s first sports car. That honor goes to the 51 Nash Healey, powered by the Mighty Lemans Dual Jetfire 140 hp engine. Note- by 53 Nash Healey, still with the Mighty Lemans Dual Jetfire managed to price itself out of the market, costing twice as much as a Corvette with about the same performance.

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    • Gerard Planche

      Well…wasn’t that sort of mainly built in the UK?

  8. Gaspumpchas

    Looks sweet, underneath looks honest but I had the same question you guys did.for the big money, one wonders why the seller didn’t fix the brakes and get it running. Or give you an idea why it wont start. Still has NJ plates on it, Good luck to the new owner!!
    Cheers
    GPC

    • jam

      Unfortunately $42,000 is not considered big money for this car. Since the corvette is still popular today, the car is viewed as a historical artifact as well as a car. Much like an early Harley Davidson.

  9. oldcar nut

    Dual Jetfire did you forget about the 1949 Crosley Hotshot? The Hotshot came with 4 wheel disc brakes and an overhead cam engine. Assembled in Marion, Indiana

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  10. Maestro1 Member

    These cars are wonderful, and I have no room. They also ride like trucks, and other than that I’d own one in a minute but once again I have no room.
    The price is not out of line for what these cars are worth, and Pennant Blue with Tan is my favorite combination of those years. And the car is about 3,000 miles away from me. Somebody take a good look at this and if it is what it looks like, jump on it and happy motoring.

  11. charlie Member

    Owned one, bought it from a kid headed for the Army, in ’66, for $600. Fast in a straight line for ’54, even with the Powerglide, nose heavy, did not like to go around corners, Carter side draft carburetors all leaked gas, lucky that it never caught fire, fiberglass crazed, and in the winter just accumulated cracks. It was daily driver, in New England, for a year, terrible winter car Only expense was new tires. Couldn’t park it in urban settings, even then headlight grills, plexiglass sidecurtains, plexiglass cover over license plate, and wheel covers with fake knockoffs were high theft items, they stayed in my garage. One wheelcover got stolen in parking lot, owner of lot then sold it back to me a few months later, having “found it”. Sold the car to a guy with a really nice Fitch Corvair which was a MUCH better car to drive and bought a new Chevelle wagon to pull my then girlfriend’s horse trailer. But the engine, then still known as “old reliable” was true to its reputation, and always started, ran, and gave no problems at all.

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  12. Dave1954

    The gentleman above is correct, all 53 and 54’s were Powerglides. In 55 only 700 Corvettes were built and only 13 were 6 cylinder Powerglides, all the rest 265cu V8’s. The car to find is a 55 – 6 cylinder/Powerglide, a very rare car, restored would be an expensive deal.

  13. ArchitectureOnWheels

    Irrespect of the fact the six cylinder Blue Flame engine produced an advertised 150 h/p and coupled to a two speed Powerglide transmission, the 1953 and 1954 models were unique and original for the years they were manufactured. The 1953’s hastily assembled and laid up by hand are clearly the most valuable. The 1954’s were a higher production car and not commanding the same value on today’s market. Five years ago, these were hot real estate but prices have diminished considerably since that time. A driver quality 54 should command $45K to 60K on todays market.

  14. chrlsful

    like motor’n grill.
    Sacrilege – I’d put both in the ’56 – 60 model
    (dash, rear end, etc, etc make it my fav models).

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