On June 30, 1953 the first production Corvettes were built in Flint, Michigan starting with VIN # E53F001001 and ending with 53F001300. Chevrolet built 300 1953s in Flint, all white with red interior.
Earlier in 1953, before production started, they built 15 hand-laid cloth Corvette bodies at Fisher. These Corvette bodies were intended for Motorama use only, when finished moved from chassis to chassis. These hand-built cars did not have VIN numbers, one of these is the white Corvette prototype EX122, built to show the public what the Corvette would look like. That car still exists today. Others, like the fast back S.O.2071 Corvette-Corvair and the Corvette Nomad station wagon were built, shown, and later destroyed. Among others were the Oldsmobile F88 S.O.1939, the four-door Biscayne S.O.1954, and Buick Wildcat III S.O.2252 among other Motorama prototypes that were built and some destroyed.
There is one hand-laid car that appeared in many historical Corvette books, but it was never known what happened to it. Over 60 years later “S.O. 2151” resurfaced as a rare find, albeit in rough condition without trim pieces.
And here’s where the story of S.O. 2151 begins…
The body of the yellow '53 hardtop Motorama car and S.O.2151 are one and the same. There are three characteristics that tie this body to those first fifteen Motorama bodies that were produced. First is the rough crudely hand laid cloth fiberglass. Second are the brass trunk hinges that are believed to be only on the first fifteen bodies made. Third and most significant is the one piece body. A yellow prototype ’53 shown with a hard top, S.O.2000 EX129, was displayed and traveled with other Motorama cars. At the end of 1953, yellow S.O.2000 was retired and the body was given a new styling order number of S.O. 2151 This was GM’s designation or shop order, denoting a design-essay vehicle. In January 1954 the body went to General Motors’ legendary Art and Colour section headed by Harley Earl. Even though all the designers were highly talented any car that went through that department had Earl's name on it.
S.O. 2151 was to be the 1955 proposal car designed for GM management to view in order to decide how the '55 models would look. With a few body changes S.O. 2151 was given a hood scoop, a different front grille copied from the ’55 Bel Aire, and four side vents on each front fender; the right-side vents were painted body color, the left side had chrome inserts. The “Corvette” chrome script was high on one side and low on the other, incorporating a gold “V” to indicate that the '55 Corvette was going to offer a V8 although, as a styling exercise, S.O.2151 had a six-cylinder. The trunk was designed similar to the Corvair concept car with a stylish overhang and bow-tie outlines punched out of a chromed sheet of metal. It was repainted in a jade-like green shade, “Bermuda Green”. GM used Bermuda Green as a two-tone color on other vehicles.
In December of 1953, GM planned to build thousands of Corvettes in 1954, but GM moved the Flint Corvette plant to St. Louis, hindering the lofty plans. In the end, only 3640 were built: 3230 were white, 100 red, 300 blue, 4 black, and 1 green.
S.O. 2151 was completed and shown to GM management in late March of '54. The car was photographed and was shown for display. General Motors had plans to build 10,000 Corvettes in 1955. However, Ford Motor Co. introduced a new car called the Thunderbird as a 1955 model. Ford copied a couple of the design ideas from S.O.2151 for the Thunderbird, which were the hood scoop and the front grill. Ford also captured the market away from the Corvette that year selling nearly 30 T-Birds to one Corvette. GM only built 700 1955 Corvettes, 200 of which received the V-8.
As for S.O. 2151, the chassis was a newly built Corvette frame stamped with VIN E54S002092, finished in March 1954. Upon disassembly 60 years later, the chassis was found with the original shocks brake shoes as when assembled. The brake shoes have a ¼” groove in the center, the shocks are dated “3 A ’54.” GM used the already existing body of EX129 (the yellow car) for S.O. 2151, probably because the body was already finished and it made sense to use something they were not going to sell. Because GM was short on production bodies at the time, this was a convenient solution.
The engine on S.O. 2151 is also different. The engine was not the typical bluish-green, but found to be red. An unnamed source who worked for Smokey Yunik told Billy Jay that when GM produced an engineering modification to any six- or eight-cylinder engine, the first batch was painted red to identify them as different from others. Since they were to be used for testing GM told drivers to “try and blow them.”
S.O. 2151’s six-cylinder engine was one of those red test engines: It had larger cam journals for a solid lifter cam, which gave the engine 5 to 10 more horsepower than the standard Blue Flame 6. These solid lifter engines were installed and used in the Corvettes as of mid-year ’54 and those were blue.
When taking S.O.2151’s red engine apart there was red overspray between the head and the top of the engine block, and also red behind the water pump and timing chain cover with no trace of blue anywhere. The man doing the engine rebuild called Billy Jay and asked what the mileage on the car was and implied that when removing the pistons there were still honing marks in the cylinder walls and that the bearings had little or no wear on them. Billy Jay doesn’t know if the speedometer is original, but it showed 6K + miles.
On July 30, 1954 the design essay was complete, approved, and the tag showing “S.O. 2151 7-30-54” was riveted in place, showing the job as done. It then toured with the '55 GM Motorama which was held in various locations during November and December of 1954, ending in Los Angeles. Somehow 2151 ended up staying in California. Although it’s pure speculation, GM probably had plans to destroy the car, since that was standard procedure for these temporary prototypes. But somehow 2151 fell through the cracks and didn’t make it back on the truck.
There is no history on what happened to S.O.2151 from 1954 to 1974. The green paint was removed along with most of the interior, trunk, and trim. In 1975 S.O.2151 appeared in Hemmings magazine for sale for $3,000.00. At that point it was a “basket case.”
A gentleman then in his 40s, George Campbell, saw the ad and acted upon it. George Campbell had a collection of old cars including a few 60s Corvettes. He made a deal and purchased S.O. 2151 on only a California “pink slip” showing the engine number. George Campbell had S.O. 2151 in his possession from 1975 to 2012. Campbell then entrusted, in a “handshake deal,” the car and all the extra parts he acquired through the years to someone who promised he would restore it, but that unnamed man did not do restoration work.
That person kept S.O. 2151 in his possession until taking it to Billy Jay's shop in May of 2015. Prior to that in 2014 he had displayed S.O.2151 at a Bloomington Gold show claiming at the time it was his car, referring to it incorrectly as the '53 #009 (the 9thCorvette built). When he delivered the Corvette to Billy Jay’s shop he stated that he owned it and wanted Billy Jay to restore it.
Upon starting the restoration, the first job was to remove the body from the chassis. Once the frame was cleaned off, Billy Jay found VIN “E54S002092” stamped into the frame rail, in typical Corvette fashion. This revelation had Billy saying to himself “hmm it's a '54 chassis?” The S.O. tag had obviously never been removed, and was stamped “S.O.2151 (7-30-'54).” This body had obviously been on this frame since its production because of the old rusted body bolts.
Nearly two years after delivering the restoration project to Billy Jay, the unnamed “customer” was nowhere to be found and could not be contacted, totally abandoning the project he had commissioned.
Doing a title search through the Indiana BMV, two separate background searches showed no record of any title issued to this VIN. That caused Billy to infer that his restoration “customer” was not the owner as he had claimed. There was also no record of any other owners. With this limited information, Billy Jay commenced the process of getting title issued for E54S002092. A valid Indiana Certificate of Title was issued by court order to Billy Jay in 2018. Then Billy Jay resumed restoration of this unique historic Corvette. Also, importantly, Billy Jay in 2017 had law enforcement do a NCIC police check prior to getting the title certificate and a second NCIC check from Indiana State Police in 2020 just a day before he put the body back on the frame, so the officer could see the VIN stamping on the frame. Nothing had changed since 2017. Both background checks were clean, no prior owners.
It took three years and over 1800 hours to finish restoration and resurrection of S.O.2151. Billy Jay, with the help of his wife, painstakingly researched and studied original GM photographs and data to ensure the restoration was as accurate as possible. Billy Jay engineered, recreated and machined all the missing unique parts and trim. Studying all the damaged broken parts retained forensically proves that S.O.2151 was the yellow '53 EX129. There were remnants of yellow paint throughout the body’s interior and exterior some of which is intentionally preserved as visible in the trunk. The deck areas behind the two seats and inside the trunk are still original. It is like fossilized, crusty and musty, chipped and worn. More forensic proof from its beginnings. Along with the yellow, there were also many areas of Bermuda Green, proving that the car in the black and white photos from 1954 was Bermuda Green. There are no original color photos in existence that we can find of S.O.2151 from the 1950s. Billy Jay turned his color photos to black and white to compare with original photos to match the tones, a process Billy Jay has used when doing restoration work for the IndianapolisMotorSpeedwayMuseum. The tones made a perfect match, proving that in 1954 S.O.2151 was painted Bermuda Green. GM painted one other prototype car in in Bermuda Green, which was the ‘54 "Corvette Biscayne.” Billy finished this restoration in late October of 2020. S.O. 2151 now starts, runs and moves. The transmission has a terrible leak, as most did. He has been told by other collectors that if the transmission doesn't leak there is no fluid in it. Knowing the car’s unique importance, Billy Jay discussed it with the NationalCorvette Museum. In late 2020 the NationalCorvetteMuseum contacted him about someone inquiring as to where this car was located. That inquiring person was the only surviving relative of George Campbell, who bought the car from the Hemmings ad in 1975. Having never heard of George Campbell, Billy knew he needed to put together the puzzle pieces of how the car came his shop. The history is that George Campbell passed away in 2020, never married with no children. He entrusted 2151 to the un-named customer who brought it to Billy Jay’s shop, claiming to be its owner. George’s surviving relative became instrumental in giving Billy Jay all the information available from George, including original GM black and white photos along with all of his notes and inventory of parts that he accumulated. Best of all was the original Hemmings magazine from 1975 where he circled the photograph of S.O.2151.
S.O.2151 has never been seen by the public in its finished condition since 1954. It is hard to say if anyone alive today saw this car at any of the styling shows. Studio black and white photos from GM dated March '54 have been published in many Corvette books, but its whereabouts were a mystery. Billy Jay has worked on many rare cars over his 45 years of being in business, including 14 Indy cars for the IndianapolisMotorSpeedwayMuseum. He restored the exceptionally rare, one- of-two 1970 Boss 429 Quarter Horse, the only factory sponsored International Harvester Baja Scout on display at the National Automobile and Truck Museum (NATMUS) in Auburn, Indiana, a 1938 red and black Harley Davidson on display at the Harley Davidson Museum, and the one-of-one 1969 Boss 302 Shelby GT 350 endorsed by Edsel B. Ford II and Carroll Shelby as being the only one built. Billy Jay established his business October1977 with his wife. This '54 Corvette was his last restoration. As the monumental project that it came to be, he considers it his magnum opus. He continues to refinish vintage motorcycle parts, pin striping everything and restoring antiques safes from the 1800s, with lots of help from his wife. S.O.2151 has been the most challenging project Billy Jay ever accomplished. He hopes he has left a small mark in the world of historic automobilia, being the stickler for originality that he is. He’s blessed in the way these projects somehow landed at his doorstep for him to complete. He’s an absolute visionary, seeing the art of the possible within the ruins.