Courtesy of Mecum Auctions
  • Built using an original 1954 body and VIN tag
  • Updated with an Art Morrison frame
  • Kugel independent front and rear suspension with a two-inch offset for custom wheels
  • Frame and underbody sanded, filled and painted to match the custom exterior
  • Magnuson-supercharged LS6 engine with 554 dyno-proven horsepower to the rear wheels
  • 4L60E transmission

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Chevrolet Corvette Custom
Years Produced:1954
Number Produced:3,640
Original List Price:$2,774
SCM Valuation:$70,000–$116,000 (stock)
Tune Up Cost:$250
Distributor Caps:N/A
Chassis Number Location:Stamped plate inside left door opening
Engine Number Location:On block just behind driver’s side cylinder head
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS)
Alternatives:1957 Chevrolet Bel Air resto-mod, 1963 Chevrolet Corvette resto-mod, 1962 Chevrolet Corvette resto-mod
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot S754, sold for $159,500, including buyer’s premium, at the Russo and Steele auction in Newport Beach, CA, on June 5–7, 2015.

There will always be art, and culturally we’re all the better for it, I suppose. Because along with Warhol’s simplistic paintings of Elvis and soup cans, I find the whole business of creating resto-mods and customs from surviving old cars — or even new customs designed to look like old ones, such as a fiberglass ’32 Ford body on a new frame cradling a crate engine — unsettling.

The reason is that a new car designed to look like an old one is an imposter. Not real. A wannabe. A fake. All of those are negatives for me. My feeling is that if you want an old car, go get an old car. If you want a new car, go get one, or else create your own design.

There, I said it. I’m not particularly a resto-mod or clone fan. And with such a polarizing disclaimer, let’s look at this hot-rodded ’54.

A body and nothing else

According to the auction info, this custom was built around a surviving 1954 Corvette body. How and why did an entire ’54 body survive for over 60 years while the frame and related underpinnings didn’t? But taking it at face value, let’s suppose you came into possession of this body. What could you do with it?

One option would be to part it out to whoever needed a clip, or a door, or a trunk lid. Another would be to hang it and its VIN tag from the rafters for another decade or two until Corvette Classiche (which I just made up) certified it as the last great missing ’54. And finally, you could spend the rest of your life and incalculable greenbacks sourcing the hundreds of OE parts necessary to complete an authentic ’54 Corvette that will always and forever be stigmatized as a “bitsa” — built with bits of this and bits of that, and which would be worth $70,000 to $120,000 at most.

Follow the money

Disliking the idea as I do, I fully admit that the best return for the owner of said body was probably to pursue yet another course: build a resto-mod. Such cars do enjoy a robust following, and the price paid was likely a far better return for the builder than any attempt at creating an authentic ’54 could achieve. So on paper, at least, I admire and appreciate what was done. See? At least I’m a fiscal fan of resto-mods.

This actually appears to be an exceptionally nice piece of work, with one photo showing dozens of trophies and awards that seem to validate its design, execution and quality. The exterior is ultra-clean, stripped to its most essential elements and devoid of Corvette badges and scripts, front bumperettes and driver’s side mirror.

The paint appears brighter than 1954’s Sportsman Red, but regardless, only 100 ’Vettes were red for 1954, making this a head-turner for anyone. The big blingy wheels, disc brakes and adjustable ride height further call attention to this beast. And the lack of windshield wipers clearly identifies it as a sunny-Sundays machine. I like the retention of the original-style Corvette trim and toothy grille, and the restraint exercised in not flaring the fenders. Panel preparation and fit appear way better than stock.

Huge power heightens appeal

The engine bay is just as beautifully finished and shows very little use. The modern LS6, although hardly beautiful like a small-block Chevy, at least embraces reality by sparing the plastic finishers over the cylinder heads, leaving the coils, fuel system and assorted wiring and plumbing all visible — just like the original Blue Flame Six. Related items including the supercharger, alternator and air-conditioning compressor are plated, polished or stainless, resulting in a super-sanitary, cost-no-object presentation — just right for bidding action at auction.

As the engine bay suggests, the undercarriage is also finished to premium quality, and shows not one piece of gravel or speck of dirt anywhere. The independent rear suspension has handmade tubular lower control arms, inboard cross-drilled and ventilated disc brakes, and the aforementioned air shocks. All components are plated or polished, and the paintwork in even hard-to-reach areas appears as expert as on the exterior panels. Bottom line, this car is over the top — even underneath.

Go-go showboat

In contrast to the undercarriage, the beige interior appears almost staid. The steering wheel, sporting a medieval spoke design, seems out of character, although the whiteface modern gauges do evoke a vintage feel. Twin air-conditioning vents on the instrument panel are subtly integrated, and a final touch is an in-console navigation system. The trunk is equally well finished and showcases what appears to be the air-ride suspension compressor in a recessed well.

It’s great to have all kinds of pop culture to borrow from, including the 1963 Beach Boys line, “No-go showboat” about a custom car. With a claimed 554 horsepower on tap, this custom ’54 is hardly a no-go, although its lack of essential road equipment suggests that it’s not likely to go much farther than Cars and Coffee or a trailer ride to Hot August Nights.

On a greater sphere though, with great creativity, the builder took an orphaned ’54 body to about the highest level imaginable here. This sale wasn’t this car’s first auction appearance, but it was its first reported public sale: It appeared at auction at Mecum’s Monterey sale last year but wasn’t sold. Russo’s successful $160k sale in Newport Beach proves that the resto-mod formula is still very much alive. Regardless of whether I like such cars, I can’t quibble with that.

(Introductory description courtesy of Russo and Steele.

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