The May Sale 2017

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1954 Chevrolet Corvette C1

Lot No.: 326

Registration: 913 UYR
Chassis Number: E54S004574
Engine Number: 0646917/F54YG
Number of cylinders: 6
CC: 3850
Year of Manufacture: 1954
Sold for (£): 61,875

In the early 1950s, a team of GM engineers, headed up by Harley Earl, went to work trying to create a car that had the appeal to compete with European sports cars.  This car, dubbed the Corvette ‘Dream Car’, debuted at the GM Motorama show, which was held at the stylish Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  At the conclusion of Motorama’s US tour, GM stated that over four million people had seen the car with the majority expressing a desire to get behind the wheel of the new Corvette.  The first true American sports car was born!

Production of the two-seat roadster was fast-tracked and started in June 1953, with these early cars being essentially hand-built.  With a ‘Blue Flame’ six-cylinder engine and smooth ‘Powerglide’ transmission, it was a true roadster with no side windows and basic weather protection.  By the end of 1953, a total of only 300 Corvettes had rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan, all in Polo White with Sportsman Red interiors.  Just 225 examples from 1953 are known to still exist today, with these rare examples now commanding in excess of $500,000.  For all practical purposes, the 1953 and 1954 Corvettes were the same, albeit for some minor design improvements, including the exhaust outlets, the locations of the fuel and brake lines, starter motor, air cleaners and a window storage bag.  Unlike the 1953 model, the 1954 cars were now available in a variety of colour combinations.

In 1954, GM moved the Corvette's assembly to a newly renovated plant in St Louis, Missouri interrupting production slightly and thwarting Chevrolet's ambition to produce 1,000 units per month, the actual number built for the model year 1954 being only 3,640. (with a chassis/VIN number sequence running from E54S001001 – E54S004640 and engine numbers using the prefix LG). The 1953 cars are rarer and have the cachet of being first year models, but all Corvettes produced in this two-year period were fitted with the same six-cylinder in-line, ohv, 235 cu in (3.9-litre) engine.  

The car presented here is a 1954 Corvette (Model 2934), with the correct specification of a ‘Blue Flame’ engine with three single-barrel Carter side-draft carburettors attached to an effortless ‘Powerglide’ automatic transmission. Looking resplendent in the original and classic combination of Polo White with Sportsman Red interior, this car is chassis/VIN number E54S004574 (E = denotes early 6-cylinder engined Corvettes, 54 = denotes 1954 for year of manufacture, S = denotes St. Louis as the final assembly plant, 004574 = denotes production sequence number), meaning it is one of the last 60 Corvettes built for the 1954 model year.  It should, therefore, be fitted with an uprated camshaft, giving 155 bhp (up 5 bhp), but this is not confirmed.  Externally the engines look the same, but the more powerful version can only be detected by inspecting the camshaft – later camshafts have three dots between the fifth and sixth inlet cam lobes.

According to our vendor, who is a prominent car collector, when he was in America six years ago he came across this car for sale in the dry state of Arizona. Having travelled to inspect it, he tells us he was amazed by its unspoilt condition, with the original paint apparently still in place, albeit with signs of wear.  The seller stated that he believed the indicated mileage of 44,382 miles to be correct, having owned it for the previous 35 years. Having bought it, our vendor started its recommissioning back in the UK and was delighted to find that upon removing the paint, it was apparent that the car was very straight, showing no signs of repair or accident damage.   

Obviously bent on doing this car justice, he spent £18,600 on having it expertly painted, all the original brightwork re-plated, and the interior completely re-trimmed in the correct colour.  He tells us that all the componentry works as it should, even down to the clock and interior lamps.  The brakes have been stripped and rebuilt and the carburettors have been restored and set-up, ensuring the car runs as well as it presents.  It is UK-registered, having a V5C document and a UK registration number 

Unfortunately, the US Vehicle Title document for the car, which supports its ownership history, was retained by the DVLA, with no copy being made, and the car is not accompanied by any early history records, which is not uncommon for US cars, but there is an invoice for its painting.  

Looking quietly at this superb, sparkling white C1 Corvette, it's not hard to understand why the population of Middle America, with the memories of a World War fading and the evidence of future prosperity all around, fully endorsed the period Chevrolet advertising calling it “First of the Dream Cars to come true”. It was a dream, it was Harley Earl's dream, and over sixty years later, that dream has never faded.