The '54 Corvette was a lot of things. A lot of different things, compared to the first-year '53s. That fact started with the move of Corvette production from Flint to St. Louis and the end to Flint's "Great Spatula Shortage," caused when Chevrolet bought every spatula they could find in Flint to work the resin into the new Vette body's glass-fiber cloth and it continued with the addition of three more color choices to the original Polo White, and through running changes made during the '54 model run like a camshaft that added five horsepower to the Blue Flame Six's advertised total of 150. (Remember, this was when, according to popular legend, a good horse could outrun a Chevy, at least for the first mile.)
Increased desirability or not, just days after its completion, the '54 went before the NCRS judges at the Society's Arizona Chapter meet in Tucson-and came away with a local Top Flight award, with a 98.2 percent total score. Despite the high score and resulting Top Flight award, this Corvette is no trailer queen. Steve says it gets driven regularly, especially during the winter months. "It's really enjoyable and we get a lot of looks going down the road," says Steve. "It's not something that you see every day." With a nod toward the restored Blue Flame Six under the hood, Steve adds, "It's not going to win any races, but it's fun. I just enjoy driving it."
Unfortunately, due to its slow sales, the second-year Corvette was almost the last Corvette. Only 3,647 were made in 1954 instead of the 10,000 that Chevy product planners had projected. Much of that total was still unsold when the radically re-done, steel-bodied "Motoramic" '55 Chevrolets went on sale. But there's something about the '54s that some people find inspiring. For some "more experienced" Corvette lovers, the '54 was the first one they saw in person, starting their life-long attraction to what became America's Only True Sports Car.
And for some Vette lovers, the second-year Corvette is a bridge between generations, as Steve Howard found when he discovered this one. Steve says that each winter, his father comes to visit him in Arizona from his home in Spokane, Washington, trading the Pacific Northwest's snow for Southwestern sun. They make it a point to attend the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, and then watch the TV coverage of it that night. Four years ago, right after Barrett-Jackson's '06 Scottsdale event, the elder Howard remembered a vintage Corvette that was in a neighbor's garage back in Spokane. "My dad is the one who found it there," Steve says from his Scottsdale, Arizona, home. "He'd seen it in there for years, and he went over and asked him if he wanted to sell it." That call to the neighbor revealed that there was indeed a Corvette in his garage, a '54 model that had been stored there since 1964. "It was more of a barn find than a ready-to-go car that only needed a few cosmetic things," says Steve of the '54's condition when he found it.
Once the inspection was done, it was purchase time. As Steve recalls, "We worked out a deal, then we shipped it down to Kim, and he did his magic on it." Kim was none other than Kim Madsen of Corvette Restorations AZ in Tempe, who also helped guide Steve through the pre-sale inspection process. Many of you may remember that Kim and his crew helped Corvette Fever build the incredible Timber Wolf C2 in 2007 & 2008. Like many garage or barn finds, this '54 Vette was in less-than-perfect condition, but it wasn't hopeless. Fortunately, it was intact, with most of its original parts still on it-including the Blue Flame Six and the cast-iron-case Powerglide.
That run of good luck continued when Steve chose not to hurry the restoration process, and even more good fortune resulted when Kim called on Steve Neel-who's an NCRS Master Judge-to oversee the restoration. "Kim and Steve are the experts-they located all the parts that we needed, and they were able to put it all together," Steve says. "Steve Neel knows these cars inside and out."
The body-off-the-frame restoration took about two years, and when it was done the doors didn't fit their openings exactly. (No surprise-they didn't fit exactly on any '54 Corvette.) It was as if this car had just rolled out of St. Louis Assembly onto Natural Bridge Avenue. But there was one big change made while the car was at Corvette Restoration AZ: The car's exterior color. Instead of being a one-of-300 Pennant Blue car, this C1 was one of the 3,000 '54s that were painted Polo White. "We changed the paint to make it a little more desirable," Steve says of the color change.