A ROSE BY ANY OTHER COLOR WOULD BE SWEETER

Everyone wishes for the rare opportunity of a chance meeting, where unexpected results await. It's when doing something ordinary results in something rather extraordinary. Opportunity came my way when I experienced a chance meeting with Mark and Chris Wiley of Atlanta, GA this past weekend. This is their story.


It didn't strike me at first, I just liked the grills over the headlights, so I stopped to take a few pictures. Always looking for the details most people miss, I poked my head around the open hood. Tucked inside was a Blue Flame Six and it was perfect.  That told me there was an interesting story waiting to be heard.


After introducing myself, I asked if I could get some information for captions under the photos. The longer we spoke, the more I questions I had. Reaching for my notebook instead of my camera, I asked if I could  have some additional details.  "Sure." said Mark. "What would you like to know?"  "Everything." I replied.  Mark then asked Chris to begin covering some of the history.

Finding Their "Project"
Chris explained that after finishing his Masters Degree in 2004, Mark told her he wanted to look for a project car, something he could work on in his spare time. He had hoped to find an old convertible, maybe an MG, Triumph, or VW. "Fate" smiled the first time when they agreed to move forward.  


Chris, who had grown up in the small town of Sand Pointe, Idaho, recalled Paul Kemp, an avid car collector in town, had recently passed away. That prompted her to call her Dad (who is still living in Sand Pointe) asking if any of the cars were left.

Several months later, her Dad called to tell her he had finally been able to get some information. He learned all but 1 car had been sold, an older Corvette in desperate need of a major restoration. He was also told it was probably not for sale, but that Mrs. Kemp might consider selling it if Mark had any interest.

Fast forward a few weeks, Mark had some photos of the car, made an offer, and the deal was done. They still didn't realize what they had. "I just wanted a simple car to tinker with, maybe cooler than an old MG or Volkswagen. I was excited to learn it was a '54 Corvette. I had never even seen a '54 Corvette."  





Mark then grabbed a book from the floor of the trunk, flipping to a page of photos. He told me after getting the car home he had it clean and running, but that driving it in the ever changing Georgia climate, caused the paint to spider very badly. The combination of mechanical and appearance issues steered their decision to get it restored.


The frame off restoration, started in 2008, uncovered  that the car had been repainted several times, but still had remnants of the original black lacquer beneath the many layers of paint. Based on my research, only 4 Corvettes produced in 1954 were painted black. According to Mark, the experts he spoke with believe the actual total could be as many as 8 to 10.


The "Rose"
GM had just opened a new Corvette production facility with the ability to manufacture up to 10,000 new Corvettes a year. 1954 was also the first year Chevrolet began painting Corvettes in 4 different colors; white, red, blue, and black.  In the early part of 1954, GM had a handful of black Corvettes produced for use in the traveling Autorama, for display in the GM Press Club, and in the Rose Bowl exhibit. Four of the black cars were also used for a promotion on the not yet open Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. 


So based on little more than a chance meeting, Mark and Chris stumbled onto a Corvette that needed restoration. In another chance meeting they found a person who didn't rush that work. As a result, they learned their Corvette was produced in the early part of 1954, the original color was black not white, and only a very few such cars were made. What are the chances of that?


There's a lot more to the story, but I am going to leave the rest to Mark and Chris to finish up. We look forward to reading all about their efforts of Preserving Automotive History...One Car at a Time in their Garagistry.