Courtesy of Worldwide Auctioneers
  • Early production no. 62
  • Highly decorated first-year example of “America’s sports car”
  • NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence Award winner
  • NCRS Top Flight Award winner
  • Bloomington Gold Certified
  • 235-ci, 150-hp Blue Flame Special 6-cylinder engine
  • Triple Carter side-draft carburetors
  • Powerglide 2-speed automatic transmission

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster
Years Produced:1953
Number Produced:300
Original List Price:$3,498
SCM Valuation:$252,000
Tune Up Cost:$400
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:Plate screwed to left-hand door-hinge pillar
Engine Number Location:On block near distributor
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society
Alternatives:1957 Ford Thunderbird F-code convertible, 1957 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, 1964 Ford Thunderbolt
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 16, sold for $231,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Worldwide Auctioneers’ Monical Collection auction in Arlington, TX, on April 21, 2017. It was offered without reserve.

There are few Corvettes as boring, and few Corvettes as exciting, as the original 1953 model. Its hand-built quality varied a bit in places, the performance offered by its 6-cylinder, 150-hp “Blue Flame” engine was just adequate for the day, and this new “sports car” had only a 2-speed automatic transmission with no manual-gearbox option.

Corvette’s few American competitors in the nascent segment included the Willys Jeep-based Glasspar G2 kit car and the old-school F-head (intake/inlet over exhaust) Kaiser-Darrin. Various imports were far more advanced, including British cars such as the 6-cylinder, DOHC Jaguar XK 120, and early V12, SOHC Ferraris. Although it seems ridiculous to consider now, in the initial years, the U.S. sports car market was so unproven that the Corvette wasn’t a sure bet to even survive as a nameplate.

With only 300 units built in Flint, MI — all painted Polo White with a black convertible top and a red interior — today the first-year 1953 roadster is not only in a super-limited club, but it represents the very tip of the spear of the greatest legacy in American sports cars. It also has one of the greatest legacies for sports cars anywhere in the world, thanks to impressive production volume, loyal owner and club bases, and a terrific competition pedigree.

Whole lotta love

I love the 1953s because they pioneered the use of fiberglass on a mass-production car, preceding even the marine industry’s full switchover to the material. I also love the ’53s precisely because they don’t have a V8 engine, and as such are not all about bravado and swagger — two elements that underpin every Corvette from 1956 onward.

For these reasons, the 1953 Corvettes, really “pre-production” cars in a sense, have always lived and will always live in a unique bubble that deserves special recognition.

And so, let’s look at this example sold by Worldwide Auctioneers. Little history of the exact car was presented in the auction materials, but what was revealed is reassuring. It’s a fully restored example rather than a survivor, and the restoration work was said to have been done under caring ownership and to high and accurate standards — although it wasn’t stated when the resto occurred. The car was also stated to have driven 1,000 miles since the work was performed, and to “stand tall” in its running and driving condition. Finally, its life in two different museums prior to being offered in Texas included time with collector Bobby Monical.

What matters more, however, is that this early-VIN ’53 has earned a trio of truly significant awards. Grant any early Corvette an NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence Award (in this case, one of only 14 1953 Corvettes to win this), an NCRS Top Flight Award and a Bloomington Gold certification, and that car has achieved a rare level of recognition with regard to Corvette awards. The only step higher would be premium-level concours wins such as Amelia Island, The Quail or Pebble Beach.

For what it’s worth

Examining the sale price of $231,000, this is 8.3% below the median value for this model in the 2017 American Car Collector Pocket Price Guide (which gives it an “A” rating). Given the softening seen in much of the collector market during the past two or so years, the sale looked solid and emphasized the continuing appeal of blue-chip cars. And the 1953 Corvette is definitely a blue-chip car.

Putting this car’s sale price in context is interesting. For instance, comparing this ’53 to a similar (at least in appearance and performance) 1954 model, the ’53 is much rarer, with 12 times more of the later series-production ’54s built. At $231k, its price averages just 3.1 times higher than the far more plentiful ’54 model’s ($82.5k in the ACC price guide). This means that although it is 12 times scarcer, the ’53 is worth only three times as much as the relatively common ’54. Huh.

It’s also interesting to see what $231k (plus or minus about 10%–15%) can buy in other American collectibles in the ACC guide. Actually, it’s an interesting mix of low-production cars including a ’70 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda at $199.8k (652 were made), a 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Z16 at $200k (201 were made), a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado convertible at $218k (532 were made), and a 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Chevelle at $250k (approximately 99 were made). Since these are also heavyweight American post-war blue chips, I’d say that puts the ’53 Corvette in some good low-production company. Rest assured, ’53 ’Vette owners.

Why not more?

Considering that every one of the above alternatives is V8-powered, this value comparison also means the ’53 Corvette, which has long been disparaged for its milquetoast performance, in reality is strong from an image standpoint. And yet as I wind up this analysis, I’m left wondering why the debut-year ’53 ’Vette isn’t worth a whole bunch more — say double or triple its actual value.

It’s true that the above-mentioned Eldorado also debuted for ’53 while the Chevelle debuted for ’65, but somehow it seems the original Corvette should warrant greater esteem. But many times (especially right after the gavel strikes!) we can only shrug our shoulders and admit that the market — oftentimes just like life — is what it is.

In this case, on an April day in Texas, the market confirmed what the current market trends suggest, and that’s the fact that really good 1953 Corvettes are worth $200k and change. The seller offered a strong car with the awards and honors that matter, and the buyer paid a price right in line with the market. Like it or not, I have to call that fair all around.

(Introductory description courtesy of Worldwide Auctioneers.)

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