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Corvette Chassis No. 5 Heads to Auction in Arizona

By Jerry Garrett on December 23, 2011, 6:00 AM

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1953 Chevrolet Corvette roadster, to be auctioned Jan. 20 in Phoenix.

1953 Chevrolet Corvette roadster, to be auctioned Jan. 20 in Phoenix.Crude might be a charitable word to characterize the early Chevrolet Corvette. The first few were actually hand-built in a garage in Flint, Mich., and the fit and finish of those early 1953 models, as one Chevrolet engineer remarked shortly after its construction, was not commercially acceptable. Yet the fiberglass-body cars were pushed onto dealers, who in some cases apologetically offered them at discounted prices.

Presuming you could find one, such a collectible would be worth a good half-million dollars. RM Auctions is bringing one of the earliest known examples, a hand-built 53, to its annual sale in Phoenix, Ariz., scheduled for Jan. 20.

RM says this example is the fifth Corvette built and one of the first three examples ever sold to the public. A further note indicates that this car, chassis No. 5, has unique early production features.

Some of these features were flagged in a dour four-page analysis of the car by the Indianapolis 500 champion Mauri Rose, who as a Chevrolet engineer found the aforementioned commercially unacceptable deficiencies.

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The so-called Blue Flame inline-six-cylinder engine of Corvette chassis No. 5.

Still, No. 5 was sold, as is, on July 16, 1953, by Diver Chevrolet in Wilmington, Del. The buyer, the  DuPont chemical chief executive Crawford Greenewalt, was made aware of the cars many faults but declined the dealerships offer of a 10 percent discount, according to RM. Mr. Greenewalt traded it in three years later for a 1956 model.

The car changed hands several times after that, winding up in 1997 in the hands of John and Melanie Kocsis of Athens, Pa. They embarked on a five-year restoration project that resulted in numerous awards from the Corvette collector community.

No. 5 retained its quirks through the restoration. It still lacks side-view mirrors. Its chassis is stamped No. 10, an indication that it rides on an engineering buck used for the early Corvette concepts displayed at the General Motors Motorama shows. It also has a stainless steel, not aluminum, VIN tag. And it has Chevrolet Bel Air hubcaps, as Corvette-specific types were not available when it was built.

Even in 1953, the Corvette was a rough beast. The car came equipped with a 150-horsepower straight-six-cylinder engine, marketed as the Blue Flame, which traced its lineage to 1929. The engine was mated to a two-speed automatic transmission. Aside from the missing side-view mirrors, the car lacked exterior door handles, meaning there was no way to lock up, nor did it have side window cranks to roll the nonexistent windows up and down (clip-in curtains were offered). A heater was a $91 option, and the only other option, an AM radio, was $145. Air conditioning? See canvas top and no side windows, above. The only color combination available was a Polo White exterior and Sportsmen Red interior.

Still, RM notes that as one of the first three Corvettes ever sold, No. 5 ranks as one of the most important early Corvettes in existence today. The car has a presale estimate of $450,000 to $650,000.

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