1954 Corvette

Not surprisingly, the 1954 Corvette differed little from the 1953 model, though running refinements occurred throughout the model year. For instance, the 1953 Corvette had two short stainless-steel exhaust outlets protruding inboard of the rear fenders. When it was found that air turbulence tended to suck exhaust gases back against the car, soiling the paint, the outlets were lengthened and routed below the body. But even this alteration didn't entirely solve the problem, which would persist until the 1956 redesign, when the tips were shifted to the rear fender extremities.

In addition, gas and brake lines were better protected by being moved inboard of the right-hand main frame rail, and tops and top irons changed from black to tan. The storage bag for carrying the side curtains in the trunk was mildly reshaped and newly color-keyed to the interior.

The 1954 Corvette had a revised camshaft that boosted the 235.5-cubic-inch six by five bhp to 155.
The 1954 Corvette had a revised camshaft that boosted the 235.5-cubic-inch six
by five bhp to 155, but acceleration remained relatively tepid at about
11 seconds 0-60 mph.

Some initial inconveniences were also remedied on the 1954s. For example, the original two-handle exterior hood latch was replaced by a more manageable single-handle mechanism after the first 300 or so units were built. The choke control was moved from the right to the left of the steering column, swapping places with the wiper switch. This eliminated having to reach across or through the steering wheel to operate the choke with the left hand while turning the ignition key with the right. Moisture in the rear license plate recess tended to cause its plastic cover to fog up, so Chevy included two little bags of a desiccant material to keep the area dry.

Under the hood, a new camshaft gave the Blue Flame six an extra five horsepower, boosting the total to 155 bhp, though the increase wasn't announced until the following year. Other alterations included a new-style rocker-arm cover (about 20 percent of which were finished in chrome -- serial numbers 1363 through 4381), a tidier wiring harness, and more plastic-insulated wire (replacing fabric). Also, the three bullet-shaped air cleaners were replaced by a two-pot configuration after the first 1900 cars rolled off the line.

The 1954 Corvette featured bucket seats, a sports-car must -- even for one with only an automatic transmission.
The 1954 Corvette featured bucket seats, a sports-car must -- even for one
with only an automatic transmission. Note the short floor-mounted shift lever.

Another problem the 1954 model addressed concerned the convertible top mechanism. On early cars, the main irons had to poke through slots in the chrome moldings behind the seats and were capped with spring-loaded flippers. Beginning with serial number 3600, the irons were redesigned with a dogleg shape that allowed them to slip between the body and the seatback. Unhappily, this led to another annoyance -- the top irons rubbed against the upholstery. Since the preferred top-folding procedure was not particularly obvious, the factory began sticking explanatory decals on the underside of the top cover.

For 1954, the Corvette finally came in a choice of colors: Pennant Blue, mated to a tan interior, accounted for about 16 percent of production. Sportsman Red, selling at about four percent, and the original Polo White, at about 80 percent, were teamed with red interiors. A very small number of cars -- as few as six -- were painted black and also carried a red interior. Some 1954 owners claim to have original paint colors other than these four, though they're not shown in factory records. However, pain bulletins are known to have listed a Metallic Green and a Metallic Bronze.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1953 Corvette

1954 Corvette

1955 Corvette

1956 Corvette

1957 Corvette

1958 Corvette

1959 Corvette

1960 Corvette

1961 Corvette

1962 Corvette



Looking for more information on Corvettes and other cars? See:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
  • Corvette Museum: The National Corvette Museum draws Corvette lovers from all over the world. Learn more about the museum.
  • Corvette Pictures: Find pictures of the hottest classic and current-year Corvettes.
  • Muscle Cars: Get information on more than 100 tough-guy rides.
  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.

1954 Corvette Manufacturing and Marketing

Corvette pricing had been a sore point with critics and would-be customers. In a ploy to make the car appear to be more competitive in this respect, Chevy lowered the advertised base figure from $3,498 to $2,774 for 1954. Or did it? In so doing, the company made the Powerglide automatic -- still the only gearbox available -- a $178.35 "mandatory option." When all the legitimate options were added -- directional signals, heater, radio, whitewalls, parking brake alarm, courtesy lights, and windshield washer -- the sticker was still about the same: precisely $3,254.10. Needless to say, most potential buyers saw through this marketing sleight of hand, and the pricing chicanery did nothing to spark sales.

This early Corvette add quoted no mechanical specifications
This early Corvette add quoted no
mechanical specifications.

The early Corvette may have had its faults, but unreliability wasn't one of them. It wasn't a temperamental prima donna that was prone to breaking down like a Jaguar, nor did it demand constant attention like a Ferrari. Not that the Corvette didn't display a few quirks: Synchronizing the triple carburetors for smooth idle and throttle response was tricky at best; and water leaks were a problem, mostly from around the top and side curtains, though the leading edges of the door openings were suspect on some units. But these problems were hardly major, and Chevy issued service bulletins to cover them. Running gear? The powertrain was as boringly reliable as in Chevy's everyday passenger models, which was expected but pleasant nonetheless -- especially in a sports car.

For all that, the Corvette arrived at a crucial crossroads by the end of 1954. Though Chevrolet had hoped that '54 volume would be as many as 1,000 units a month, the actual number built for the model year was only 3,640 -- less than a third the projected total -- and at year's end the division found itself with a surplus of some 1,500 cars.

Would-be buyers were put off by Chevrolet's ill-conceived "teaser" marketing approach, which amounted to "look, but don't touch." Additionally, the Corvette was not considered to be a "pure" sports car but a cross between a boulevard tourer (like the Kaiser-Darrin and the soon-to-be-introduced Ford Thunderbird) and an out-and-out sports-racing roadster (like the Triumph TR2 and Jaguar XK-120). Purists sneered at what they considered to be out-of-place features, like the Powerglide transmission and nonfunctional cosmetic items like the car's dummy knock-off wheel covers, while comfort-lovers objected to inconveniences like the clapped-on side curtains, manual folding top, and a recirculating heater that didn't allow for windows-up ventilation. That there were fit-and-finish problems on top of all this didn't help matters.

But perhaps the real problem facing the Corvette was a sports-car market that remained tiny at best. Multi-car ownership was still far from common, and most motorists still needed a more practical vehicle as their primary mode of transportation. Though adequate to support low-volume imports like Jaguar or even Triumph, the market was still ridiculously small by Detroit standards, which demands sales in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands every year. That the car was high priced further limited potential sales.

Chevy hoped to sell 10,000 1954 Corvettes but ended up building just 3,640.
Chevy hoped to sell 10,000 of the 1954 Corvette but ended up building
just 3,640, many of which were unsold at year's end.

Despite the initial huzzahs of the Motorama crowds, favorable press reaction, and steady product improvement, it was becoming clear that Chevrolet's bold sports car experiment had laid a considerable egg. It wasn't long before rumors began drifting through GM corridors that the Corvette was on the verge of extinction as management debated the car's commercial viability.

A stay of execution would come, oddly enough, largely because of GM's corporate pride and competitiveness, with rival Ford introducing the Thunderbird on September 23, 1954. Although a two-seater like the Corvette, it was more of a "personal car" than a flat-out sportster. A comparatively plush and comfortable steel-bodied boulevard cruiser with handsome lines, the T-Bird included amenities like roll-up windows and a standard V-8 engine that made it quite quick. Ed Cole was prepared for the competition, however, and he had a new powerplant ready for production, which would also play a part in the Corvette's renaissance: the brilliant new 265-cid small-block V-8 he'd been working on for Chevy's totally redesigned 1955 passenger cars.

At about this time, a new member joined the Corvette team, who, as it turned out, would help ensure the vehicle's long-term viability. Zora Arkus-Duntov was a 45-year-old German-trained enthusiast, race driver, designer, and engineer who had been "fiddling" with Corvettes in his spare time since joining the GM Research and Development Staff in 1953. As a racer, he not only knew what serious drivers demanded of sports cars but how to achieve it.

Duntov, whose seat-of-the-pants feel for what was right -- and wrong -- with Corvettes would make him a legend among GM insiders and Corvette enthusiasts alike. So respected was he that when it came to management showdowns over suggested changes, the white-haired wizard usually won. "Fiddling" with Corvettes would become Duntov's life's work for the next 20 years.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1953 Corvette

1954 Corvette

1955 Corvette

1956 Corvette

1957 Corvette

1958 Corvette

1959 Corvette

1960 Corvette

1961 Corvette

1962 Corvette



Looking for more information on Corvettes and other cars? See:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
  • Corvette Museum: The National Corvette Museum draws Corvette lovers from all over the world. Learn more about the museum.
  • Corvette Pictures: Find pictures of the hottest classic and current-year Corvettes.
  • Muscle Cars: Get information on more than 100 tough-guy rides.
  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.

1954 Corvette Specifications

The 1954 Corvette featured only detail changes from the previous year. These slight but significant changes included a new camshaft, new rocker-arm cover, and improvements to the convertible top mechanism. Here are the specifications for the 1954 Corvette:

For the 1954 Corvette, the workaday Blue Flame six was fitted with triple carburetors to become the Corvette Special Six.
For the 1954 Corvette, the workaday Blue Flame six was fitted with triple
carburetors to become the Corvette Special Six. The extra carbs plus some
internal changes boosted horsepower from 115 to 150.

Vehicle Specifications
Convertible
Wheelbase, inches 102.0
Length, inches
167.0
Width, inches
72.2
Track, inches
front: 57.0 rear: 59.0
Height, inches
51.3
Curb Weight, pounds
2,890

Mechanical Specifications (2-door convertible)

Suspension
front: Independent; upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, antiroll bar, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers
rear: Live axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers

Wheels/Tires
6.70x15

Brakes
front: 11-inch drum
rear: 11-inch drum

Transmission
2-speed Powerglide

Standard axle ratio
3.55:1

Engine Specifications

Typeohv I-6
Displacement, liters/cu inch3.85/235.5
Bore x stroke, inches3.56 x 3.95
Fuel Management3 Carter sidedraft
Horsepower @ rpm150 @ 4200
Torque @ rpm, pound-foot223 @ 2400

Vehicle Production and Base Prices

Car Type
Production
Price
2-door convertible
3,640
$2,774.00

Options and Production

Option
Production
Price
Directional Signal
3,640
$16.75
Heater
3,64091.40
AM Radio, signal seeking 3,640
145.15
Whitewall Tires, 6.70 x 15 3,640

26.90

Powerglide Automatic Transmission 3,640178.35
Parking Brake Alarm
3,6405.65
Courtesy Lights3,6404.50
Windshield Washer
3,64011.85

Color Choices and Production

Color Choice
Production Color Choice
Production
Polo White
3,230
Pennant Blue
300
Sportsman Red
100
Black
4

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1953 Corvette

1954 Corvette

1955 Corvette

1956 Corvette

1957 Corvette

1958 Corvette

1959 Corvette

1960 Corvette

1961 Corvette

1962 Corvette



Looking for more information on Corvettes and other cars? See:

  • Corvettes: Learn about the history behind each model year and see Corvette photographs.
  • Corvette Specifications: Get key specifications, engine and transmission types, prices, and production totals.
  • Corvette Museum: The National Corvette Museum draws Corvette lovers from all over the world. Learn more about the museum.
  • Corvette Pictures: Find pictures of the hottest classic and current-year Corvettes.
  • Muscle Cars: Get information on more than 100 tough-guy rides.
  • Consumer Guide Corvette Reviews: Considering a Corvette purchase? See what Consumer Guide has to say.