Significant Corvette Sales - A Decade Of Corvette Diamonds
Our Expert Panel Picks The Most Significant Corvette Sales Of 2000-2010
From the December, 2010 issue of Vette
By Christopher R. Phillip
Photography by Bonhams, Courtesy Gooding & Company, Courtesy RM Auctions, Darin Schnabel, Eric Minoff/Bonhams, File Photo, Gooding Co., Hugh Hamilton, Mecum Auctions, ProTeam Corvette, RM Auctions, Troy Wood
In the last decade, a cornucopia of collectible Corvettes has sailed past the auction block. Among these Cars, there have been plenty of excellent examples to choose from that any connoisseur would be proud to call his or her own. From nicely restored '53-'62 First Generation roadsters to '63-'67 classic midyears, '68-'74 big-block Stingrays, and even Fourth-, Fifth-, and Sixth-Gen ZR-1s, ZR1s, Z06s, and Grand Sports, the Corvette hobby is filled to its fiberglass brim with collectible-and sometimes very expensive-Cars.
Dollar figures aside, the 2000-2010 Corvette auction (and private sale) marketplace saw an argosy of top-tier Cars go on sale. It's easy to determine which ones were the most expensive, but the question of which ones were the most significant to the Corvette community as a whole is a much more subjective matter.
To learn that answer, we contacted three Corvette-industry experts and asked them to look at Corvette sales since the turn of the millennium (2010 included). We wanted to know which 10 Cars they each felt constituted the most significant sales in the last decade, without regard for seller, sales price, or any personal affiliation they might have with the vehicle.
Terry L. Michaelis is the...
Terry L. Michaelis is the owner of ProTeam Corvette Sales, Inc. and has bought and sold more than 10,000 Corvettes in his storied Career. He began his Corvette love affair almost 40 years ago on a local Car lot, and by the mid-'70s, he was known as the "King" of Corvette aftermarket parts. With collectors hungry for quality Corvettes, Terry and his brother, Fred, formed ProTeam Classic Corvette in 1987, where they have since assembled the world's largest, most dynamic collection of classic Corvettes in the world.
Michaelis is one of the world's leading authorities on classic Corvettes, and his knowledge has been the focus of hundreds of radio interviews and newspaper articles, as well as a long list of industry publications. He continues to lobby for the collector Corvette community with the same passion and affection for over-the-top marketing he had when he bought his first Corvette-a '64 Daytona Blue convertible-in 1971.
Dana Mecum has been involved...
Dana Mecum has been involved in the Car industry his entire life, starting his early automotive Career by selling new Pontiacs and Buicks at his father's business, Mecum Pontiac-Buick in Marengo, Illinois. He established Mecum Auctions in 1988, and as president, his love affair with selling collector Cars and rare vehicles surpasses any new Car sale he's ever made. He started his personal collection in the mid-'90s, focusing on American high-performance, vintage race Cars, and Corvettes. Today, Mecum specializes in the sale of classic, muscle, and exotic Cars, offering an industry-leading 5,000 collector Cars per year.
Ian Kelleher is the president...
Ian Kelleher is the president and chief operating officer of RM Auctions, Inc. Over the years, he has managed the majority of RM's estate and private-collection auctions, including Carail, The Gene Ponder Collection, The John McMullen Collection, The Art Astor Collection, Joe's Garage, the Nick Alexander Woodie Collection, and the Icons of Speed & Style. He's an active participant in the collector-Car hobby, acting as a judge at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, as well as entering Car rallies and collecting cars.
Category 1: Unanimous Decision
(Listed in order of sales price.)
Requirement: In this category are the Cars all three of our experts picked as "a most significant sale in the last decade." (Note: The experts were not allowed to see each other's lists and had to formulate their Top 10 based solely upon their own criteria, excluding price.)
Car: '62 Gulf Oil Race Car
Price: $1.485 million
Sold By: Gooding & Company (August 2008)
Terry L. Michaelis: It's a great historical Car for me personally because I sold it in the '70s for a few hundred dollars as a "thought to be" old drag Car out of my boneyard. Oh my! What a few decades and doing one's research means to significant Corvettes.
Dana Mecum: This is a very significant Car because it is a Dr. Dick Thompson Car that holds a lot of credibility. Thompson, who was known as "The Flying Dentist," drove the Car in the 1962 SCCA-A Production Class, where it finished First in its class a dozen times. It's also got a number of cool options, including an original Motorola two-way radio that let the driver communicate with his pit crew while on the track.
Ian Kelleher: When it comes to important Corvette sales of the last decade, this example nearly tops the list in terms of value, thanks to a wonderful provenance and race history, which saw it surpass its pre-sale estimate when sold in 2008. Delivered to Yenko's dealership for the Gulf Oil racing team, this example was successfully campaigned by Dr. Dick Thompson in the '62 SCCA-A production class, recording 12 first-in-class victories from 14 races-including at both Daytona and Sebring-to claim the season A-Production Championship. At the end of the 1963 season, it was dismantled and sold as a street Car, ultimately becoming the daily driver of a college student, before being discovered, reunited with its racing parts, and returned to race-ready condition. Its winning pedigree, combined with a fully-documented history and a string of awards, including induction into the Bloomington Gold Hall of Fame, all contributed to its strong sales results and make it deserving of its place on this significant sales list.
Car: '53 Corvette Serial No. 003
Sold By: Barrett-Jackson (January 2006)
Terry L. Michaelis: In 2007, more '53s were sold at auction for more than $400,000 [than ever before]. Only 300 were produced, and approximately 50 to 60 percent are accounted for today. Every true Corvette collection should have at least one!
Dana Mecum: This is where it all began. Corvette Serial No. 003 is the oldest surviving Corvette and was the third to roll off the production line during the marque's first year of production. This Car gives enthusiasts a rare glimpse into the earliest history of America's sports Car.
Ian Kelleher: When it comes to classic American sports Cars, the No. 003 Convertible holds an important place in Vette history. Completely hand-built and well-documented, its significance has been recognized by a number of important accolades, including Bloomington Gold, Corvette Hall of Fame, and NCRS Duntov awards. For Corvette hobbyists, its sale in 2006 presented a very rare opportunity to acquire one of the marque's earliest examples, as evidenced by the high sale price.
Car: '63 Corvette Z06 Gulf One Racer
Sold By: Mecum Auction (January 2009)
Terry L. Michaelis: It's a great historical race Car, and the driver was present at the auction. Great presentation equals great results on this one.
Dana Mecum: The Gulf One is probably the most desirable '63 Z06 of all, because it is the most successful factory-backed production-racing Corvette of the C2 era-also campaigned by Dr. Dick Thompson-and represents the single most dramatic advancement in the history of production Corvette performance at that time. The Gulf One was the first of many things, but probably the most noteworthy is that it was the first Car prepared with advanced race technology developed specifically for the Z06 and later adapted for use on the prototype Grand Sports, leading the way for Corvette development.
Ian Kelleher: A factory-built Z06 is considered one of the most desirable Corvettes available. Add to that an impressive history and race heritage, and this example's position on this significant-sales list is clearly established. Widely considered one of the most desirable '63 Z06s, and the most successful factory-backed production-racing Corvette of the C2 era, this Car was the first of two examples delivered by Yenko Chevrolet to the Gulf Oil racing team. In addition, it is believed to have been the first Car prepared with advanced race technology developed specifically for the Z06. Another Vette successfully campaigned by Dr. Dick Thompson, it has a great racing pedigree, holding the title as having participated in more races in more venues than any other of its kind. Eric Gill perhaps describes the Car's significance best, describing it as, "one of the half dozen most desirable American Cars of the post-war era."
Category 2: Majority Rules
(Listed in order of sales price.)
Requirement: Two out of three of our experts picked these Corvettes as "a most significant sale in the last decade."
Car: '63 Grand Sport (No. 2)
Price: Undisclosed ($5 million estimated)
Sold By: RM Auctions through private sale
Terry L. Michaelis: Fell short of RM Auctions' reserve, but within months it sold privately for approximately $5 million.
Ian Kelleher: The Corvette Grand Sport is one of the greatest American racing Cars and quite possibly one of the most historically significant American-built race-bred automobiles ever produced. Often referred to as one of the most fascinating enigmas in motor racing annals, and certainly one of the most valuable, the Grand Sport was General Motors' contender to Ford's venerable Shelby Cobra. Envisioned by legendary Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, these top-secret, hand-built race Cars were designed to win at FIA endurance races and ultimately the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Only five were built out of an expected 120-Car run before GM cancelled its competition activities in early 1963. Miraculously, each of the prototypes escaped destruction orders, falling into the hands of private racers who preserved their heritage for future generations. Previously owned by Roger Penske and George Wintersteen, this example-chassis No. 002-is one of just two roadsters produced out of the original five prototypes.
The offering of No. 002 at RM's 2009 Arizona sale represented a rare opportunity for Corvette hobbyists, as it was considered the most important and significant Corvette ever to be offered for sale publicly. It reached a high bid of $4,900,000 on the auction podium before selling privately soon after for an undisclosed sum.
Car: '63 Harley J. Earl Corvette
Sold By: Mecum Auction (May 2010)
Terry L. Michaelis: GM Styling Corvettes were the shop-order Cars that came out of GM Styling, and some were done for the "brass"-Harley Earl, Bunkie Knudsen, Bill Mitchell, and more. One of the most significant was the '63 Harley Earl Corvette. Just Google "Harley Earl" and read the volumes of information on what this pioneer did for General Motors before bean counters and Wall Street took over. This is an era that will never be replicated, I'm sorry to say.
Dana Mecum: This custom-built Sting Ray is one of the most historically significant vehicles to sell within the past decade. Not only does it feature one-of-a-kind options (like the remarkable stainless steel side-exit exhaust), but the Car was specially built by General Motors for its designer, Harley J. Earl, who solidified his place as the dean of Detroit designers when he unveiled his original concept for the Corvette in 1953. Corvette history began with Earl, and this Car is an outstanding and unique part of that history.
Car: '65 Cut-Away Autorama Display
Sold By: RM Auctions(December 2007)
Terry L. Michaelis: If you have never seen this Car, you're truly missing much. Designed by Chevrolet to tour the GM Autoramas, it was sent to South Africa as an educational device, and then immigrated back to the USA in the early 2000s. Neat!
Ian Kelleher: While not a driving example, this one-of-a-kind Autorama display was selected for the list for its technical innovation-it provides a fascinating and rare insight into a Car's inner mechanicals. Taken off the Chevrolet assembly line and built into a one-off elaborate cutaway display for the 1965 Autorama, modifications to this example saw all the drivetrain components cut away to allow observers the opportunity to examine the inner mechanical workings of the engine, clutch, transmission, rearend, and suspension. It is truly a unique and unusual find, and would make a great showpiece for any complete Sting Ray collection.
Car: '71 LS6/ZR2 Convertible (and '70-'72 ZR1s)
Sold By: Mecum Auction (June 2008)
Terry L. Michaelis: The ZR1 is basically a small-block L88, whereas the ZR2 is GM's final C3 attempt to produce a 425hp big-block with L88 equipment. They are very rare, as only 53 ZR1s were produced over the '70 to '72 production years, and 12 ZR2s were produced in 1971 only. Another example of an auction-sale '71 ZR2 is the one that sold for $358,000 at Barrett-Jackson in January 2008. Recent private sales for the '70-'72 ZR1s are $250,000, $280,000, and $100,000 (the latter in need of restoration).
Dana Mecum: In 1971, the ZR1 LT1 and the ZR2 LS6 big-block were to become the final statement of Corvette high performance for years to come, so this Car is the rarest in the history of the big-block in the Chevrolet line. Only 12 ZR2s were built during that time-and of those only two were convertibles. Designed for all-out performance, this particular ZR2 is the latest known build date for an LS6 Corvette and is the last ZR2 built.
Category 3: The Experts' Personal Picks
Requirement: Only one of our experts picked each of these Corvettes as "a most significant sale in the last decade."
Car: '53 Corvette Serial No. 005
Sold By: Mecum Bloomington Gold Auction (June 2006)
Dana Mecum: As Serial No. 005, this was the first production Corvette sold to the public, making it highly collectible. It boasts Bloomington Gold and NCRS Top Flight certifications.
Car: '68 L88 Race Car
Sold By: Bonhams (August 2008)
Terry L. Michaelis: Any L88 Corvette sale is entertaining to watch, and this race-prepared, single-use example fits that bill; I consider it well bought. Only 216 L88 Corvettes were produced over a three-year span-1967 (20), 1968 (80), and 1969 (116). Any sale, whether auction or private, should be noted.
Car: '67 L88 Coupe
Sold By: Mecum Auction (2003)
Dana Mecum: With a price of more than $600,000, this sale broke a big price barrier for its time nearly 10 years ago. It is a great Car with just 12 original miles and is the lowest-mileage '67 known to exist. Plus, it came up for auction right when the collector-Car market was starting to go up in value, and it set a precedent for these Cars moving forward.
Car: '67 Coupe "The Last Sting Ray"
Sold By: Barrett-Jackson (2007)
Terry L. Michaelis: This Car has an over-the-top restoration, and my company gave it an over-the-top promotion. Significance is in the eye of the beholder, but so much has been written and blogged about this Car that can still be accessed at www.thelastcorvette.com.
Car: '68 L88 Coupe
Sold By: RM Auctions (August 2009)
Ian Kelleher: This champion '68 Chevrolet Corvette L88 "Scuderia Filipinetti" Le Mans Race Car-chassis no. 194378-S-410300-holds a unique place in Corvette history, and hence its inclusion on the list of most significant sales. Entered by Swiss racing patron Georges Filipinetti, with a Zora Arkus-Duntov-prepared motor and driven by Henri Greder and Umberto Maglioli, this L88 Corvette made its Le Mans debut in 1968. It returned for the 24 Hours of Le Mans five more times-consecutively-up until 1973, a record that remains unbroken by any single chassis and is unlikely to ever be equaled, let alone surpassed. It is surely one of the most successful international Corvette racing Cars in history.
Car: '62 Fuel-Injection Convertible
Sold By: Gooding & Co.
Ian Kelleher: No list would be complete without a "fuelie"-the quintessential American sports Car and considered among the most desirable of Corvettes. While the first-year fuelies are traditionally among the most collectible and valuable, this example stands out from the pack with its wonderful race pedigree. It holds a rare place in the history books as one of only five straight-axle Vettes to race at Le Mans, where it started first on the grid in 1962.
Car: '69 L88 Coupe
Sold By: RM Auctions (June 2010)
Ian Kelleher: The L88 is often regarded as the "biggest" and "baddest" of all Corvettes. Packed with punch, thanks to its 430hp 427ci engine, this example was one of the last L88s built and believed to be the only '69 model finished in Monza Red with saddle leather interior. Original owner Dennis Ahrens converted it into a drag racer after only 108 street miles and raced it for years, achieving a best quarter-mile time of 10.82 seconds at 156.65 mph. With just 2,265 original miles and two owners from new at the time of sale (it had remained in its original owner's Care until 2005), its auction presented a rare ownership opportunity for serious Vette collectors to acquire a great example in superb condition.
Car: '58 Retractable Hardtop
Sold By: Barrett-Jackson (January 2005)
Ian Kelleher: From a design perspective, no list of significant Corvette sales would be complete without a "dream Car" from the 1950s-this being a wonderful example. A one-off concept created by Francis H. Scott, a GM stylist from the plaster/plastic department who spent a reported 3,200 hours completing this unique creation, this Car is known as the world's only retractable-hardtop Corvette. Its significance has been recognized via numerous magazine features and displays at some of the world's best invitationals.
Car: '55 Duntov Test Mule
Sold By: Mecum Auction (May 2009)
Dana Mecum: The original EX87 Arizona Proving Grounds record Car for General Motors, this test mule paved the way for today's greatest Corvettes. Daytona legend Smokey Yunick installed an experimental V-8 engine in the Car before it was given to Zora Arkus-Duntov for even more modification, including increasing the engine displacement from 283 to 307 ci and ordering a special camshaft from GM Engineering. This Car made a record 163-mph run at the proving grounds in 1955 and "Duntov's cam" became instantly famous.
Car: '69 427/435 Convertible
Sold By: RM Auctions (June 2010)
Terry L. Michaelis: [This is an excellent example of an] original, unrestored survivor in a condition that can compete on the show field. [Survivors] are judged against how they were when driven out of the Corvette plant new (within reason). These Cars represent the most legitimate vintage Corvettes that exist, as they are what they are and negate the need for documentation and paperwork. This example, a '69 Cortez Silver 435hp convertible with 6,200 actual miles, prompted many uninformed [buyers to] ask the question, "Why?" as they thought this Vette was a $100,000 to $125,000 Car at most. I consider the purchase "well bought" and, in fact, was the second-to-last bid, missing this buy by a mere $5,000. As people wake up, they will see that these objects are more than just Cars-they're antiques and, like art, are best left alone. "An item is only original but once." Please pay attention!
Car: '67 L89 Coupe-The Ed Cole Car
Sold By: Mecum Auction (August 2009)
Dana Mecum: Specially ordered by Ed Cole, the general manager of GM, for his friend R.H. Pohl, this Car was one of only 16 L89 Corvettes built that year. Pohl was looking for the best Car he could buy and took Cole's advice on the L89 option, which delivered the ultimate driving experience with finned wheels, F41 suspension, and a 3.55 Positraction rearend. Extensive documentation, including original paperwork, Protect-O-Plate, and a 1982 letter from Pohl add to its significance.
Car: '61 "Big John" Mazmanian Drag Racing Car
Sold By: RM Auctions (September 2009)
Ian Kelleher: This Car is significant for a number of reasons. While history-setting Corvette road-race Cars are among the rarest and most valuable of the breed, very few drag versions have surfaced. No other example has the notoriety of this one, which set records, won events, and was covered in the most important periodicals of the day. Most likely the first supercharged example of a stock-body '61, it's best known for its quarter-mile record-setting runs and holds multiple speed records. It was featured in the Oct. '62 issue of Rod & Custom, as well as a cover inset feature in Hot Rod magazine in March 1963. Presented in absolutely stunning, perfectly restored condition, at the time of its sale it had not been radically changed since 1964.
Car: '65 Fuelie Coupe
Sold By: Mecum Auction (1997)
Dana Mecum: OK, so I'm cheating on this one because I sold it at a Mecum Auction in 1997 to Ed Foss. However, it is a very significant Car for a couple reasons. First, it is a very low-mileage Car with just 1,400 original miles. Second, each time this fuelie sold, it consistently set a new watermark for the highest-selling Cars. It brought quite a bit of money for its time, breaking the price barrier more than once as the first Car to bring in the $150,000 range, then the $300,000 range. It was featured earlier this year in the Bloomington Gold Great Hall. We'll have to wait and see if it goes up for sale again!