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.
Maybe some of the earlier Corvettes that Steve has owned might be race winners, at least in the Stoplight Grand Prix. "When I was younger, I had a '93 and a '96 Corvette," he says. "This is one of the older Corvettes that are more of my Dad's favorites." Right now, Steve is looking for another of his dad's favorite Corvettes, but-like the restoration of this one - it won't be too quick "I've been in the process of looking for some other first-generation Corvettes," he says.
Whether you're looking for a Corvette to restore, or for one that's ready for weekend cruising, Steve says there are some things that you need to keep in mind. "It seems like a lot of work when you're working on it, and it takes a long time, but when it's done it's sure enjoyable. It's worth the wait to put in the time to have it restored to that level (Top Flight). "It's really enjoyable, and something to share. When my dad comes down, we drive it all the time when he's in town. You can't put a price tag on that."
Data File: '54 Chevrolet Corvette
Owned by: Steve Howard, Scottsdale, Arizona
Original production '54 Corvette
Bodywork: Corvette Restoration AZ, Tempe, Arizona
Paint: DuPont Pennant Blue acrylic lacquer; paint preparation and applied by Corvette Restoration AZ, Tempe, Arizona
Frame: Restored production 1954 Chevrolet (Shared with steel-bodied Chevys for the last time in '54)
Suspension: (Front) Upper/lower A-arms with coil springs, anti-roll bar and hydraulic shock absorbers (Rear) Semi-elliptic leaf springs with hydraulic shock absorbers
Steering: OEM GM-Saginaw, non-power-assisted (shared with "regular" '54 Chevys)
Brakes: OEM GM-Delco Moraine 11-inch drum-and-shoe brakes all around
Wheels: OEM 15-inch stamped steel wheels with OEM chrome full wheel covers
Tires: Reproduction 6.70-15 wide whitewall bias-plies all around
Chevrolet overhead valve "Blue Flame" six-cylinder
Originally built by: Chevrolet Motor Division's Flint Engine Plant, Flint, Michigan
Rebuilt by: JD Machine, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Displacement: 235.5 cubic inches
Compression ratio: 8.0:1
Cylinder head: Production "Stovebolt," cast iron
Ignition: OEM GM-Delco points-style ignition
Induction: 3 OEM side-draft Carter 2066SA 1-barrel carburetors with OEM cast iron intake
Camshaft: Production '54 "Blue Flame Six" camshaft
Exhaust: OEM cast iron manifold and single-exhaust-into-dual-tailpipes exhaust system
Emission controls: None on car (None were required anywhere in 1954.)
Horsepower: 150 @ 4200 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 223 ft. /lbs. @ 2400 rpm (Advertised)
OEM Chevrolet Powerglide two-speed automatic with cast iron case (RPO 313M)
Rebuilt by: Tri-City Transmission, Tempe, Arizona
Shifter: Original '54 floor-mounted "Go forward/go backward" switch
Rear end: Production '54 Chevrolet/Corvette
Restored production 1954 Corvette
Restored by: Corvette Restoration AZ, Tempe, Arizona
Seats: Production '54 buckets with original beige vinyl seat covers
Carpets: Al Knoch reproduction beige nylon loop-pile
Instrumentation: OEM '54 Corvette (0-140 mph speedometer in front of driver, plus 0-5000 rpm tachometer with no redline, fuel level, oil pressure, ammeter, coolant temperature gauges in center of dash)
Sound system: RPO 102A GM-Delco "Wonderbar" signal-seeking AM radio
Heater: OEM (RPO 101A) GM-Harrison heater
A/C: Dream on. Air conditioning wasn't a Corvette factory option until '63