Courtesy of Bonhams

This beautifully restored second-year ’Vette has covered fewer than 34,000 miles with three different owners in the 60 years since it rolled off the line in St. Louis. Its original owner kept the car only briefly and drove it sparingly before its second owner acquired it in 1958 with a mere 2,000 miles on the register. It was a carefully loved and well-maintained car, and only 29,000 miles were driven in the subsequent 48 years.

The current owner purchased the car in fall of 2006 as a nicely preserved, original car. In January 2010, a careful and thorough two-year restoration was started.

The body was professionally prepped and repainted using paint produced by Bill Hirsch in its original Polo White, while the chrome was all expertly replated. Under the hood, the Blue Flame straight-six engine and Powerglide transmission were torn down and restored by a marque specialist. The red interior was restored to factory-correct standards by House of Customs in Bountiful, UT, and installed by early-Corvette specialist John E. Kennedy.

Based on inspections last year by NCRS judges, the car was said to be the “perfect color” and in excellent nick. Complete with all of its restoration receipts and recent service history, as well as its expertly restored soft top and rarely seen side curtains, it has covered less than 100 miles since restoration.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster
Years Produced:1953–55
Number Produced:3,640 (1954)
Original List Price:$2,774
SCM Valuation:$70,000–$116,000
Tune Up Cost:$400–$500
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:On left-side A-pillar
Engine Number Location:On block near distributor
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society
Alternatives:1957–62 Chevrolet Corvette (fuel injected), 1957 Ford Thunderbird (F-code supercharged), 1954 Kaiser-Darrin
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 324, sold for $74,800, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Greenwich Concours d’Elegance Auction in Greenwich, CT, on June 1, 2014.

If there was ever a car that apparently didn’t need restoration, this seems to be it. Twenty-nine thousand miles, a known short custodial chain from new, and loving ownership ring all the bells for a car to preserve in its original state forever. However, since that was unfortunately not done here, this formerly uniquely blessed ’54 now swims in the same pool with hundreds of similarly restored sophomore-year ’Vettes. In short, at the moment the decision was made to restore what seemingly was a nice surviving example, the car went from being one of a lucky few to one of many. Many in today’s Corvette world would call that a bad choice. That said, it now is what it is. Let’s have a look.

The “good bones” rule

To me, good bones trump many other factors when purchasing an old house, an old car, or taking a similar calculated risk. Good bones help give peace of mind that you “got a good one” during your ownership period, help ensure what will probably be a more enjoyable and less stressful experience, and make it easier to sell at top dollar later on down the road.

In the case of this Corvette, the “good bones” elements include the stated three owners from new, and careful use amounting to less than 34,000 total miles. A scant 566 miles per year is virtually nothing. So that part is positive.

Another positive for this car is the identification of restorers by name. Usually, when a seller is proud of the work performed, he’ll gladly state who had a hand in it. Not so when it’s Cut-Rate Paint & Bait who did the body. The further assertion that NCRS judges deemed the paint to be of a “perfect color” is evidence that the restorers had the confidence to take it to an NCRS meet in the first place, even though no awards were mentioned.

The full story is always useful

Now the negatives, and there are a few. Why on earth was an untouched car of such inferred quality restored at all? Granted, when the trigger was pulled in 2006, “original” and “Survivor” hadn’t reached the level of importance that they have today. Still, absent any other details, the decision to do this seems crazy.

Where’s the documentation showing the car’s supposed pampered history? The auction description cheerfully mentions restoration receipts and recent service history, but included zip-nada-nothing about the real documents you want, such as original dealer paperwork, changes of ownership and so forth that back up the three-owner claim.

Also, although we know this was a Pennsylvania car, how did it live? Was it part of a real-life fairytale in the mayor’s mansion, or did it actually suffer through its middle years in the backyard of a steel town? We just don’t know.

And lastly, has any degradation occurred during the years since it was judged to be “in excellent nick” — and what might it need today to be road- or show-ready? As frequently happens, the catalog description is long on fancy and short on the facts that matter when smart buyers are paying attention.

I want to love you. Really, I do

Despite the harping above, I still like the story of this car, and it presents nicely. The door and hood fits are suitably wonky, as is typical of factory production. The rare side curtains look fantastic on the car, the Polo White paint is appropriately eggshell looking, the top is nicely frumpy, the ride height is reasonable, and various little pits and dings give credence to it still owning its original bits rather than re-pops. My primary quality quibble is with the interior textiles and vinyl, which to my eye look way too modern. These components should evoke “60 years ago” and they just don’t.

So where does this leave us? With a reputedly pampered low-mile original car restored to exacting period standards, which sold for just $74,800 during a period of historic gains for many classic sports cars (albeit mostly Italian and German ones).

The current ACC value range for these cars is $70,000 at the low end and $116,000 at the high end, putting this rather intriguing car’s selling price at just 6.9% above low market. Something’s not adding up here. Has the market gone a bit soft on ’54s, or did bidders sense that something was amiss with this car? Or was it that the right customers simply weren’t in the room when this car crossed the auction block? That’s hard to nail down, but it could be a bit of all three.

With all the evidence I can extract from afar, and considering this car’s current condition and the market for similar examples, I’d say that Lot 324 in Greenwich was pretty well bought. I do love it, so congratulations to whoever dunnit.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.

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