A new world record was set at RM Sotheby’s Scottsdale auction last week. For the first time ever a C3 Corvette sold for more than $3,000,000, shattering the previous record that was set in 2014 at Barrett-Jackson.
What made this particular 1969 Chevrolet ZL-1 Corvette sell for so much money? It’s a one-of-a-kind car, the only convertible with the ZL-1 engine that was sold to the general public, and one of only two ’69 Corvettes built with the ZL-1 engine. The other example with a ZL-1 was a coupe and was built for a GM employee, essentially as a company car and that employee checked all the boxes when ordering it.
This car however, has a different history. It was ordered by John Maher, who traded his 1968 L88 Corvette Convertible on the ZL-1. But it wasn’t quite that simple. Maher placed the order with his local Chevrolet dealership, but it was initially kicked back as the ZL-1 was developed as a homologation experiment and really never intended for public sale.
Friends in High Places
But John Maher had a couple aces up his sleeve. His friend Don Yenko – yes, that Yenko – introduced him to the idea of the ZL-1, a refined a lightweight version of the L88 with an all-aluminum block, an “open chamber” aluminum cylinder head design, among other features that lead the ZL-1 to be the most powerful motor Chevrolet had thus far built.
When the order was initially kicked back by Chevrolet, John Maher gave his friend Don Yenko a call and, along with some help from Grady Davis of Gulf Research, at that point part of a secret partnership between Gulf Oil and Chevrolet’s racing program, the ZL-1 was approved for production in November of 1968. In addition to the cutting edge engine, John Maher wanted the M40 automatic transmission, an almost unheard of combination of options, but with the help of his friends Yenko and Davis, Chevrolet gave the car the green light.
John Maher owned and raced his ZL-1 Corvette Convertible, mainly on tracks going a quarter-mile at a time, until he sold it to the consignor in 2007. At that point the car showed about 3,000 miles, known to be an accurate number. In addition to the incredibly pristine car, the new owner received bullet-proof factory documentation proving that it left the St. Louis plant with a ZL-1 under the hood.
Enter Corvette Repair, Inc.
The second owner of the car sent it to Corvette Repair, Inc, where it underwent a restoration that was overseen by noted Corvette expert Kevin Mackay and his team. During the restoration the team at Corvette Repair, Inc were pleased to find that the car was pristine, retaining its original factory body panels and, although it had the expected stress cracks – completely normal for a fiberglass car – it proved to be an easier restoration than may have been originally anticipated.
Kevin Mackay said, “the interior was in beautiful condition,” and that he’d, “never seen a frame so nice,” in his life. It sounds like the car was an absolute pleasure and privilege to restore.
The team at Corvette Repair, Inc took the car down to the bare fiberglass and repainted it in the correct Monaco Orange that was originally ordered as a tribute to Grady Davis and Gulf Oil. Considering the car was used for racing, the passenger seat had barely seen any usage over its roughly 3,000 miles, leaving the interior as near perfect as could be.
ZL-1 Corvette is the Most Expensive C3 Ever
It came as no surprise that this 1969 Chevrolet ZL-1 Corvette Convertible set a new record for the third-generation Corvette when it crossed the block at RM Sotheby’s – there simply isn’t another one of these in existence. Although GM did build a coupe with the ZL-1, it actually took them some time to sell the car after the employee returned it, likely in favor of an even newer model. Of course, if that car was to be offered for sale publicly we don’t doubt that it would bring some big money as well, but the less roof a car has, the bigger the price tag.
The sale of this car is a major step for the enthusiasts who love the C3 Corvette, especially considering its original owner kept the car until 2007, providing unassailable documentation as to the veracity of the car. Kevin Mackay of Corvette Repair, Inc commented, “I just want to say that the paperwork is bullet proof.” He added, “there are a lot of skeptical people out there and they can contact me and I’d be happy to go over things with them,” should anyone doubt the legitimacy of this car, but the collector car world has moved beyond questioning this car’s history at this point.
The big question is this – will this car be seen again in a public setting at any time in the foreseeable future? Simply put, yes. The new owner expects to show the car in the coming years and anyone remotely passionate about Corvettes should try to see it if the opportunity presents itself. It did set a new record, but for a unique car with this level of documentation and such low mileage since new, we can’t call this anything other than well-bought.