The 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, although highly sought after and revered by Corvette enthusiasts and collectors today, was nearly the cause for the demise of the entire Corvette project. In fact, the 1954 model year was one that just about anyone involved with the project would just as soon forget. The car had a number of problems and design flaws, and poor sales numbers had GM executives considering the shelving of the entire project.
A Near Miss at GM
Making matters worse, the brass at General Motors had invested a considerable amount of time, and money into a new “Corvette” assembly plant in Saint Louis, Missouri. This plant was expected to produce 10,000 of what GM advertised as “America’s Sports Car.” Records indicate that only 3,640 Corvettes rolled out the door at the new plant in St. Louis, and of these there were a reported 1,076 unsold Corvettes sitting on dealer lots across the nation.
With numbers like these, it’s easy to understand why any Corvette enthusiast would get weak in the knees by just thinking of owning one of these rare, hard to find automobiles. One such person is a very personable gentleman from Paintsville, Kentucky, Bob Patrick. Mr. Patrick was more than happy to show off his beautifully restored 1954 Corvette and to share his love and knowledge of this iconic automobile.
Patrick’s love for the Corvette and the early production body style started when he was just 16 years old. He had just passed his written exam and driving test, and was the proud owner of his first operator’s license from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. One of his best friends had just purchased a used 1955 Harvest Gold Corvette. “That thing was more yellow than gold.” Patrick recalls. “I was just in love with that car, I loved the body style, and I knew that someday, somewhere, somehow I would own one of these beautiful little cars.”
A Corvette Fanatic
Over the years Patrick has been the proud owner of six Corvettes, to include the two he owns today, a 2004 Indy 500 Festival Car, and his beloved 1954. The Indy 500 Festival car is number 12 of just 22 issued in 2004. A festival or event car is a Corvette that was used in a supporting role during a race week. These Corvettes were used at high profile events such as the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of LeMans, the Indianapolis 500, and the Brickyard 400. Patrick’s 2004 Corvette was used during the 2004 Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. The car originally had an Indy 500 decal on the front fenders, but after the race was over, the decals were replaced with the Brickyard 400 version which remain on the car today.
His gorgeous 1954 Corvette is strictly a show car, and is transported to various shows and displays in a custom-built trailer. “I never really owned a show car before,” Patrick stated. “All of my Corvettes were used as drivers, including the 500 car.”
In 2006, Patrick made the trip from his home in Paintsville, Kentucky to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to attend the Mecum Auto Auction. He did so with a goal in mind: to find and purchase an early production (1953-1955) Corvette, the body style he fell in love with when he was just 16. To insure he didn’t buy anything he would regret later, he enlisted the help of friend and noted Corvette guru, Irvin Patrick. Patrick is very well regarded by Corvette enthusiasts and has won numerous national awards for his restoration work.
As fate would have it, a pristine white, numbers matching, all original 1954 Corvette was pushed onto the block. The TV cameras circled the car, and the flashes from the photographers in attendance illuminated every inch of the car as the auctioneer accepted bids from potential buyers. After some back and forth, Patrick placed the winning bid, and was pleased with his newest addition. After the necessary paperwork had been completed, and Patrick had handed over the check, the car was loaded into Patrick’s trailer for the trip back to his shop in Paintsville.
Blue Flame 150, Irvin delivered the car to Bob Patrick with the instructions to “Take care of her, and enjoy.”Once back in Paintsville, and knowing his friend was anxious to drive the car, Irvin put the car in his shop and proceeded to give the car a thorough inspection to insure it was road worthy. After some minor brake work and a tune up on the
Over the years, Patrick admits he has lost track of just how many awards and trophies the car has won, but a quick glance inside Patrick’s garage will reveal five trophy cases, all full to the top. The walls of the garage are also covered with various awards and plaques.
After driving the car for nearly a year, while attending the Bloomington Gold Corvette show, the two Patricks, Bob and Irvin, were involved in a conversation about taking the car off the road, and making it a 100-percent complete show car. After some thought, the car went back to Irvin’s shop for a complete frame-off restoration.
The ’54 Is Reborn
Irvin and his crew completely disassembled the car, and began to refurbish every part on the car. “We restored the car with the NCRS judging standards in mind.” Irvin recalls. “That means every part of the car had to be rebuilt to the original factory specifications.” Irvin also added that every part that’s on the car today, with just a few exceptions, are the original parts that were on the car when it came off the assembly line in St. Louis. The few exceptions Irvin refers to are the reproduction Firestone tires manufactured by Coker Tires. “Original non-DOT tires are next to impossible to find.” Irvin offered. “There are a few out there, but most are not suitable to use, and those that are can easily cost upwards of $16,000. That’s why we use the Coker reproductions, they come from the same mold as the originals, and they are the same compound that’s used in the originals.
The original 235 ci inline six-cylinder Blue Flame 150 engine went to Byles Machine Shop in Ashland, Kentucky, where it was totally rebuilt to original factory specifications. The three side-draft Carter Carburetors are also original, and were sent to a shop to be rebuilt, as Irvin recalls, “Somewhere out in California, don’t remember the name, but they did a fine job.”
The two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission came under the capable hands of Jerry’s Transmission in Huntington, West Virginia, where technicians completely refurbished the gearbox, to include all seals and gaskets.
The interior was collaborated on between Irvin’s shop and the shops of Al Knoch Interiors. Irvin removed the seats, carpet, and door panels, and sent them to Knoch to be refitted. Knoch was also responsible for sewing the new canvas convertible top. The seats were re-covered with comparable leather to the period, and the stitching in the seats and door panels are to original specifications. Instrumentation is all original, and all chrome found in the interior has been stripped and re-plated. The removable side curtains were restored and polished back to their original condition, and both Bob and Irvin feel the side curtains are probably in better shape now then they were when they were new.
The cars still rests on the original X-frame chassis, with completely stock, independent upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, antiroll bar, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers, and 11-inch drum and shoe brakes on the front. The rear suspension is comprised of a stock, live axle on semi-elliptical leaf springs, tubular hydraulic shock absorbers, and like the front suspension, 11-inch drum and shoe brakes. The car has an open driveshaft with the redesigned tail shaft extension coupled to a standard 3.55 rearend gear. The split manifold dual exhaust is also standard equipment, as is the six-volt ignition system.
Today the car lives in Patrick’s garage in his second home in Seminole, Florida. He displays the car at local shows, and on occasion travels to various events throughout the southeast. Patrick is to be commended for preserving this classic example of not just Corvette history, but a piece of American automotive history as well. The Chevrolet Corvette has evolved over the years into what is arguably the most popular sports car produced on American soil.
It is truly refreshing to know there is a numbers matching, completely original 1954 Corvette still in existence today. Granted, there may be others, but it’s certain there are no others that are cared for, the way Bob Perkins cares for his dream car. It’s safe to say that Bob Patrick’s 1954 Chevrolet Corvette is the real deal.