1954 Corvette – A GM Styling Exercise Car?
Embark on a captivating journey as we delve into the pages of Vette Vues Magazine’s May 2021 issue, penned by the skilled hand of Jim Kreuz. Within its confines, Jim unfolds an enthralling narrative, a tale that revolves around an enigmatic 1954 Corvette, a car that beckons us to explore its potential status as a 1954 Corvette GM Styling Exercise Car. Join us as we dive into his remarkable story.
Locating a rare, classic sports car hidden in a dusty old garage only happens on TV, right? Not quite. This ‘one of a kind’ 1954 Corvette was located a mile from our house.
The ‘54 was part of a larger C1 & C2 Corvette collection that I’d spent years trying to convince the owners, who have asked to remain nameless, to allow me to view. The one building I was given access to hold a pair of autos, a 1967 Corvette 427 4-speed convertible and our ’54 that had not run in years. This pair beats your full house.
The Corvette was introduced in 1953, with 300 white convertibles produced, followed by 3,640 in 1954. All were powered by a 235-cu. in. in-line 6-cylinder engine, coupled to a two-speed automatic transmission and managed with a 6-volt electrical setup. With one exception – ours.
Unique 1954 Corvette
It appears that General Motors (GM) removed this convertible from the end of the assembly line and made a number of modifications that would eventually appear on the 1955 and 1956 Corvettes. Quite possibly, this is a GM Styling Exercise car. They began with an upgraded engine, a 265 cu in V-8, not available to the public until the 1955 model year. This eight-cylinder gas guzzler has a September 1954 casting date code on the block. The electrical system was upgraded to 12 V, and the door handles are identical to the 1956 model. The rear license plate holder is filled in, identical to a 1956 model, which was no easy task considering the body is made of fiberglass. There’s more, like the 3-speed manual transmission, not introduced until late 1957, that replaced the 2-speed Power Glide automatic. Another GM modification. (Note: One of the early owners removed the 3-speed and installed a 4-speed.)
My comment to the owner was, ‘So what, someone else made all these changes in their garage.’ The owner just smiled. He was waiting for my rebuttal and had all the facts to convince even a novice car guy that this was something special. “If you look at where the clutch bracket is attached to the frame, the welding is very professional and looks like GM welding. It was done very well. Also, it is evident that the master cylinder has been relocated to accommodate the installation of a clutch pedal. The doors have ’56-’57 style inner structures with ’53-’55 front hinges but have ’56-’57 rear strikers and catches. The bumpers are a mixture of ’53-’55 and ’56-’57. The front bumperettes are ’53-’55, but the front bumpers are ’56-’57. All upper and lower vertical bumper chrome has been removed, but the rear horizontal bumpers remain.
“The previous owner asked me if I’d noticed the installation of the glove box (not a standard 1954 installation). I said ‘yes’. He then asked if I’d looked at the rivets. I said ‘no’. He told me that he had verified with a GM engineer that those are GM rivets, and only GM has those types of rivets. So, that installation, he feels, had to have been done by GM. That’s the only real verification I’ve got on anything so far.”
The Metallic Green paint is another styling ‘look ahead’ not available in ’54. Our owner explains, “I sent this color to Joe Bortz, a well-known GM Motorama expert. In fact, I sent him a paint chip off this car, and he had it analyzed. There is a 1955 GM Motorama car built one year after ours, and it was painted this exact same metallic green. Our car came off the assembly line as a blue model (blue paint is visible where some of the green has chipped away). So, it’s possible that GM painted this car green. When GM made changes, say for a car show, they made changes correctly, and not haphazardly.”
OK, so he convinced me that this was one special automobile. But I had to ask about the hard-top resting on the car. “They did not make a 1954 hard-top Corvette. The black hard-top sitting on top of the car (removed during the photo shoot) is a 1953-4-5 aftermarket item that was available back in the day. The green hard-top installed on the car is a very early style 1956 example. Note that the exterior hard-top trim pieces are hand-made stainless steel (not standard). If you look on the interior towards the rear, on back there are some cuts on the inside to clear some of the 1954 hardware to fit the hard-top, another indication this is not quite right.” But all of these additions and modifications, again, were professionally done.
I was curious as to where he found this rare gem. “I bought the car from ProTeam Corvette in Ohio a number of years ago. Did they know what they had? Well, they had it advertised as a possible Motorama car, but they could not verify it. I bought it because of the hard-top and because it was an interesting-looking car. They were quite honest. They said, ‘This is what it might be, and we can’t prove it. Here it is, for what it is.’ I said OK, and I just liked it because of the car.”
I brought a friend along, and he quizzed the owner about the hubcaps, which did not appear to be standard. “This car has Cadillac wire wheels on it, like the 1953 Vettes. They bolt right on and have Cadillac center caps over the wheels. But the very center is covered with an emblem that resembles a 1956-7 style Corvette horn button, or more accurately, what looks like a spinner on a 1956-7 style hub cap, with the exception that there are no knock-off bars on this piece.
“The pieces are all cast, and all have GM numbers on the back side of them, and the number is identical to the number on the 1956-57 GM spinner. These pieces have not been re-chromed or modified. This is quite significant and helps justify that this was a GM Styling Exercise car.”
Everyone wants to know, ‘What’s it worth?’. Again, his big smile returned. “I’ve had a standing offer for a long time for the car, and I’ve turned it down. Someone else in California is interested in our car and has enough money to make it his.” In other words, it may not be in this building for much longer.
In tracing the footsteps of Jim Kreuz’s remarkable journey and the mysteries surrounding the 1954 Corvette GM Styling Exercise Car, we’ve embarked on a voyage through the annals of automotive history. This singular gem, tucked away for decades, stands as a testament to the ingenuity and innovation of a bygone era at General Motors. Its enigmatic modifications, handcrafted details, and unique provenance have left an indelible mark on the world of classic cars. As we bid farewell to this extraordinary tale, we are reminded that the allure of vintage automobiles lies not only in their exquisite craftsmanship but also in the stories they carry—a living testament to the passion and dedication of those who seek to uncover the hidden treasures of the past.
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