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1954 Chevrolet Corvette - Time Capsule

This '54 Corvette Shows Its Age, But It's Nothing Short Of Perfect

Jack Sweet Dec 1, 2004
Corp_0412_01_z 1954_chevrolet_corvette Front_left_view 2/1

Richard Hathaway was browsing in a Chevrolet dealership in Bowling Green, Ohio, late in 1954 when this brand-new Pennant Blue convertible with a beige soft top and interior caught his eye. At the time, Corvettes were being touted as a perfect second car-a zippy 235ci, automatic-transmission-equipped ride that Dad could take to work, leaving the station wagon for Mom to do errands.

Yes, it was a different time.

Richard liked the looks of the car and wanted to buy it. Sometime after Christmas in 1954, after several visits to the dealership, money changed hands and Richard's first-and only-Corvette went home.

"The dealers were discounting them then," Richard said, noting the asking price was a little more than $3,000 for the relatively unpopular sports car. He managed to strike a favorable bargain with the dealership and bought the car for $2,500-significantly less than the sticker price.

The little blue convertible, only the 1,423rd Corvette built during the '54 model year and one of only 300 delivered in Pennant Blue, served Richard as a daily driver for 15 years between 1955 and 1970, shuttling him to and from work and making three trouble-free round trips to California.

"It always ran pretty good," he says. "Those side-draft carburetors leaked a little gas, but there weren't any problems other than that."

The car got its aftermarket hardtop from an outfit in California in 1955. "I had to wait awhile for it to come in because it wasn't like today where you order something and it ships out right away," Richard says. The car had a bit of a disaster that same year when it was hit on the right front side. "There was a difference of opinion about who had the right-of-way," he joked. "The other guy was pulling out of a gas station and I was going straight. That knocked the headlight right out of its bucket."

Then, in 1958, the car did vehicular battle with a slightly larger opponent. It was clipped in the right rear by a semi.

"That fiberglass comes apart pretty good," Richard admits. "I looked all over the place to find a new fender and finally my neighbor found one in a junkyard. He couldn't tell what kind of car it was from, but he recognized it by the taillight. It had everything-the taillights, the little piece where the exhaust sticks out, and everything. He said it was mine for $80." Richard anted up for the fender and had a local body shop install it.

The '54 was garaged in 1970 after 15 years of service. "I got another car and always thought I'd get around to fixing this one up someday," Richard says. "Well, one day comes, and another, and someday never gets here."

The car sat dormant in a heated garage for 32 years. Richard said he started the Corvette occasionally to make sure it was still in running condition. "I wasn't worried about the transmission, but those six-cylinder engines are brutal," he added.

Fast-forward to 1990. The all-but-forgotten convertible was about to get a new lease on life. Vic Lucarelli, an upholsterer by trade living in Lambertville, Michigan, had finished the restoration of his '57 Corvette and an NCRS acquaintance told him about the lost '54 in Ohio. "I called [Richard] about twice a year for 12 years," Lucarelli said. "Finally he said it was time to sell it." A deal was struck and in October 2002, Lucarelli loaded the '54 onto a flatbed truck for the ride to its new Michigan home.

"All the equipment was working after 32 years of storage," Lucarelli said. "The clock started ticking as soon as I put in the new battery." In addition, the emergency-brake light, cigarette lighter, courtesy lights, tachometer, and speedometer all work. The signal-seeking radio is another story, though.

"The only things I did to get it into driving condition was rebuild the master and wheel cylinders and change the water pump and radiator hoses," Lucarelli said. "It also got new points, rotor, distributor cap, plugs, and wires, and I replaced the tires."

Lucarelli took the car to the '04 Bloomington Gold event in St. Charles, Illinois, this June. In the Survivor corral, there was always a crowd of appreciative Corvette enthusiasts gathered around the convertible, which won its Survivor certification in the meantime.

As for the future? Well, don't bet a lot of money this 139,000-original-mile car will ever see a frame-off restoration job just to get lost in the crowd of perfect, "correct" museum pieces. Lucarelli said the plans for now are to enjoy it-drive it on nice evenings and display it at local car shows.

"All three [Bloomington] judges said I shouldn't restore it. I should just maintain it and keep it running," Lucarelli said. "For now, that's what I'll do. I have my '57 if I want to drive a restored car and this one's in the bank if I ever want to do another project."

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