McDorman Collection Auction - Standing Room Only
The sale of the legendary McDorman collection brought enthusiasts from far and wide for milestone Corvettes
From the May, 2011 issue of Vette
By Barry Kluczyk
Photography by Barry Kluczyk
By 10 a.m. on that crisp-yet-sunny Saturday last November, the freeway exits for Canal Winchester, Ohio, were parking lots—and it wasn't because of anxious fans heading for an Ohio State game in nearby Columbus. The several thousand people that descended on the bedroom community were headed to the sale of Chevy dealer and classic-auto aficionado Bob McDorman's car collection.
Describing McDoman as the consummate collector doesn't do the man justice. He's been hoarding collectible Chevrolets pretty much since he bought his dealership in 1965. He's been a pioneer in the collector field and a friend to enthusiasts, putting his time and effort into Corvette shows and other automotive events for decades. And over the years, his collection has grown to include some of the most significant Corvettes extant, including styling concepts, early production cars, and milestone models.
The event's top seller was...
The event's top seller was the Design Studio–customized '63 convertible built for Semon
But after nearly 50 years selling new cars, and about that long collecting classics, the 78-year-old McDorman reached the point where it was time to make a change in his life. Maintaining a handful of collector cars is hard enough, but running a business and keeping tabs on nearly 160 collector vehicles would be daunting for someone half his age. Nevertheless, it was no small decision to sell off what had come to be known as one of the most important collections of Chevrolets and Corvettes in the world.
Of the 159 vehicles in McDorman's collection—starting with a 1915 Chevrolet Royal Mail Roadster—89 were Corvettes. He's bought and sold them over the years, but his roster of Corvettes was comprehensive and enviable for its inclusion of all model years. Well, all but one. There wasn't a 1991 model.
"I had a '91, but I sold it and just didn't get around to replacing it," McDorman said during a pre-auction interview.
Second Place in the sale went...
Second Place in the sale went to the '64 pearl pink Corvette of Knudsen's wife, Florence. The winning bid was $280,000.
More impressive was the fact that most of the Corvettes carried some sort of milestone recognition or were essentially brand-new cars that had never been delivered. The collection included a dozen cars with serial number 1 for their respective model years, while others included the 750,000th Corvette, the 999,999th Corvette, and similar standouts. And if you're into numerology, then a car like his '69 L71 3x2-inducted 427-powered car is up your alley: The 435-horse Vette carried serial number 00435 for the year.
A longtime customer and participant at Mecum auctions, McDorman handed the reins of the sale to Dana Mecum's company. The firm did a wonderful job readying the cars and McDorman's dealership property to handle the event, which also included the sale of incredibly rare original dealer signs and other memorabilia. But by early on the Saturday morning of the sale, it was clear the Mecum staff hadn't anticipated the crowd it would draw. As the cars backed up along the freeway and news helicopters fluttered overhead, several thousand enthusiasts squeezed their way into an auction tent that simply wasn't designed for such a turnout.
"We had no idea so many people would show up," said Mecum marketing manager Tom Christman. "It's amazing and overwhelming."
The McDorman collection included...
The McDorman collection included a number of vintage signs, including this large Bow Tie sign that reportedly came from the old St. Louis Corvette plant.
More than 1,000 bidders registered to buy at the sale, with several thousand more on hand to check out the cars and take in the landmark event. In fact, the number of bidders equaled that of Mecum's annual Indianapolis auction, which is a five-day extravaganza of more than 1,000 vehicles. In this corner of rural Ohio, those 1,000 bidders were competing for only 145 cars and the "mobilia."
The top seller of the sale was the custom '63 Corvette Fuelie roadster built for and known as "the Bunkie Knudsen car." Knudsen was Chevrolet's president, and the car is distinguished by large, prominent side pipes with header tubes that exit through the front fender vents. It sold for $400,000 (plus a 10-percent buyer's premium). The rest of the top five sellers included:
• $280,000 for the Florence Knudsen pink '64 coupe
• $160,000 for the Bill Mitchell Experimental Stingray XX
• $131,000 for a '53 roadster
• $130,000 for a '55 roadster that's believed to be the first production Corvette ever built with a V-8
Although not particularly...
Although not particularly elegant-looking, it's certainly rare: The plastic bubble top on this '54 is one of about only 20 made at the order of Harley Earl. The car sold for a very reasonable $50,000.
In our estimation, the prices were right on given the state of the collector market these days, with many of the cars selling for arguably bargain prices. Some of the later-model cars sold for little more than their original sticker. Considering their milestone designation and brand-new condition, they should prove to be wise investments. In fact, the sale of so many low-mile, milestone vehicles may have had a depressing effect on the overall prices, as there were plenty of similar cars to pick from. Time will tell, as some of those vehicles will undoubtedly hit the market again soon—we saw the transporters and trailers from several well-known Corvette and collector-car dealers in the parking lot.
Interestingly, the sale last fall wasn't the first time McDorman has liquidated a collection of significant Chevys. He began collecting them pretty much the moment he bought his dealership, but in the late 1960s, a Chevrolet representative leaned on him to sell off the cars, arguing it wasn't good for his business. He did it, but soon starting amassing another collection. A similar discussion with another Chevy rep in the early '70s prompted another sale. After that, the suits in Detroit must have given up, because McDorman was left alone with his cars.
The collection was loaded...
The collection was loaded with as-new, never-titled models, including this '95 Indy Pace Car replica, which rolled across the block with only 5 original miles.
We couldn't help but ask if any rare muscle cars or Corvettes slipped away in those earlier sales.
"No," said McDorman. "No L88 Corvettes or Z16 Chevelles or anything like that."
It's different this time. Age and other responsibilities have made McDorman's decision to liquidate the latest collection all his, although he's keeping 9 or 10 favorite vehicles for his personal use.
"I've had my time with the cars and enjoyed it all very much," he says. "But it's time for others to get [some] use from them."
If the crowd on hand for the sale was an indicator, there are more than enough enthusiasts willing to take on that responsibility.
Nearly 90 Corvettes were sold...
Nearly 90 Corvettes were sold during the auction, and these were lined up under long tents for inspection by hundreds of collectors.
This '55 model carried serial...
This '55 model carried serial number 0002 for the year and is believed to be the first production Corvette built with a V-8 engine. It sold for $130,000.
This "new" '95 ZR-1 had never...
This "new" '95 ZR-1 had never been titled and had less than 100 original miles. Only 49 were painted Competition Yellow that year, too. Selling price was $61,000.
One of our favorite cars of...
One of our favorite cars of the event—and one of the best deals—was this Mille Miglia Red '72 LT1 coupe, one of 240 with factory air conditioning. It sold for $43,000, and its value will only appreciate.
Among the memorabilia on offer...
Among the memorabilia on offer was this original '78 Pace Car dealer billboard. It would make a great finishing touch to the garage of a pace-car collection.
The other factory show car...
The other factory show car in the sale was Bill Mitchell's '64 Experimental Sting Ray XX, which sold for $160,000. The engine is a 327, and the body carries a number of custom touches, including six taillights and unique fender vents.
Though pushing 35 years old...
Though pushing 35 years old at the time of the sale, this yellow '76 Corvette had never been titled. It was a special-order car, too, with a white leather interior—the only yellow/white leather combo built that year. It sold for $29,000.
McDorman liked "numbers" cars,...
McDorman liked "numbers" cars, like this '69 427/435hp Vette, which also happened to carry serial number 0435 for the year. It sold for $67,000.
Many of the C6s in the collection...
Many of the C6s in the collection carried serial number 0001 for their respective year, including this '08 model. It sold for essentially used-car money: $43,000.
The legacy of Zora Arkus-Duntov...
The legacy of Zora Arkus-Duntov as the original owner didn't do much for the price of this '89 convertible, which sold for $20,000. Next to it was another essentially new C4 ZR-1, which had only 80 miles on its clock. Its $46,000 selling price should prove a bargain in a few years.
Another "serial number" car...
Another "serial number" car in the sale was number 0003 from 1971. It was an LS5 454 car, too, with factory A/C, which helped push its sale price to $47,500.
Most of the Corvettes that...
Most of the Corvettes that McDorman took in at his dealership and never sold retained all of their original delivery paperwork, including window stickers that had never been removed.
Serial number 0001 for 2001...
Serial number 0001 for 2001 was a red Z06. It had never been titled and sold for a healthy $49,000.
Although later C3s weren't...
Although later C3s weren't known for outstanding performance, they were good-looking cars. This yellow '80 example was super clean and sold for $23,000.
The 750,000th Corvette was...
The 750,000th Corvette was built in 1984 and featured a pre-release installation of the 4+3 transmission. It was basically in as-delivered condition and only had about 560 miles. It sold for $39,000.
Serial number 0001 for 1972...
Serial number 0001 for 1972 was this War Bonnet Yellow big-block coupe with an automatic and air conditioning. Selling price was $46,000.
McDorman liked pace-car replicas...
McDorman liked pace-car replicas and had just about every Chevy model we could think of, including this '86 roadster, which also happened to be serial number 0001 that year. It sold for $40,000.
Two '96 Grand Sports were...
Two '96 Grand Sports were in the collection—a sub-100-mile coupe that sold for $53,000 and this "high-mile" convertible with 3,000 miles. It sold for $43,000.
|McDorman's Corvettes: The Sale at a Glance|
|1953||Car number 118 of the original 300||$131,000 |
|1954||One of approx. 20 with plastic bubble canopy||$50,000 |
|1955||Serial number 2 and believed to be first Corvette ever built with a V-8||$130,000 |
|1956||Aztec Copper car previously owned by rocker John Mellencamp||$55,000 |
|1957||Serial number 007||$83,000 |
|1958||Signet Red car previously owned by country star George Strait||$53,000 |
|1959||Snowcrest White with 245hp 2x4 engine||$67,000 |
|1960||Ermine White car previously owned by movie star Burt Reynolds||$45,000 |
|1961||One of 855 painted Jewel Blue||$42,000 |
|1962||Ermine White with red interior and two tops||$71,000 |
|1963||Riverside Red fitted with super-rare two-bar knock-off wheels||$63,000 |
|1963||Riverside Red roadster with factory A/C||$81,000 |
|1963||Riverside Red roadster with fuel injection||$53,000 |
|1963||Riverside Red coupe with fuel injection ||$65,000 |
|1963||Bunkie Knudsen roadster; custom body/side pipes with fuel injection||$400,000 |
|1964||Florence Knudsen coupe; custom pink pearl paint and six taillights ||$280,000 |
|1964||Bill Mitchell styling car with six taillights and unique fender vents||$160,000 |
|1965||Silver Pearl coupe with serial number 0001||$75,000 |
|1966||Ermine White roadster with serial number 0006||$50,000 |
|1967||Rally Red factory pilot car with serial number 0007||$59,000 |
|1967||Sunfire Yellow and previously owned by country star Ricky Van Shelton||$50,000 |
|1967||Marlboro Red L68 427 3x2 engine with factory A/C||$60,000 |
|1968||Corvette Bronze coupe with serial number 0002||$30,000 |
|1969||Monoco Orange coupe with 435hp 427 and serial number 00435||$67,000 |
|1970||Marlboro Maroon convertible with hardtop and LT1 engine||$39,000 |
|1971||Bridgehampton Blue convertible with 454 engine and serial number 0003||$47,500 |
|1972||Mille Miglia Red coupe with LT1 engine and factory A/C||$43,000 |
|1972||War Bonnet Yellow coupe, serial number 0001||$46,000 |
|1972||Mille Miglia Red convertible with LT1 engine and factory A/C||$50,000 |
|1973||Medium Blue coupe previously owned by entertainer Rosemary Clooney||$27,000 |
|*not including 10-percent buyer's premium|
|McDorman’s Corvettes: The Sale at a Glance|
|1974||Silver Mist coupe with 5,891 original miles||$19,000 |
|1975||Orange Flame convertible with 189 miles; still on MSO—never titled ||$50,000 |
|1976||Bright Yellow coupe with one-of-one white interior; still on MSO||$29,000 |
|1977||Classic White coupe with less than 2,400 miles||$28,500 |
|1978||Silver Anniversary edition with only 9 original miles||$35,000 |
|1979||Corvette Red coupe with four-speed and optional spoilers||$35,000 |
|1980||Yellow coupe originally used as Bob McDorman’s demonstrator||$23,000 |
|1981||Beige over Dark Bronze two-tone, with 147 original miles||$28,000 |
|1982||Collecter Edition hatchback with 13 original miles||$38,000 |
|1984||Black coupe with serial number 0007||$25,000 |
|1984||White coupe; 750,000th Corvette built||$39,000 |
|1985||Bright Red coupe with first-year TPI induction||$17,000 |
|1986||Yellow convertible Indy Pace Car replica with serial number 0001||$40,000 |
|1986||White coupe previously owned by talk-show host Johnny Carson||$19,000 |
|1987||Bright Red coupe previously owned by entertainer Dinah Shore||$15,000 |
|1988||35th Anniversary Edition; never titled||$37,000 |
|1989||Bright Red convertible previously owned by Zora Arkus-Duntov||$20,000 |
|1990||Bright Red ZR-1; car number 181 and never titled||$46,000 |
|1992||White convertible; 999,999th Corvette built||$22,000 |
|1993||Ruby Red 40th Anniversary, awarded to Miss America Leanza Cornett||$16,500 |
|1994||Torch Red convertible; modified and previously owned by Mario Andretti||$28,000 |
|1994||Copper Metallic coupe, one of 115 built||$23,000 |
|1994||Copper Metallic convertible, one of 116 built||$24,500 |
|1995||Competition Yellow ZR-1; less than 100 miles and never titled||$61,000 |
|1995||Indy Pace Car convertible with 5 original miles and never titled||$34,000 |
|1996||Grand Sport convertible with 3,000 original miles||$43,000 |
|1996||Grand Sport coupe with less than 100 miles and never titled||$53,000 |
|1996||Sebring Silver convertible promotional car with serial number 0002||$24,000 |
|1996||Competition Yellow coupe with LT4 engine and serial number 0001||$22,000 |
|*not including 10-percent buyer’s premium|
|McDorman's Corvettes: The Sale at a Glance|
|1996||Collector Edition coupe with 352 original miles and never titled||$28,000 |
|1996||Collector Edition convertible promo car||$33,000 |
|1997||Torch Red coupe with serial number 0002 and never titled||$29,500 |
|1998||Aztec Gold coupe with magnesium wheels—one of 15 built||$26,000 |
|1998||Aztec Gold convertible—one of 3 built||$29,000 |
|1998||Light Pewter Metallic used in advertising, with serial number 0002||$27,000 |
|1998||Indy Pace Car convertible with six-speed manual||$42,000 |
|1998||Sebring Silver convertible; serial number 0003 and first C5 convertible||$29,000 |
|1999||Sebring Silver coupe and last Corvette built in the 20th century||$24,000 |
|2000||Custom Platinum Purple with silver stripes; assembly-plant award car||$69,000 |
|2000||Bowling Green Metallic coupe with serial number 0001||$24,000 |
|2001||Torch Red coupe with serial number 0001||$49,000 |
|2001||Custom convertible designed by Chevrolet designer John Cafaro||$51,000 |
|2002||Quicksilver coupe previously owned by country star Alan Jackson||$22,000 |
|2002||Electron Blue coupe with serial number 0001 and never titled||$26,000 |
|2003||50th Anniversary convertible model and the last '03 Corvette built||$41,000 |
|2003||1953-styled body by AAT on 50th Anniversary model||$65,000 |
|2003||Anniversary Red coupe with serial number 0003||$36,500 |
|2003||Anniversary Edition coupe with serial number 2003||$36,000 |
|2004||Lemans Blue coupe; the last C5 built and never titled||$41,000 |
|2004||Machine Silver coupe built with AAT Nomad body||$70,000 |
|2004||Indy Pace Car convertible used at Indianapolis track||$112,000 |
|2005||Precision Red coupe with serial number 0002||$33,500 |
|2006||Monterey Red Metallic coupe with serial number 0001 and never titled||$40,000 |
|2007||Velocity Yellow Z06 pilot car with serial number 0001||$54,000 |
|2007||Indy Pace Car convertible||$53,000 |
|2008||Indy Pace Car convertible signed by Emerson Fittipaldi||$50,000 |
|2008||Velocity Yellow coupe with serial number 0001||$43,000 |
|2009||Blade Silver Metallic coupe with serial number 0001||$48,000 |
|*not including 10-percent buyer's premium|