The car that saved Corvette

‘Lost’ GM Mo­torama car may be the most his­toric and im­por­tant in ex­is­tence

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By Alyn Ed­wards

VAN­COU­VER - As Gen­eral Mo­tors was mak­ing his­tory with Amer­ica’s first pro­duc­tion sports car, build­ing 300 Corvettes in 1953, the styling stu­dio pulled No. 260 off the as­sem­bly line for a spe­cial project.

The Corvette’s orig­i­nal de­sign had a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem: the new curved wind­shield was so low that the top of the frame blocked vi­sion. In ad­di­tion, the con­vert­ible top was cum­ber­some, had clip-in side cur­tains in­stead of roll up win­dows and was not weather tight.

GM stylists would re­work and im­prove the Corvette for dis­play at the lav­ish GM Mo­torama shows to kick off at New York City’s Wal­dorf As­to­ria Ho­tel. Then GM would take it on a road trip to Mi­ami, Los Angeles, San Fran­cisco and Chicago.

The Mo­torama shows at­tracted thou­sands to wit­ness the lat­est dream ma­chines in the form of pro­to­types and con­cept cars herald­ing the styles of the fu­ture.

There were three Corvette-based fu­tur­is­tic sports cars dis­played at the 1954 Mo­torama shows in the U.S.: the Cor­vair, the No­mad and a pro­to­type Corvette painted cream yel­low which was the first with a re­mov­able hard-top and roll-up win­dows, fea­tures that would be avail­able on the 1956 Corvette.

Other Mo­torama sports cars dis­played in­cluded the fa­mous gold Oldsmo­bile F88 — which sold at the 2005 Bar­rett-Jack­son Auc­tion for $3.2 mil­lion — and the Pon­tiac Bon­neville which fetched $3-mil­lion at auc­tion. Both were two-seat sports cars with fi­bre­glass bod­ies and nei­ther made it into pro­duc­tion.

The Corvette with se­rial num­ber E53F001260 be­came the sec­ond Mo­torama hard-top Corvette, spe­cially built for dis­play in Canada. It was painted candy ma­roon and sent to Toronto for dis­play at the Cana­dian Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion in the sum­mer of 1954.

The yel­low Mo­torama Corvette that toured the U.S. was even­tu­ally re­turned to Detroit where, sadly, like many other con­cept cars, it was scrapped.

Re­mark­ably, the Cana­dian car sur­vived and is owned by long­time Corvette ex­pert Bruce Ig­gulden of Sur­rey, B.C. Bruce has op­er­ated a Corvette restora­tion busi­ness called Corvette Spe­cial­ties for 43 years and, for the past five years, an on­line busi­ness called Corvette Parts World­wide.

In 1973, he was look­ing for a first­series Corvette to cus­tom­ize and heard about an old GM show car stored in the back­yard of a home in Burn­aby. It was reg­is­tered as a 1954 Chevro­let coupe. The car had a hard-top and roll-up win­dows.

“I thought I could re­store it and put on the right doors with no win­dows,” Ig­gulden re­calls of his de­ci­sion to buy the car.

He con­tacted GM of Canada to get in­for­ma­tion about the car and, and while talk­ing to the ar­chiv­ist on the tele­phone, a man walk­ing by over­heard the con­ver­sa­tion and asked what was be­ing dis­cussed. Turned out that one of his col­leagues had owned the car un­der dis­cus­sion and put the for­mer owner in touch with Ig­gulden.

Bill Pat­ter­son had been sell­ing AC Delco parts for Gen­eral Mo­tors in the mid-1950s. He knew about the car that had orig­i­nally been driven by the com­pany pres­i­dent and used for dealer pro­mo­tion. He spent more than three years try­ing to buy “this very spe­cial car” from GM be­fore fi­nally ac­quir­ing it in Au­gust 1957 for $1,500.

He used the car to deliver parts in the Lon­don, Ont., area and mod­i­fied it to use a 1957 Corvette con­vert­ible top be­cause the hard-top was dif­fi­cult to re­move. By 1960, the car had been sold and driven across the coun­try, end­ing up in Van­cou­ver at Don Krug’s Sharp Used Cars, lo­cated at 1703 Kingsway.

Ig­gulden traced all the Van­cou­ver own­ers, in­clud­ing one who couldn’t find a re­place­ment for a cracked wind­shield to in­stall on the hand-built GM show car. So he took the en­tire wind­shield frame to a Corvette sal­vage com­pany in Seat­tle and traded it for a com­plete 1956 Corvette as­sem­bly. The orig­i­nal hand-built solid bronze chrome plated wind­shield frame was sold for scrap.

THAT is prov­ing to be the most elu­sive part for Ig­gulden as he would like to put the 1954 Corvette Mo­torama show car through his own restora­tion shop. He is also look­ing for an orig­i­nal 1953 Corvette en­gine valve cover.

Corvette his­to­rian and au­thor Noland Adams has called this car the most im­por­tant and in­flu­en­tial Corvette in ex­is­tence: the first to fea­ture a hard-top, roll up win­dows and a glove box — lo­cated in­side the kick panel on the pas­sen­ger side.

GM built 3,640 Corvettes in 1954 and, as a re­sult of poor sales, only 700 Corvettes in 1955. The pro­duc­tion of fu­ture Corvettes was in jeop­ardy and the end of pro­duc­tion for Corvettes was a pos­si­bil­ity.

How­ever, the overwhelming suc­cess of the Mo­torama Corvette con­vinced GM to pro­duce the 1956 Corvette. GM built 3,467 Corvettes in 1956 — all with roll up win­dows as stan­dard equip­ment and op­tional hard-top. In 1957, 6,339 Corvettes were built and, over the years, an­nual pro­duc­tion of the Corvette con­tin­ued to climb as it be­came Amer­ica’s iconic sports car.

Cur­rently, the his­toric 1954 Mo­torama Corvette that changed the course of au­to­mo­tive his­tory re­mains un­re­stored and oc­cu­pies a cor­ner of Bruce Ig­gulden’s show­room at Corvette Spe­cial­ties, next to the Scott Road SkyTrain sta­tion. For more in­for­ma­tion on this car, visit

1954mo­tora­ma­corvette.com.

GM Canada’s 1954 Mo­torama Corvette ended up for sale on a Van­cou­ver used­car lot in the early 1960s.

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