The First Generation
1953-1962 Chevrolet Corvette Values
Story Eric Lawrence - February 17, 2014 10:30 AM
You have to give Chevrolet credit for striving for authenticity when they introduced their new sports car in 1953, but perhaps including a leaky roof, snap-in plastic windows, no exterior door handles or locks, and an underpowered six-cylinder engine was taking things just a little bit too far.
As we all know, the Corvette would quickly go on to much bigger and better things, with the latest model universally regarded as one of the best performance cars on the planet.
The first Corvettes, now often referred to as “roadsters”, were developed to give Chevrolet an entry into the import-dominated sports car market segment that had begun to develop in the United States after WWII. The first cars were literally rushed into production after debuting to rave reviews at the 1953 GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria. All 300 of the 1953 models were essentially hand assembled in the back of a garage in Flint, Michigan.
For 1954, production “soared” to 3,640 when production moved to a real factory in St. Louis. The car’s shortcomings, such as the lack of creature comforts, sketchy build quality, modest performance, and relatively high price, conspired to keep demand low, resulting in nearly half of the 1954 models remaining unsold at year end.
The guys running Chevrolet were neither stupid nor asleep at the wheel. They did what they could to make the Corvette more attractive to buyers, starting by replacing the Blue Flame six-cylinder with a V-8 for 1955 and finally offering a manual transmission in addition to the standard two-speed Powerglide automatic. Production dropped to 700 units, as Chevrolet scaled back in advance of the introduction of the substantially re-designed and improved 1956 model.
A VIN for 1953-’55 models doesn’t tell you a whole lot more than the year of manufacture. The first digit will be an “E” (Corvette); the next two are the year (53, 54, or 55); and the fourth is the assembly plant (F in 1953 and S for 1954 and 1955). The next six numbers are the sequential build number. 1955 VINs are preceded with the letter “V” for V-8 models (a few six cylinder carryovers were built in early 1955).
As you expect given their rarity, Corvette roadsters are quite expensive. The 1953 models are the most sought after and cars in good condition are bringing in the $135,000 to $150,000 range with truly excellent examples pushing $250,000. The 1954 models, over 10 times more common, top out around $100,000, with nice cars settling in the $55,000 to $60,000 range. The 1955s, which have the benefit of lower numbers and a V-8 engine, can bring $140,000 to $150,000 if they are perfect. Most good quality cars hover in the $80,000 to $85,000 range.
Read the rest of this story, with values for 1956 to 1962 Corvettes, in the April issue of Cars & Parts, on sale Feb. 25.