This rare 2003 Avelate Corvette convertible pays homage to the 1953 Corvette. It is the first of only two built by the Avelate Automotive Co. in 2003 to pay tribute to 50 years of Corvette styling. Avelate masterfully crafted some subtle but distinctive ’53 cues into a new 2003 Anniversary Corvette chassis and drivetrain. The paint is white with traces of flakes to commemorate the 50th Anniversary. It has a red interior like the 1953 cars. Large round exposed headlamps and toothy grille reflect some of the distinctive ’53 styling, along with round rear taillights and curved trunk lid. The drivetrain is a stock Corvette 350/350 with 6-speed manual transmission. The wheels are custom built by Billet Wheel Company. With less than 10,500 original miles, it also has a Bose stereo with CD changer and a white top. In addition, it has the 2003 General Motors Corvette window sticker and VIN. After completion, Avelate Automotive presented both cars with serial numbered Certificates of Authenticity from the factory. This car also comes with its last owners’ documentation, plus all factory paperwork and literature from when the rolling car was purchased from GM. This scarce piece of Corvette history would be an excellent and very rare addition to anyone’s collection.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:2003 Avelate Fifty Three Convertible
Years Produced:2003
Number Produced:2 (against 7,747 50th Anniversary convertibles)
Original List Price:$100,000 approx.
SCM Valuation:$60,000–$90,000
Tune Up Cost:$350
Distributor Caps:$12
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side dash at windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad forward of cylinder head on right side
Club Info:C5 Registry
Alternatives:2000 CRC C5/C1 roadster1995 Guldstrand Nassau roadster1998 Indy Pace Car convertible
Investment Grade:C

This car sold for $79,200, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s auction in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 7, 2009.

The 50th anniversary commemorative Fifty Three was not the first or only product of Avelate Automotive. However, it is one of the more exclusive ones.

Dean “Dino” Arnold’s Avelate Automotive, Inc., was an upkick of his customizing work in Washington State in the late 1990s. Having been on GM’s design team from 1969 to 1984—including stints on the Camaro and Corvette teams—his first conversions basically blended styling cues of the four previous Corvette generations onto the C5 platform. The heaviest emphasis was on the C3, especially on the front fascia, and overall it came off as a very low-slung 1982 model.

Sales—as could be expected from a low-volume converter—were modest. To broaden the line, Avelate developed the Fifty Three, timed for production to be concurrent with the Corvette’s 50th anniversary in 2003. Claiming to be neither a copy of the original nor a retro redo, Avelate contended that it was a fresh design influenced by the C1 in general.

Limited sales meant limited production

If it looks like a duck, is styled like a duck, and has a shark tooth grille like an original duck, it’s a retro duck. With intentions of a limited run of 50 convertibles and 50 coupes (which never made it past the design stage), there was no need to worry about overproduction. By the time Avelate closed shop in mid-2004, only 25 conversions of all types had been done during the company’s three-year existence.

Depending upon whose source you believe, there were two or three Fifty Three convertibles built, with our feature car being the first one. Regardless of the source, all agree that two cars were factory stock (a relative term in this case), with one “custom” car, so it seems those who say two were built don’t wish to factor in the custom car.

We know that this custom car exists, because I wrote it up when it crossed the block last year at Russo and Steele’s Scottsdale auction—ending up as a $60k no-sale (CM# 119529). In actuality, the “custom” car is built from a salvage-title Canadian-market 1999, while the two factory stock cars were fabricated from Bowling Green virgin chassis and were sold as new cars. Build quality on these “factory” cars was quite good for being a conversion and approaches OEM. Then again, with only 13k miles on the clock, it hasn’t had much chance to shake apart.

Strangely, for all of their uniqueness, none of the Fifty Threes—and especially our featured car—has ever been far from the auction block. This car has crossed the stage several times at Barrett-Jackson (Las Vegas 2008, lot 518, for $93,500; West Palm Beach 2008, lot 630, for $77,000; Scottsdale 2006, lot 1573, for $71,500). In addition, B-J also handled the other car—which is the second of the two “production” cars—at the 2005 Palm Beach auction. This car was also offered at Mecum’s Bloomington Gold auction in 2004, having been a no-sale at $50,000 (CM# 34249).

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

As with all retro designs, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The company pumped up the Fifty Three as “what the original design could have evolved into, given time.” Of course, the argument can be made that the stock C5 is exactly what the design evolved into, and the C6 after that.

While designers and dreamers can conjure up “what if” cars all day for everything from Duesenbergs to Packards to curved-dash 1902 Oldsmobiles, it’s a bit pointless to go this route with the Corvette, simply because it’s still in continuous production (even if the brand is in better shape than its parent company). When you take an icon like the original Corvette and try to change it around, the line for those who appreciate such efforts gets mighty short.

Actually, in this beholder’s eyes, the lone “custom” car came off better, since it also added bumpers and chrome trim that this one lacks. As we’ve said for years at both SCM and CM, when you stray from stock, you’re on your own trying to get your investment back, and this is especially true of Corvettes. The further you go, the deeper the likely loss.

The CRC 1962-look conversions I profiled in CM#3 generally look as much like a 1962 Corvette as possible with C5 components and nearly stock styling. As such, CRCs generally work, while our feature car comes up short. It’s not just me. None of these cars has had long-term owners since new, so it’s not like someone has fallen madly in love with one and is keeping it; all of them have gone trolling for new owners.

This helps ensure that this car (and at least one other) will continue to be frequent flyers in the auction world until an owner just gives up and lets it go to one of the few collectors out there who truly wants to own it. As such, it will always be an expensive play toy, with investment potential nearly non-existent.

Run it, take it to cruise nights, try to pick up chicks or cougars with it, but don’t expect to make a dime on it. Rather, expect it to hold its value the same as other examples that claim other evolutionary designs—Excalibur, Clenet, or Zimmer—as the Fifty Three falls more closely into their realm than into that of a regular C5. (Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.

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