Few car enthusiasts, whether they're casual automotive buffs or died-in-the-wool Corvette fanatics, would regard the first-generation, '53-62 solid-axle Corvettes as anything but highly significant automotive milestones. The Corvette wasn't the only American automobile manufacturer's attempt to break into the surging sports car marketplace, which was dominated by European marques (MG, Jaguar, Porsche, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Ferrari, among others) in the early '50s, but it was the only attempt that proved to be a success. The Nash Healey was fading away by the time the first Corvettes were being produced in Flint. The Kaiser Darrin disappeared almost before it appeared, with just a relative handful of '54 models built. And Ford's Thunderbird, based (as were the early Vettes) on full-sized passenger car components, sold well from 1955 through 1957, then ballooned into a bulbous four-passenger "personal" car.
By the time the two-place T-Bird went away, the Corvette was well-established, and well on its way too becoming America's Sports Car. With a cutting-edge V-8 under hood, linked to the optional Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual gearbox and Positraction rear axle, along with sleek, streamlined fiberglass bodies, the first-gen Corvettes were true torchbearers for the era and have become highly sought-after and very valuable collectible cars today.
The inevitable passage of time, however, has taken its toll on many of these classics. Combined with relatively low production numbers (a total of 69,015 solid-axles were manufactured during the first-generation's 10-year production cycle, and annual sales didn't top 10,000 units until 1960), one rarely steals a glimpse of an early model simply out and motoring along the thoroughfares of modern-day America. That's not to say that these vintage Vettes have all become trailer queens or garage furniture; a great many owners of vintage Vettes drive their prizes to events, but most who are lucky enough to own a pristine original would almost prefer driving a Geo Metro than risk getting into an altercation with an errant SUV in commuter traffic.
There is a finite supply of first-generation Corvettes, and that supply represents just a fraction of the original quantity produced. Meanwhile, the popularity of-and resulting demand for-these classic Corvettes is exceedingly high. Relatively solid examples are highly sought after by restorers. At the same time, solid-axles are extremely hot items with the "restification" crowd. Unlike steel-bodied cars, old Corvettes aren't prone to cases of body-rot, and as long as metal corrosion hasn't attacked the steel inner body structural supports, an elderly but battered Vette body shell can be brought back to life fairly easily. The old stamped steel frames are another story.
A good, original frame is an absolute must when you're restoring an older Corvette. If you prefer the restified approach, where you combine the looks and character of a vintage Vette with modernized underpinnings, well, a frame is still an absolute necessity, but does it have to be an original Corvette frame?
It depends. Are you starting off with an intact and solid, but non-numbers-matching car? Do you simply want a cruiser, a solid-axle with disc brakes and a more modern small-block? If the primary use of that lightly "rodded" solid-axle is to go out for an occasional weekend drive, and the early '50s Bel Air-derived suspension and steering don't phase you, cool. On the other hand, you will be driving a Corvette that is basically a stiffly-suspended '53 Chevy, which is not exactly the epitome of ride or handling quality.