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Real Deal Survivor: 1954 Chevrolet Corvette

It is no secret that Chevrolet considered dropping its Corvette range before C1 production ended. Sales volumes were not as hoped, early quality control issues sullied the Corvette’s reputation, and overall performance didn’t meet buyer expectations for a genuine sports car. However, the company dug in its heels, and the Corvette badge has remained part of our motoring landscape for nearly seven decades. The seller discovered this 1954 Corvette hidden in a barn, and an investigation revealed it last saw active service in around 1985. It is an unmolested survivor begging for revival. That would leave the buyer to choose whether it deserves a total restoration, or whether to retain it as an original survivor. It is listed here on Craigslist in Risingsun, Ohio. You could be its next lucky owner by handing the seller $68,000. I must say a big thank you to Barn Finder T.J. for spotting this fantastic find.

Chevrolet offered their 1953 Corvette in any color a buyer desired, as long as they wanted a car wearing Polo White paint. The palette increased for 1954, although 3,230 of the 3,640 cars produced featured Polo White. Our feature ‘Vette is one of those vehicles, presenting well for an original survivor. The paint and fiberglass sport enough flaws and defects to prevent me from describing its condition as showroom, but there would be no shame in the next owner electing to leave its appearance untouched. The panel gaps are all buyers expected in 1954 as Chevrolet struggled with the build quality. The situation improved in subsequent years, but what we see with this car is typical. Delving below the surface reveals the frame is rust-free, meaning this classic has no structural shortcomings. The seller supplies no photos of the soft-top but assures us it is in good condition. The trim looks excellent for a survivor, and I can’t spot any issues with the glass.

Lifting the hood reveals an aspect of the early Corvettes that disappointed some potential buyers. They were willing to accept a six-cylinder engine because many competing European models featured the same configuration. However, Chevrolet’s decision to back the six with a two-speed Powerglide undermined its performance and wasn’t what buyers expected from a sports car. The 235ci “Blue Flame” six punched out 154hp, allowing this classic to cover the ¼ mile in 18.1 seconds before winding its way to 102mph. To appreciate the scope of the problem, it is worth noting that Jaguar’s XK 140 improved those figures to 16.8 seconds and 120mph. However, it is also relevant that the Jag cost its buyer an additional 16% compared to the Corvette, so maybe this was a case of buyers getting what they paid for. The seller indicates this ‘Vette last saw active duty in around 1985. They coaxed it back to life, but the engine runs rough and blows smoke. The problem requires further investigation, but potential buyers probably need to brace for a rebuild before this classic returns to its rightful place on our roads.

One aspect of this Corvette requiring no TLC is its interior. The red upholstered surfaces are faultless, as are the carpet and dash. There is no evidence of rodent infestation or previous abuse. I’m surprised the wheel sports no cracks, while the gauges feature clear lenses and crisp markings. Chevrolet’s marketing approach with the ’54 Corvette is fascinating. The Order Sheet showed eight optional extras for buyers to select, but none of them were actually optional. All were deemed mandatory, adding $480.10 to the ‘Vette’s $2,774.00 sticker price.

The 1953 model year represented a “toe in the water” approach for Chevrolet as the company and its workers grappled with producing a vehicle type with which it had no prior experience. It had high hopes for 1954, but not only did sales fall well below expectations, but Chevrolet had over-produced, leaving a large inventory of unsold vehicles as the model year ended. It eventually sold 3,640 cars, and after a sales dip in 1955, it seemed the Corvette project was doomed. However, Ford’s Thunderbird appeared then, and while not a natural competitor, its success motivated Chevrolet to persevere. The rest, as they say, is history. This 1954 ‘Vette is a survivor ripe for revival. That leaves the buyer with choices to make. It is a prime candidate for a faithful restoration, and that approach would be understandable. However, its solid nature would motivate me to retain it untouched and drive it proudly as a survivor. Do you agree?

Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Nice looking car. As for the lack power there are all sorts of shops across the country that could enhance the original engines to where even the automatic transmission wouldn’t be a setback.

    Like 5
  2. Cadmanls Member

    Why does the 54 get all the attention? I get it first year and all that, but 55 is really the year it became the Corvette with that sweet 265 under the hood. Changed the whole character of the car. Pretty sure prices reflect that, other than a few 54’s like the one walled up in the grocery store years ago. Guy drove it home and that was its only miles odometer recorded. They were nothing special in 54, performance was bland and GM knew it. Had a fiberglass body, boat makers and a few other kit cars were experimenting with glass, so give the General a plus there. Me a 55 with the manual 3 speed is the one and it had some colors to choose from.

    Like 5
    • gbvette62

      53 was the first year, not 54. Money wise, it’s 53 and 55 that get all the attention. You hear about and see 54’s more, because there were more of them, 3600 54’s, verse 300 53’s and 700 55’s. The performance of the 53/54’s was quite good. Most car magazines at the time were actually impressed with it’s speed and handling, it was the automatic that was panned. And like the 55’s, 54’s were available in four colors, Polo White, Sportsman Red, Black & Pennant Blue.

      I don’t know how much of a “survivor” this car is. I’m not sure what trans is in it, but it’s not the original Powerglide. Three pedals, and the shifter coming through the top of the tunnel, it has a 3 or 4 speed in it now. The carpet’s different, wrong horn button, the steering wheel should be red and white, the underside of the hood should be black, the engine should be blue, the washer’s missing…..

      Price isn’t too bad for what the car is, but a “real deal survivor”, I don’t think so.

      Like 12
      • bobhess bobhess Member

        Ad says manual transmission but no other information.

        Like 1
  3. rbig18

    I was thinking the same thing about “survivor status” How does a car discovered in a barn after 35 years have an original interior that looks absolutely new? Not buying that part of it. Nice car, but certainly not original/survivor for items mentioned by GBVette and I doubt it was in a barn for 35 years or if it was the seller did a lot of work to get it to this state,

    Like 1
    • Frank Sumatra

      Ask 10 people to define “Survivor” and you will get 25 different answers.

      Like 6
  4. charlie Member

    Owned one. Ran flawlessly in a straight line. Always started even in 0 degree weather (yes, I drove it in the winter in New England). Exhaust draged up over the rear deck into the passenger compartment, due to tail pipes going through the bumpers – Chevy fixed this by making them fake and dumping the exhaust down to the street, just inside the bumper, but previous owner routed them through the bumper again. Did not want to go around corners, very front heavy, the ’55’s with the V8 put the center of gravity further back. Three Carter side draft carbs (to fit under the low hood) leaked, a wonder it never burned up, on this one the interior is wrong red, or photo is off, red was to the orange, not the blue of the red spectrum, a not unusual issue with “restored” Covettes of the ’50’s. Sold it to buy a ’68 Chevelle wagon with all the heavy duty options offered, to pull horse trailer, a MUCH superior car.

    Like 3
  5. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    GONE. Since I can’t see the ad, I take it that it wasn’t too bad of a car, just not as the seller advertised.
    The price didn’t seem too bad. All early Corvettes (C1, C2) are getting more expensive.

    Like 2

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