The Story Behind A Stunning 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Prototype Being Auctioned
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The Story Behind A Stunning 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Prototype Being Auctioned

May 18, 2023

This 1954 Chevrolet Corvette prototype is a remarkable survivor from the General Motors Motorama era and it could sell for $2 million.

Gooding & Company is currently listing a truly stunning 1954 Chevrolet Corvette prototype, a car that was at one time a part of the famous General Motor Motorama shows that would tour the United States. It is one of 15 handlaid fiberglass bodies intended for either experimental or Motorama use, and is one of the rare survivors from that 15.

The Chevrolet Corvette would eventually go through a painstaking restoration that has seen it return to its former glory. It could sell for up to $2 million at auction, thanks to its rarity and exclusivity. With that in mind, let's talk about the story behind about this rare Corvette prototype.

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This Corvette originated from a pale-yellow hardtop prototype that debuted in early 1954, with two allegedly built before one was then retired, so its body could get reassigned to a new project. This was S.O. 2151, and the car would serve as the GM Art and Colour Department's proposal car for 1955, as GM tried to determine what the next year Corvette should look like.

The body was further restyled to feature some new features like a decorative hood scoop, and it was soon repainted into Bermuda Green. The car would make its debut in early 1954, mounted onto a new 1954 Corvette chassis.

The prototype came at the height of the General Motors Motorama craze. These were huge, automotive extravaganzas organized by GM with the first taking place in 1949, called the Transportation Unlimited Autorama. The shows brought together a collection of creative and outrageous prototypes and concept vehicles, to see what the reception was as well as to showcase what GM and its brands could produce.

Existing GM cars would have fiberglass bodies placed onto them, much like with this Corvette. The vast majority of the designs were custom or completely one-off for the show. The first ever show called Motorama was in 1953, with GM taking Motorama around the United States. In 1953 alone, it attracted 1.4 million visitors.

The survival of this particular Corvette from that era is remarkable given the fates of some of the other cars featured in Motorama. The 1954 Chevrolet Nomad Station Wagon highlights this, appearing at that years Motorama show before vanishing off the face of the earth.

Rumors have persisted for years that it was first stolen then stashed away in secret somewhere in California. The 1953 Oldsmobile Starfire is another disappearing mystery from the show, but many of the vehicles were simply scrapped or repurposed. That this Corvette survived at all is a remarkable story.

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Despite the eye-catching design, the proposal car never entered production. Chevrolet and GM had to reimagine the Corvette in the wake of poor sales against the newly announced Ford Thunderbird. It outsold the Corvette 30 to 1 in 1955.

With that year's model being no different to the 1954 Corvette, Chevrolet knew they had to go through a major redesign of the car for the following year. Fortunately, Chevrolet would do just that for 1956. Despite the fate of other Motorama vehicles, the proposal Corvette from 1955 would slip through the tracks and escape scrapping and repurposing.

The Bermuda Green proposal car somehow ended up in California, passing through the hands of Corvette collector Richard Oldham. He was the owner of Empire Chevrolet in Novato, California, and had acquired the car in what was a “basket case” condition. While most of the paint was gone and so were a lot of its unique prototype features, it still had its signature fender vents, drivetrain, and riveted S.O. 2141 tag.

Following its time in Novato, it was then sold to George F. Campbell on the advice of his friend, Corvette historian Noland Adams. Campbell would acquire various parts and research on the Corvette, in preparation for a restoration. Unfortunately, he would sadly pass away before it could begin.

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The car was then sold to its current owner, who would go through a painstaking three-year restoration that saw it brought back to its Bermuda Green exterior and with as many original parts retained as possible. Original pale-yellow and Bermuda Green paint is deliberately kept in hidden areas such as the trunk and behind the seats, to preserve evidence of its prototype origins.

As one of the few surviving cars from the Motorama era, this Corvette and its 235 ci inline-six engine is one of the most unique in the world. Gooding says it could sell up for $2 million at their Pebble Beach auction.

There are plenty of unique features that help to identify this Corvette. The inline-six, for example, is an experimental engine, equipped with a high-performance solid-lift camshaft. A riveted tag inside the engine bay identifies it as the proposal Corvette.

The exterior details included the eggcrate front grille, bumper-exit exhaust tips and a new, distinctive trunk design only previously seen on S.O. 2071, the Fastback Corvair. The slanted front-fender vents and painted body color on the passenger side were further additions to the design, as was the trimmed chrome on the driver’s side.

During its restoration, the owner had to painstakingly research the Corvette to ensure that it was as accurate as possible when complete. This involved studying period photographs. The restoration would also include the recreation of any missing trim pieces, as well as the preservation of some of its original paint.

The telltale signs of early Corvette prototypes are apparent on the car, with its crude, handlaid fiberglass construction and one-piece structure the obvious highlights.

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Thankfully, the chassis of the Corvette was not only nearly all original, but it was remarkably intact despite the relatively crude construction. It was even complete with its original shock absorbers, brake shoes and the experimental engine block with all numbered with their early 1954 date codes.

The survival of this Corvette is almost a miracle, thanks to its somewhat crude and fragile nature and how many of the Motorama cars were never seen again after they appeared at the shows. Preserving it also serves as a reminder of how far the Corvette has come since the 1950s.

The standard of the restoration is very high, highlighted by the fact the car has won the prestigious The Founders Award at the Amelia Concours d’Elegance in March 2023. So far, this is the only public appearance of the Corvette since its restoration.

With so much history and value to it, it's little wonder it could sell for $2 million. Hopefully its new owner will enable us to see the Corvette a little more regularly than it has been since the Motorama days of the 1950s.

Source: Gooding & Company

Covering anything from JDM cars to classic jets. Contributed to HotCars since the Autumn of 2018.

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