After a planned short-sell of only 300 units in 1953, when Chevrolet handcrafted its all-new sports car with a bent toward drawing in the deep-pocket crowd first and attracting the rest of the image-conscious buyers later, the marketers of the day were all set to go for the big time in 1954. Tooling was designed for a higher-volume output (10,000-plus were planned), and Chevy geared up to throw the salesroom doors open to the country-club set. Unfortunately, the upper crust wasn't looking at the Corvette. The hoped-for 10,000 sales figure for 1954 fell well short of that, at 3,640--and many of those went unsold. Sales plummeted further to only 700 in 1955 before the infusion of V-8 power and other refinements finally righted the ship and set the Corvette legend afloat.
However, it's that early buyer apathy that landed the first-generation Corvettes in the collector-car stratosphere. First, there's no denying that they're visually striking. Second, they're America's flagship sports car. And third, there weren't many made, ensuring their rare and collectible status.
Viewing an early Corvette today is always a treat, but feasting your eyes on an example as nice as Ken Symonds’ Polo White ´54 is truly a pleasure. Ken is a retired auto body expert, and today still works his magic on street rods and classic restorations as his ongoing hobby out of his Jensen Beach, Florida, home. This Corvette is one of many he has owned, but it’s the only one that he’s kept, and it’s easy to see why.
Given his professional expertise and obvious attention to detail, it comes as little surprise that his ´54 roadster is one of the finest in the country. Ken has owned the Polo White beauty since 1970, when he purchased it for use as a daily driver, a duty it fulfilled for 20 years.
Then, in 1990, Ken embarked on a full-blown restoration of the classic drop-top, leaving no stone unturned in his full frame-up restoration. Every bit of the work including the engine, body, and paint work was done personally by Ken, and the result is a sparkling example of what style looked like, circa 1954. Ken’s ´54 is a late version of the production run, numbering 4,447 (production started at 1,001 and ended at 4,640), so it has a couple of late-production quirky quick fixes, such as the baffled tailpipe to keep exhaust gases from venting into the interior, and a groove on the drop-top surround to lead and seal the top to the chassis.
In every respect, Ken faithfully refurbished, refitted, or rebuilt the ´54’s parts (at least the ones that didn’t exist--the car has its original carb setup and entire gauge package, among other things), to exacting detail.
Following the extensive rebirth process, Ken hit the show trail with his ´54. In the early ´90s, instead of collecting smiles and miles, it started collecting hardware. Honors for the roadster include an NCRS Top Flight award, Performance Verification, and a trio of AACA Preservation awards. Today, the little drop-top leads the pampered life of a strictly-for-show vehicle, plus the occasional seaside tour on Florida’s East Coast. One thing is certain, though. When heads swivel in Ken’s direction, they are viewing a part of Corvette’s past that is perfect.