1954 Harley Earl Corvette Prototype
You wouldn’t think a dyed in the wool Shelby guy would be responsible for the restoration of a historic Corvette styling prototype (let alone the owner), but stranger things have happened. What we have here started life as a 1954 Corvette GM Motorama show car and then ended up as a 1955 Corvette styling proposal prototype – it has now been meticulously preserved and restored by Billy Jay Espich of Billy Jay Custom Painting in Palestine, Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis.
EX129 was one of a number of Corvette show cars designed and developed for the 1954 GM Motorama. After its retirement from the Motorama circuit, EX129 was delivered to Harley Earl’s Art and Color Section to become SO 2051, to be used as a 1955 styling proposal car for GM management. After dropping the EX129 body on a new 1954 frame and drivetrain, numerous changes were made in early 1954, including a custom hood and decklid, relocation of the exhaust through bumper bullets (ultimately showing up on the production cars in 1956), special fender vents, and a custom grill modified from the grill of a 1955 Bel Air. Originally a pale yellow, the Art and Color Section resprayed the body in a beautiful jade-like Bermuda Green.
Due to budget constraints following lackluster sales, the styling proposals were rejected by GM management which chose to continue with the 53/54 body virtually unchanged. Following its life with GM, then what happened to the car? Well, no one knows – the car didn’t show back up until 1975 when it was advertised in the October 1975 edition of Hemming’s by a Chevrolet car lot in California. Purchased for around $3,000 by a previous owner, the car was missing almost all of the custom work done by the Art and Color Section.
Fast forward to 2015, the car was still in basically the same dilapidated shape it was in when it was purchased in 1975. In that year Espich was tasked with the restoration of the car, but its entire history really wasn’t revealed until he tore into it. With the help of noted Corvette historian, Noland Adams, and original styling photos from GM, Espich was able to bring SO 2051 back to life over a 6 year period. Espich painstakingly hand fabricated the car’s one-off pieces, including the fender vents, Corvette script, and body pieces.
With little over 6,100 miles shown on the odometer, the original engine still had honing marks on the cylinder walls and the car sported the original factory-installed brake shoes. Corvette diehards may point out the red engine (instead of the blue “Blue Flame 6”), but this was the original color – evidently GM painted engineering prototype engines in red.
You can check out SO 2151 in all its glory, along with many pre-restoration pics, on YouTube: