Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Another Corvette World’s Record in the Making?

Harley Earl’s Personal Corvette - Another World’s Record in the Making?
By Rick Tavel© 9-17-2013

Right on the heels of the record breaking sale of a 1967 L88 Stingray for $3.2M at Mecum’s Dallas Auction September 7, Dana Mecum is out to break his own record for the price paid for a Corvette.  The “Dealmaker” knew he’d have to do something spectacular for an encore at his upcoming Chicagoland Auction, October 10-12, and as if pulling a rabbit out of a hat he is magically offering the special modified 1963 Corvette given to Harley Earl by GM honoring his contribution to the corporation and the Corvette: Harley Earl’s personal Corvette.  That's right, Harley Earl's personal modified 1963 Corvette, the unique Corvette that has been invited to Bloomington Gold more than any Corvette in history. 

The car became Earl’s daily driver while he lived in Palm Beach, Florida, during the first years of his retirement.   It is a Nassau Blue, 300 HP, convertible with several one-of-a-kind features: custom through-the-body side exit exhaust, special gauges which included an altimeter, accelerometer, inside/outside temperature, and vacuum pressure.  In addition the car has stainless steel door and foot well inserts and plush carpeting, custom blue leather seats with white trim and dual circuit 1965 style 4 wheel disc brakes.   The lot number of the car is S110 and will cross the block at Mecum’s Chicago auction in Shaumburg, Illinois, on Saturday, October 12, along with a thousand other collector cars during the three day event.

Harley J. Earl is the father of the Corvette which he conceived in the early 1950’s and introduced to the public in 1953.  After a rocky start the Corvette has gone on to be the most iconic car in America.  Following his retirement as Vice President of Design for General Motors in 1958, Earl continued to stay on as a consultant, and in 1963 the corporation wanted to recognize his outstanding contribution and had this special Corvette built (shop order 10323) based on the 1963 Corvette show car exhibited at the Chicago Car Show.   After Earl designed the LaSalle in 1927, Alfred Sloan, CEO of GM, was so impressed with his talent that in 1928, he created the Art and Color Department of General Motors and appointed Earl as the head.  Earl became the dean of Detroit stylists and set the bar for automobile styling in America. 

Each year the winner of the premier Daytona 500 receives the vaunted Harley J. Earl Trophy, and in 1965, as Grand Marshall of the season-opening NASCAR event, drove his special Corvette on a parade lap before the race.   After selling the car later in the 1960’s its ownership history was temporarily lost until it resurfaced, identity unknown, in 1973.  It was purchased at a bankruptcy sale for $1500 by a amateur racers who intended on drag racing the unusual car.  But before they moved ahead with their project they decided the car might be significant, so they let the car sit for seven years. 

In 1980, they took the car to Corvettes at Carlisle and offered it or sale.  The car received a lot of attention, although there were no buyers.  One enthusiast, Joe Clark, was particularly interested in the car since it was an aberration having a 1963 VIN and several 1965 components along with custom exhausts which came through the side of the body where the stock 1963 Corvette had side vents.  Though he did not buy the car at Carlisle he could not forget it.  Research revealed the car resembled the Chicago 1963 show car and decided that the Corvette was more than a customizer’s attempt to mimic the show car.  He arranged to re-inspect the car in 1981, and after a month of negotiations with the owners, its identity still unknown, he bought the car.  One evening while Clark was dismantling the car with Ken Heckert, another Corvette enthusiast, he discovered a hand-written number code inside a door trim panel: S.O.10323.  Following prompting from knowledgeable Corvette enthusiasts, he enlisted the help of General Motors.    Clark and his partner in the project, restoration specialist Bob Gold, visited the GM Design Staff and confirmed the car as the very one custom-built gift to Harley Earl.

Once the origin of the car was nailed down it was restored to the exact specifications of the car when it was bestowed on Harley Earl.   The Corvette has gone on to become one of the most significant Corvettes ever produced.  It has been invited to Bloomington Gold more often than any other car and is a Corvette Hall of Fame inductee.  The Harley Earl Corvette is a one-of-a-kind factory special with a historic and illustrious pedigree.   Now I was not an economics major but I do understand the law of supply and demand.  The record setting 1967 L88 Corvette sold on September 7th in Dallas was a magnificent car.  It had undergone a concours level restoration from Nabers Brothers, it had a strong documented race heritage, and it was one of twenty L88 Corvettes produced in 1967.  It sold for $3.2M.  This car also has an even more impressive provenance, was Harley Earl's personal Corvette, and was the only Corvette produced with modified features and has been the most invited Corvette to Bloomington in history.  That's one of one, not one of twenty. It was the "father of the Corvette's personal car which he actually drove for a few years.  Now you don't have to be a genius to figure out which car is more rare and significant.  So you decide what could this car be worth?  Based on the car’s provenance, pedigree, build specifications and one-of-a-kind status, the world’s record set in Dallas earlier this month may very well be a short-lived record.



Monday, September 9, 2013

Corvette Nirvana

Corvette Nirvana - Dana Mecum's Dallas Auction

New World's Record Auction Price Set on Corvette

By Rick Tavel© Sept. 7, 2013 All Rights Reserved

                                         $3,200,000 World's Record
1967 Corvette L88 1 of 20 produced and former drag race champion

Dana Mecum’s favorite car has to be the Chevrolet Corvette, especially if solely based on the number of outstanding high dollar cars that were hammered down during the last four days of his third Dallas auction.  It was clearly evident that Corvettes carried the four-day auction and were the car of choice for collectors where a new record price was paid for a Corvette ($3.2M, a 1967 L88, fully documented former NHRA record holder and the only ’67 L88 to retain its original body panels -lot S123- (See story -  Of the 172 Corvettes that crossed the block 106 were sold, a 61% sell through rate, for a combined hammer price of $9.106M.  Though some buyers were able to grab some excellent bargains during the first two days of the sale, the last two days saw spirited bidding and prices well above average.  Almost twenty Corvettes were hammered down above $100K.   Most restored second generation cars were selling between $100K to $150K and if the car had any rare options it was selling close to or above $200K.

1957 "Airbox" Corvette Sold for $290,000
 It should be noted however that there were some outstanding and historically significant Corvettes being offered many of which, like the record setting ’67 L88, were from the Buddy Herin collection.  I recapped some of the important cars being offered in an article last week (see below).  For example the rare 1957 “Airbox” (Lot S121), one of only 43 produced, sold for $290K while the 1961 “Big Brake fuelie” (Lot S126) brought $150K.  The award winning red 1963 Z06, (Lot 125) one of 199 Z06’s produced for the entire C2 production run, sold for $250K.   A 1967 Bloomington Gold Benchmark Red 427/435 convertible (Lot S204.1) was also among the top ten
1963 Corvette Coupe Sold for $250,000
cars sold in Dallas bringing $205K and tied with another 1967 Red 427/435 convertible (Lot S141).  Almost every big block C2 brought $100K or more.

1962 Big Brake Fuelie Corvette Sold for $150,000
Most of the Corvettes that crossed the block on Friday and Saturday were of exceptional quality and subsequently carried high reserves.  Though the majority of sellers’ expectations were exceeded, over sixty cars were not hammered and went to “the bid goes on” area where buyers and sellers often can come to a compromised agreement on price.  One of the premier cars of the auction, the last documented L88 produced (lot S130.1), a 1969 Fathom Green C3, failed to meet reserve even though the car had been bid to $430K and had been purchased earlier

1967 Corvette Sold for $205,000

in the year at another auction for $280.5K, not a bad return for eight months but apparently not good enough.   But that was not a unique occurrence, Lot S167, a 1967 black, 427/435 convertible, fully documented and restored was bid to $275K;  Lot F235, a 1967 427/435, Marina blue convertible was bid to $200K, and Lot S188, a 1966 “big tank” coupe was bid to $170K and all failed to meet the sellers’ reserves.  

1969 L88  Bid to $430K but did not meet reserve

Based on the results of Mecum’s Dallas auction, owners of first and second generation Corvettes should be ecstatic based on the continued upward spiral in prices on those cars. 

High quality, original, numbers matching, restored first and second generation Corvettes are bringing well above $100K and several with rare options are getting $200K or more in today’s market with no evidence of those prices falling in the near future.  Of the Dallas auction’s top ten sellers four were Corvettes, all bringing in excess of $200K. 

 Dana Mecum said in an interview the Dallas results were great and that he actually needs a larger facility, with more space to park consigned cars, to help him meet the demand for an expanded auction in the future.  I’m sure based on the results of this year’s event he will be looking for ways to make that a reality and I am also sure that based on the quality level of the cars at this year’s event, auto enthusiasts and especially Corvette enthusiasts, would welcome that expansion. 
A Few High Dollar Cars That Failed to Meet Reserve

Lot F235 1967 Corvette Bid to $200,000 Failed to meet reserve

Lot S188 1966 Corvette Bid to $170K  Did not meet reserve

Lot S167 1967 Corvette Bid to $275K Failed to meet reserve
Here is the article that I wrote before the auction with more details on the cars.
Mecum Offers Museum Quality Corvettes in Dallas
By Rick Tavel© All rights reserved

Right on the heels of his successful Monterey event which generated over $31M in sales, Dana Mecum is headed to the Lone Star state to host another auction extravaganza, September 4th through the 7th.  This will be Mecum’s third year for his annual Dallas event held at the convention center and will be loaded with over 1400 collector cars featuring over a hundred Corvettes including several examples of the six  generations.  Mecum is known world-wide for the vast quantity and high quality Corvettes he miraculously uncovers for each auction and the Dallas auction is no exception. This year Mecum will be selling Buddy Herin’s outstanding collection of extraordinary Corvettes.  If you appreciate rare and historically important Corvettes then it would be worth the trip to get to inspect some of finest Corvettes being offered at auction this year.   Six of those Corvettes could be “headliners” in any auction event but all six will cross the block Saturday afternoon in Dallas. 
The 1967 L88


It would be easy to overlook some of the other significant Corvettes being offered in Mecum’s Texas round-up due to the heavily promoted feature star of the auction, a Chevrolet Corvette convertible, Lot 123, one of twenty L88 Corvettes produced in 1967.  A part of Buddy Herin’s Collection, the Marlboro Maroon Corvette is equipped with the L88 427/430 HP engine, M22 “Rock Crusher” 4-speed manual transmission, 4.11 rear end, heavy duty power brakes, factory side exhaust and F41 special suspension.  It is the only 1967 L88 believed to retain its original body panels and has been restored by Nabers Brothers in Houston, Texas. Mecum estimates the award winning  Corvette will sell for prices approaching $3M.  Yeah that’s a 3 with six zeros following it. Corvettes of this rarity and quality cast a long shadow so it is easy to see how one might overlook some of the other cars being auctioned. Don't be surprised if this Corvette doesn't get hammered down for a new world's record price at over $3M
1966 Big Tank Lot S188
Lot S188 427 cubic inches 450 HP
S188 Interior

But in typical Mecum style that is only one of several important Corvettes that will find new homes during the Dallas auction.  If you love C2’s and high horsepower then you’ll want to check out Lot S188, a 1966 Corvette coupe, one of only 66 “big tank” Corvettes produced that year.  Along with most high value cars, it will also cross the block Saturday afternoon.  The 427 cubic inch, 450 HP L72 car has only 7200 miles and has also undergone a Nabers Brothers restoration.  The Nassau Blue exterior with black interior car has received the NCRS Top flight award.

Second generation Z06’s are highly prized, and Lot S125 is a beautiful Riverside Red/red interior example and one of the 199 Z06’s produced before General Motors officially withdrew from racing. The Z06 option was only offered on the 1963 model and was a chance to package several competition options and components together. The only choice of engine in the Z06 was 327/360 HP small block with Rochester fuel injection, the famous Duntov-spec solid lifter cam and forged rotating assembly, backed by a Muncie M20 4-speed and posi-traction. In addition the Z06 came with stiffer front and rear springs, heavy duty stabilizer bar and shock absorbers; special large drum brakes with vented backing plates, finned brake drums, internal cooling fans, a dual-circuit master cylinder and finned aluminum knock-off wheels.   In addition to the Z06 options this exceptional example is also optioned with power windows, power brakes, and radio delete. Like many other Corvettes from the Herin collection, Naber Brothers restored the car in 1996  and it went on to capture Bloomington Gold Certification that same year with a score of 98.6, and then in 1999 it earned NCRS Regional Top Flight status.

Lot S125 1963 Corvette Z06
 Or if your taste runs to first generation cars, 17 are on the docket for Dallas.  If historically important first gens are important then how about a 1957 “airbox” Corvette with a race history, originally owned and raced by Sports Car Graphic’s Kenneth Edwards.  Mecum’s is offering Lot 121, one of only 43 “airbox” Corvettes produced in 1957 which offered a new fuel injection system helping the 283 Cubic inch engine attain the mythical "one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch" threshold for the first time.   This option, RPO 579E, included the 283 CI V-8 with Rochester “Ram Jet” fuel injection, cold air induction, Borg Warner 4-speed manual transmission and a column-
Lot S125 Interior of 1963 Z06

mounted 8,000 RPM tachometer. Only 17 or 18 of the original 43 cars ordered with that option exist today. This historically significant Corvette was ordered in Onyx Black with red interior and in addition to RPO 579E, included a heavy duty racing suspension, posi-traction, Wonderbar radio, power top, and painted steel wheels with “dog dish” hubcaps.  About the only option excluded was power windows.   Edwards raced the car at both the drag strip and road courses until selling it in 1962.    Typical of many of the Buddy Herin Corvettes being auctioned, Nabers Brothers did a complete restoration on this award winning car and it has collected several prestigious awards.

Another first generation car, Lot 126, and another part of the Buddy Herin collection, is a 1962 Tuxedo Black/black interior “big brake” C1 that has only 4,901 miles since it rolled off the assembly line.  It is one of only 246 Corvettes produced in 1962 with RPO 687, which encompassed special front and rear shocks, front brake deflector/air scoops, rear brake air scoops, finned drums with internal cooling fans and quick steering adapter, all developed and proven on the track.  It has the most powerful engine available in 1962, the 327/360 HP small block V-8 with Rochester fuel injection and 4–speed manual transmission, which was required with the “big brake” option.  In addition the “fuelie” has a Tuxedo Black auxiliary hard top, Wonderbar radio and painted steel wheels with dog dish hub caps. It was restored to its original triple Black color combination by Naber Brothers, who preserved the original interior with the exception of new carpet and dash pad. It was subsequently awarded Bloomington Gold Certification in 1994, and in 1996 it was awarded NCRS National Top Flight honors and the highly coveted NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence Award, a highly coveted honor that requires that the car pass a demanding judging regime and rigorous performance testing without a single failure. This exceptional collector Corvette is well documented with the dealer invoice, owner protection plan and a file of supporting paperwork

 Let’s not forget the third generation Corvettes. There are over thirty C3’s being offered with the superstar of the group being the “last documented L88” ever produced. This Fathom Green/Saddle interior car was built the final day of L88 production, Thursday, December 4, 1969, and is the last of the 116 L88’s produced.  It was the beneficiary of a body-off restoration by Thorpe's Corvettes, Thorpe is a past Bloomington L-88 judge. This important C3 is equipped with the L-88 special purpose 427/430hp engine, leather interior, stainless steel brakes, stainless exhaust, transistor ignition system, F41 special purpose suspension,  posi-traction, power brakes, J50/J56 special brake system and M22 Rock Crusher 4-speed transmission.  It is documented with build sheet, tank sticker, owner history, NCRS certificate, judging sheets, and title search back to the original owner.  Another Saturday car it is lot number S130. The car was sold earlier this year for over $275K.

For Corvette lovers this may very well turn out to be one of, if not, the best auction of significant Corvettes in the country this year, not only in the quality level but the historical significance of many of the cars, especially those from Herin’s collection.  Just make sure that if you’re planning on taking one of them home you might want to check with your banker and broker because they say everything in Texas is bigger and I am sure that will apply to the prices of these special cars.



Sunday, September 1, 2013


My Generation
Our Tribute Cars
By Rick Tavel© August 25, 2013 All Rights Reserved

 For Corvette owners in the northern states the anxiety meter is beginning the annual upward move in anticipation of the ending of summer, the onset of fall and the inevitable impending winter when our cars get bundled up and put away in storage. 
The angst in many ways reminds me of my childhood when the ten week summer vacation was drawing to an end, knowing that in a few short weeks I’d be once again held captive in a schoolroom for another nine months, similar to the way a Corvette must feel during the long winter hibernation.  Now, as then, I regret the ending of summer though for different reasons. At this point in my life, though fall may be the best season of all for road trips and rallys, the inevitable onset of the cold barren winter hits a little too close to home which usually prompts nostalgic thoughts and memories of earlier times, good times filled with countless hours of working on, talking about, and spending time behind the wheel of those special cars that have consumed so many hours throughout my life.

For many of us those times comprised several different cars along the way, some loved and others only tolerated, but cars suited for our specific needs at a particular stage of our life.  Few of us had the means to keep the car which first ignited a fire deep inside and began for many of us a lifetime of special appreciation and respect for the automobile.  In many cases that car was one of the first cars we owned.  Cars that many of us modified and as such became extensions or statements about ourselves, cars that often subliminally reflected our personalities and interests.  As such I refer to these as “tribute cars” because in reality they were in fact tributes to ourselves, modified for performance, for style, or both.  Some personalizations were extensive, involving extensive customizing and  modification of the engine, body or both while other changes were simple, hardly noticeable, sometimes adding no more than a pinstripe or upgraded radio and “8 Track” player.  And as much as we might have wanted to keep those special cars forever, sadly, life changes often required us to let them go.   The two most significant changes usually involved reporting for military service or getting married and starting a family.  In the former our tribute cars were sold because we could not afford to keep them or maintain them while away from home.  In the latter because we had to get a car that could accommodate a family.   In either case letting go of that car was often a heartbreaking experience but one that could not be avoided.
For those of you too young to remember, unless you were wealthy in the fifties and sixties, most families owned only one car and as such it had to be a multi-purpose utilitarian tool.  Few families could indulge themselves with both a family car and a personal car.  That began to change with dual income families but it took time and was not commonplace until the mid 1960’s.  And even then the second car was usually a practical economy car.  While we were single and unencumbered with other responsibilities somehow we had or found the time, money and parts to turn our cars into individual, personal expressions suited to us.  And typically when our life circumstances and responsibilities changed (re: got married or had children) it required us to obtain a car more suited for the purpose.  I can remember one of the reasons I had to part with my “tribute car” was the need to get a more practical car that my wife could drive.   My wife, standing only 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, physically had trouble depressing the heavy duty clutch and driving the a high performance car with no power steering or brakes.  I still have my wife so I don’t have to tell you what happened to my car.

One of the benefits of being an enthusiast beginning in the last quarter of the last century was the ability for many enthusiasts to own more than one car.  Even for a family just starting out, usually “car guys” don’t have to give up their “tribute cars” unless they want to and then a few years later regret.   There is no question that the quest to reacquire our dream car has virtually grown the hot rod, 50’s and 60’s collector car market and continues to fuel the explosion of collector car auctions throughout the country.

I could afford one of the original ‘63 Corvette Grand Sports if I had a dime for every time I had either lamented or heard someone say, “I wish I had held on to my (insert car name here) that I had when I was younger.”  Because so few of us have actually been able to hold on to our “tribute cars,” I am always impressed to hear a story about someone who was able to hang on to their “tribute car,” especially if those cars were Corvettes, which are not necessarily suited to be the only car for a family of more than two people.   And recently I have had the good fortune to meet one of those Corvette owners with a great story. 

While in Flint, Michigan, at the Corvette Reunion, I met Steve Stone and got to hear,
first –hand, his incredible story.  Stone was showing his Tuxedo black, 1963 Sting Ray convertible he had just driven from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Reunion, a show of almost 600 Corvettes which takes place every year in conjunction with the Back to the Bricks Car Show.  After the Reunion, Steve and his wife packed up and headed to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where his Corvette was featured on the center stage at the largest all-Corvette event in the country, Corvettes at Carlisle.  And just what is so special about Stone’s 1963 Corvette convertible?  It’s because he is not only the original owner of the car he has owned for more than fifty years, but the amazing fact Steve has put over 500,000 miles on the car he ordered new in October of 1962.  A story perhaps more indicative of a Volvo than a Corvette.

To my knowledge Stone is not the anonymous majority stock holder in a Fortune 500 company and yet he has been able to hold on to the 1963 Corvette he originally took possession of on February 27, 1963, at the ripe old age of eighteen.  Just after the introduction of the exciting new second generation Corvette was unveiled, Steve knew he had to own one of the revolutionary new cars; the only obstacle was figuring out how to pay over $4,000 for it.  So he sold his 1956 Chevrolet coupe and asked his father to co-sign a loan for the purchase.  His father agreed, so in October of 1962, Steve visited his local dealership and ordered his Corvette in Tuxedo Black with the 327 cubic inch, 340 HP engine and four speed transmission.  In addition he added a signal seeking radio, positraction and the optional hard top for winter driving.  The car had 4:11 gears, white wall tires, and no power steering or brakes. After four agonizing months of waiting, the car of Steve’s dreams was delivered to the dealership. 

The first few years of ownership the car was his only means of transportation and Stone put over 30K miles a year on the car, driving it year round.  During the early years the hardtop option got a lot of use especially in the snowy winter, but until recently the hardtop had not been on the car for over thirty years.  Then in 1965 Steve was drafted.  He was convinced he’d be sent to Viet Nam, so he reluctantly put the Corvette up for sale, not wanting to leave his parents stuck with the loan if anything happened to him.  But the planets must have been in alignment because the car never sold and Steve did not go to Viet Nam as he expected.

 When he returned from the service, Steve began making some modifications to his Corvette, changes that were more suited to his taste at the time, he added side exhausts and disk brakes.  And over the years he has also added dual MSD ignition systems to insure he does not get stranded on one of his wilderness treks.  Though Steve has other cars now, he still drives the Corvette extensively.  He has driven the car to all of the lower forty eight states and the nine Canadian provinces.  He and his wife, who has learned to pack light, travel extensively in the sports car, sometimes towing a small trailer Steve made for the car.  The trailer is particularly helpful when they take their annual trip to the Boundary Waters and take along their twenty-two foot canoe. 

During the car’s lifetime, it has had the engine rebuilt or replaced four times, the front end clip replaced a few times due to accidents, the interior replaced twice and the frame restored once.  As you would expect, Steve has a special attachment to the car and plans on leaving the car to his fourth son who he knows will continue to take care of and drive the car Steve has nutured for a half century.  During our conversation he summed up his feelings, “I can’t see myself driving any other Corvette, not even if I was given a new C7.”

 Needless to say, it is amazing that Stone was able to hold on to his Corvette despite the challenges and demands of family life.  The car has offered him not only thousands of hours of enjoyment behind the wheel but a lifetime of memories as well.  If there was ever a testament to the fact that Corvettes are made to be driven, Steve Stone and his car are it.   So as the fall season approaches don’t let it inspire only memories about times past.  There is still time before your Corvette goes into hibernation to create some new memories cruising the back roads immersed in vivid fall colors and crisp autumn weather.  There is still time to get your motors running, head out on the highway, look for adventure and create your own stories and memories this fall behind the wheel of your Corvette.