The 1954 Corvette began production in December, 1953. Although the first fourteen or fifteen ‘54 Corvettes were built in Flint, Michigan (like all of the 1953 Corvettes) GM shifted Corvette’s production to a newly renovated assembly plant in St Louis, Missouri. This plant was designed to produce more than 10,000 Corvettes a year.
There were very few initial design changes between the 1953 and 1954 model Corvettes, although refinements would be made throughout the 1954 production year. For example, the 1953 Corvette had two short stainless-steel exhaust outlets protruding inboard of the rear fenders.
This design resulted in exhaust gases being sucked back against the rear end of the car, thereby staining the paint. As a result, the 1954 model had longer outlets that were run below the car’s body.
Other changes included relocating the fuel and brake lines inboard of the right-hand main frame rail, providing them with additional protection. Also, the canvas tops and rails were changed from black to tan.
Some of the inconveniences of the 1953 model were also corrected in 1954. The original two-handle exterior hood latch was replaced by a single handle mechanism after the production of the first 300 (approximate) 1954 models. The choke control was moved from the right to the left of the steering column. This eliminated having to reach over or through the steering wheel to operate the choke control with the left hand while simultaneously attempting to turn the ignition key with the right.
Under the hood, some additional changes were also made to the engine and drivetrain. For one, the use of a new camshaft increased the total horsepower of the “Blue Flame” six cylinder to 155bhp (as compared to the 150bhp of the 1953).
Other alterations included a new-style rocker arm (valve) cover (of which approximately 20% were finished in chrome – serial numbers 1363 through 4381 and of which all were now held down by four bolts through the outer lip of the cover instead of two center studs), a better designed wiring harness, dual air filters, a new type of starter and plastic insulated wire (instead of fabric insulated).
Perhaps the most notable change from the 1953 to 1954 models was the opportunity to purchase a Corvette with a choice of different color options.
In 1954, General Motors offered the Corvette to consumers with the following color combinations:
Pennant Blue with a Tan interior (which accounted for 16% of the production models made that year), Sportsman Red with a Red Interior (which accounted for a mere 4% of the production models), Polo White with a Red Interior (which accounted for about 80% of the production models).
A fourth color combination – Black with Red Interior – accounted for as few as six of the production models from that year.
Some ‘54 Corvette owners have claimed that they have factory paint on their vehicles that is different from the four choices listed above, although no factory records exist to verify this claim. Still, paint bulletins from that period are known to have listed a Metallic Green and a Metallic Bronze as well.
While Corvette was finally available for purchase by anyone who wanted one, the car was priced in such a way that many potential “younger” buyers were scared off by the price.
With a window sticker price of $3498.00, the car was considered too expensive for the youthful market at which the Corvette marketing was aimed. In an attempt to make the car appear more price competitive, Chevy lowered the advertised base price to $2774 (which was still more than the price of a Cadillac with a standard V-8 engine) for the 1954 models.
DID YOU KNOW: In an attempt to make the purchase price more palatable to consumers, GM introduced the 1954 Corvette to the public as a base model that could be tailored to the needs and personal wants of consumers worldwide. One such option was the transmission: Although the two speed Powerglide transmission was listed as a $178 option, no other transmissions were available for the 1954 Corvette, making the “optional” transmission a necessity if you wanted an operational car.
However, potential customers were shocked to learn that the only available transmission for the Corvette (the 2 speed Powerglide) was listed as an option, as were the windshield wipers and the heater. Truth be told, the actual price for the 1954 Corvette was $3254.10. Most consumers saw through this marketing trickery and sales of the 1954 Corvette suffered as a result of it.
One of the best selling points of the 1954 Corvette was it’s reliability. It wasn’t prone to breaking down and it did not demand constant tuning and attention to keep running reliably.
As with the 1953 Corvette before it, the 1954 did have a few quirks: the synchronizing of the triple carburetors for smooth idle and throttle response was tricky (to down-right difficult) to accomplish.
Also like the 1953, water leaks continued to be a problem, although mostly from the top and the side window curtains. None of these items were considered major issues. Besides, General Motors released service bulletins to cover them, ensuring that any issues that did arise were properly addressed and repaired.
At the same time, one of the biggest on-going issues that faced the 1954 Corvette had nothing to do with the mechanical, structural or cosmetic short-comings of the car itself – at least not directly. The bigger issue was an indirect combination of all these items and the general public perception of the car as a whole.
Simply put, Corvette was not a pure “sports car”. Some considered it a boulevard tourer that lacked the performance and handling of a true, out-and-out roadster. Purists sneered at the automatic 2-speed Powerglide transmission and the limited performance of the “Blue Flame” six cylinder engine (especially when comparable cars (like the Jaguar XK-120) offered a V-8 and a 4-speed manual transmission for less money).
Cosmetic issues, such as the car’s dummy knock-off wheel covers, manual folding top, and a re-circulating heater that didn’t allow for windows-up ventilation also generated criticism of the car and were all likely contributed to the overall lack of Corvette sales.
While Chevrolet had hoped that Corvette’s production would be as many as 1,000 units per month, the actual number built for the model year was only 3,640 – less than a third of the projected total – and at year’s end the division found itself with a surplus of 1500 cars still sitting, unsold, in dealerships across the country.
Despite the initial, overwhelmingly positive response to the Corvette at the 1953Motorama, it was becoming clear that Chevrolet’s sports car experiment was a failure.
It wasn’t long before the rumors began circulating the Corvette was on the verge of extinction as corporate management argued about the car’s commercial viability.
General Motors Identification Code for Chevy Corvette
54 (Second & Third Digits)
S (Fourth Digit)
Location of the Assembly Plant. S – St. Louis, Missouri
00XXXX (Fifth thru Tenth Digits)
Production Sequence Numbers
The last three digits begin at 1001 and run thru 4,640, accounting for each of the 3,640 Corvettes built in 1954. Each Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is unique to an individual car. For all 1954 Corvettes, the location of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is located on the driver side door post. The VIN is also stamped on several locations on the Corvette frame.
1954 Corvette Factory Options
Base Corvette Roadster
AM Radio, signal seeking
Whitewall Tires, 6.70 x 15
Powerglide Automatic Transmission
Parking Brake Alarm
Base Corvette Roadster (2934) – The “real” base price of the 1954 Chevrolet Corvette.
The base price was effective October 28, 1954.
The base price included federal excise taxes.
Prices did not include local taxes or any additional dealer charges.
Initial 1954 pricing was the same as 1953.
The base price was actually a recommended price.
Original customer sales records indicate that actual Corvette pricing charged by dealers varied both above and below suggested retail price.
Directional Signal (100)
Also known as a turn signal, it is a switch-controlled light that indicates when a car is about to turn.
An interior space/.cockpit heater. (A standard option included on all 3,640 1954 Corvettes.)
The heater was not a fresh air type heater. The heater only recirculated interior cockpit air.
AM Radio, signal seeking (102A)
A standard Delco, signal seeking AM radio with conventional volume and tuning dials.
The 1954 signal-seeking AM radio was the same as the unit put into the 1953 Corvette, except all but early 1954 radios had 640-kilocycle and 1240-kilocycle Conelrad national defense emergency markings.
Radio antennas were standard in all 1954 Corvettes. The antenna consists of a wire mesh screen fiberglassed into the interior lining of the trunk lid. Because fiberglass is electrically inert, this solution provided a way of concealing the antenna without creating radio interference.
Whitewall Tires (290B)
Original tires were either U.S. Royal Air Ride, B.G. Goodrich Silvertown or Firestone Deluxe Champion.
All tires were wide-whitewall type, with whitewall widths varying from 2.5 to 3 inches.
Tires were changed late in 1954 production from tube type to tubeless, though it is believed that both types were available (and used) for a limited time period.
Powerglide Automatic Transmission (313M)
An “optional” two-speed automatic transmission developed by GM.
By listing the Powerglide automatic transmission as an option, it was implied that a manual transmission was included as standard equipment. This is not true.
Every 1954 Corvette had an “optional” Powerglide transmission installed (and was added to the sales price of the “base” model Corvette.)
Parking Brake Alarm (420A)
A warning light that illuminates/ indicates when the parking brake is applied.
Courtesy Lights (421A)
Interior lights mounted on the interior of the car to aid in visibility when outside lighting is unavailable.
Windshield Washers (422A)
A washer pump and dispensing nozzle mechanism that dispenses cleaner onto the windshield.
The windshield washer systems of the 1954 Corvette were vacuum-operated.
1954 Corvette Owners User Manual
You can download for free this exclusive 1954 Corvette User Manual for more information about the car.