Period-Correct Hot Rod: 1954 Corvette

It’s hard to believe that at one time Chevrolet considered discontinuing the Corvette, especially since it has been dubbed “America’s Sports Car” by many enthusiasts, but in 1954 things were looking bleak for Chevrolet’s fiberglass two-seater. Sales had not lived up to expectations, with many Corvettes languishing on dealer lots unsold, and mechanics and body-shop owners were baffled by the then-new fiberglass body clothing the Corvette. After a three-year (1953-1955) total production of 4,640 cars, Chevrolet considered dropping the ‘Vette, but at the eleventh hour changed their minds (thanks to a push by Harley Earl, Ed Cole and Zora-Arkus Duntov, considered the godfather of the ‘Vette). This 1954 model was modified back in the late 1960s and early 1970s to emulate early Corvette experimental sports cars. Find it here on Hemmings in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with an asking price of $43,000 obo.

For 1954, the Corvette saw only minimal changes, the biggest being a shift of production from Flint, Michigan to St. Louis, Missouri, and the availability of new colors (Pennant Blue, Sportsman Red, and Black). There was supposed to be an optional three-speed manual, but it would not be made available until 1955. Buyers had to make due with the Blue Flame six cylinder and two-speed Powerglide, which disenchanted buyers due to the fact that most if not all of Europe’s sports cars had a manual transmission at least available, if not standard. Factor in a poorly-made fiberglass body, water leaks, a lack of proper all-weather protection, and other issues, and Chevrolet struggled to sell its sports car. Chevrolet built 3,640 Corvettes for the 1954 model year, with nearly a third unsold and left to languish on dealer lots at the end of the year. This particular car was originally Polo White, but starting in 1968 the owner changed the color to Sportsman Red lacquer, which does have some crazing but polishes well overall. The chrome and stainless trim are original and in good condition, and though not currently installed, the original canvas convertible top and frame are included.  The canvas top in is poor condition and will likely need replacing, but the frame is in good condition. A period Scott hardtop is also included. American-Racing wheels with knock-off hubs are currently installed, but the original color-keyed rims and hubcaps are included with whitewall tires. I would swap the late-model Goodyear tires for a set of black wall radial bias ply-look tires.

In 1974, the original 235 Blue Flame six was swapped out for a period-correct 261 Job-Master six. Since its installation, the engine has only been used for 5,000 miles. All of the original engine parts, including the water pump, carburetors, intake and exhaust manifolds and cylinder head were retrofitted to the 261 block without alteration. Aftermarket air cleaners dress up the original Carter carburetors, but the dual-filter air cleaner assembly, along with other original parts, are available. A custom exhaust is also currently installed, but a new OEM system is also readily available. The original Powerglide was also swapped for a three-speed manual using period OEM parts. A 6/12 volt battery is being used, which runs normally at 6 volts, but switches to 12 volts for starting.

Originally red, the interior was changed over to black. The seats were rebuilt with new coil springs and recovered with black reproduction seat covers. The original steering wheel was swapped for a 1957 one, but the original wheel with original horn ring is included with the purchase. The dash and gauges appear to be in good condition, but some of the gauges are currently inoperable, so they should be inspected and repaired. I would swap the eight-ball shifter knob for this black one. Overall, this car is very solid, and with a little visual tweaking and a few repairs, this would be a great car to drive and show. What are your thoughts on this period-custom ‘Vette?

Fast Finds


  1. Scot Douglas

    I like it.

  2. Dave Wright

    It is really nice to see one without the ubiquitous small block…….

    Like 1
  3. Oingo

    While I think what has been done is pretty appropriate I would not pay that much for a 6 nor would I invest in something so altered as a good part of the value in vintage vettes is with the originality.

    • 86 Vette Convertible

      Agree. To garner that kind of money it should be as built. I consider something like this a restomod, it was restored but modified along the way. Now with the nom (engine), the loss of the original paint it severely reduces the value of something this age. I have seen an original 54 and while this is a very attractive looking car, it’s still modified enough to lower it’s value IMO.

      If it had started as a bare shell, that would be different but sounds like this was an original 54 that someone modded. Too bad, it would have been worth a lot more without the mods IMO.

  4. J Paul Member

    It has a great look to it, and the existing modifications allow the next owner to use/tweak as desired without destroying an original car. The six is kind of cool, actually, but there’s nothing stopping someone from putting a V8 in it (or finding a correct 235 and restoring back to stock.)

    Considering Corvette prices these days, $43k doesn’t seem too bad in context. And who knows? With the “OBO” the next owner might very well get it cheaper than that.

  5. Joe Haska

    I am not so sure I agree with “Period Correct” ? I’m old enough to been around then, and it is true these cars didn’t have allot of popularity at the time ,but I don’t remember very Many “Hot Rodders” doing much of anything with them! Once people understood they were the start of an icon marque, they got more popular, because it was obvious the value was going to go up. This red car looks very good to me and even though, it has several modifications, they are nicely executed and I don’t think they hurt the value all that much. It looks like it could be a great driver.

    • RayT Member

      I was around then as well, Joe, and I remember a few ’54s getting Caddy V8s stuffed in before the ubiquitous SBC came along a year later. Several sports car magazines ran features on the swaps….

      A repaint was no big deal then. So far as I know, purists hadn’t made the scene yet. I saw at least one red one, a couple in blue, and one in black which I didn’t like at the time.

      • jackthemailman

        Lordy, I spied a purple ’53 or ’54 in a used car lot (either Sterling or Rock Falls IL) back in maybe 1963. $800 on the windshield – lotta money for a 10yr old car back then.

  6. Fran

    Nice! See my comments can be nice ones! I don’t think that just telling the truth, that I will be accused of being political. Lol

  7. charlie Member

    I owed a ’54, paid $500 for it in “68, kid who owned it was drafted, off to the Army and Vietnam. The 6 had plenty of power off the line, even with the PowerGlide which shifted up at 55 mph. The 3 Carter sidedraft carbs leaked, dual exhausts through the bumper made exhaust roll up over the rear deck into the passenger compartment, stock ones actually dumped the exhaust onto the road before the fake bumper exhausts because of the roll up of the exhaust in the early models, the plexiglass side curtains were scratched beyond repaid, both the soft top and the aftermarket hard top leaked, and worst of all, it was so front heavy with the six that it would not go around a corner. The ’55 with the V8 solved this in part since the weight was further back in the car. I was told that Chevrolet used the Jag XK 120 as a “model” and the ’53/54 Chevy convertible frame shortened. It was reliable to a fault, always started, never left me stranded, but you could not leave it anywhere without worrying that rare parts, like the screens over the headlights, the hubcaps, and the plexiglass license plate cover would be stolen.

  8. Dolphin Member

    I liked the way they looked back when they were new, and I still do. I remember thinking they looked like something from the future.

    But it was a case of looking way better than they actually were.

  9. Bill

    You’d spend the rest of your days explaining it’s lack of originality. Too bad it wasn’t preserved.

  10. DG

    I wouldn’t do a thing to this car (well maybe the tires). Just drive it.

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