With the Chevrolet Corvette celebrating its 70th anniversary, Jay Leno recently checked out one of the earliest production models, courtesy of owner and Corvette restorer Mike McCluskey.
This 1954 Corvette is from the ‘Vette’s second model year. Only 300 cars were made for the initial 1953 model year, however, so Leno considers 1954 to be the Corvette’s first full production year.
The Corvette wasn’t a big seller in its early years, in part because of what was under the hood. The Blue Flame inline-6 was shared with more humble Chevrolets, and thus didn’t get sports car enthusiasts excited.
The Corvette version of the Blue Flame did at least get three single-barrel side-draft carburetors and a solid-lifter camshaft, bringing output up to 155 hp. That was fairly competitive with other small (mostly British) sports cars of the time, though the Corvette weighed more.
Early Corvettes also had a few quirks. They lacked exterior door handles and side glass, meaning anyone could reach in and open the door. The trunk lock was also placed below the rear license plate. Engineers in the 1950s weren’t too concerned with ergonomics.
McCluskey, who also restored Leno’s 1957 Corvette and worked on his 1963 Split-Window, restored the ’54 to the way it left the factory—warts and all. For example, the car sits lower at the back, which was done intentionally by Chevy to make it look like it was taking off. For his work, the car was awarded a near-perfect 99 points and won the Duntov award, both from the National Corvette Restorers Society, of which McCluskey is a member.
Before he could even think about details like that, though, McCluskey had to counteract decades of decay. The car had been sitting in a fellow Corvette enthusiast’s backyard for 35 years, and required a three-year restoration to get it to its current condition. At least the Corvette has a fiberglass body, which can weather the elements better than steel.
Speaking of fiberglass, the 1954 cars used a higher grade of the material than their predecessors, McCluskey noted. The essentially hand-made 1953 models used fiberglass cloth that showed through the paint, while 1954 models have a smoother finish closer to conventional sheet metal.
For much of the second half of the video Leno takes the car for a drive. You can really hear the putter of the engine that wouldn’t inspire any sports car enthusiast. Watch the full video for more cool details of this meticulously restored Corvette. And if you like what you see, note that it’s for sale.