Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mecum’s® Houston Event = Two Compelling Corvettes

Mecum’s® Houston Event = Two Compelling Corvettes
By Rick Tavel© February 18, 2014

Bunkie Knudsen's Styling Roadster to be auctioned at Mecums in Houston  (Photo: Mecum)
It appears that Mecum® is off and running for 2014 after a weather induced slow start in Kissimmee.  Their Houston event is shaping up to be typical of the high quality consignments that usually characterizes their events with some outstanding Corvettes scheduled to cross the block from Thursday, April 10th through Saturday, April 12th.  As I was reviewing Mecum’s® latest on-line catalog (,  two Corvettes jumped off the page to capture my attention.  Certainly no Corvette enthusiast could ignore the Bunkie Knudsen Corvette, after all it is not only the auction headliner, it is one of the most interesting Corvettes ever made, as well as the personal car for then Chevrolet General manager Bunkie Knudsen.  The second Corvette, perhaps not as well known, is the stunning 1967 Corvette coupe once owned by former Marine and Viet Nam veteran,  Don McNamara, and put into storage with less than 3K miles on it, has a bullet proof provenance and literally may be the finest 1967 “survivor” in existence. 

The McNamara Patriotic Corvette survivor with less than 3K miles to be sold in Houston (Photo: Mecum)
The McNamara Corvette just might end up being the brightest star among many Corvettes at the Houston event, even considering the tough competition from the Knudsen styling car and a 1966 “big tank” coupe.  The fascinating story of McNamara, returning from Viet Nam and winning $5K in Las Vegas during his retirement celebration, then subsequently ordering his dream car is certainly interesting enough on its own, but what happened after that is even more compelling.   Strangely after putting 2996 miles on the Corvette it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.  An unusually private person, when asked what happened to his Corvette, McNamara simply said he no longer owned the car, though rumors persisted that the Corvette was hidden in his single car heated garage.  Not until his death in 2011 was the Corvette found by a neighboring couple he befriended later in his life.  Only then was it discovered that McNamara secretly put the car in storage where it remained hidden away from family and friends.  When the car was discovered it was sheathed in a car cover, and covered with storage blankets and Marine Corp and United States flags, which preserved the car as it appeared over 45 years before.  His next door neighbor for 22 years who discovered it had never seen the car before that day.

Passenger seat never sat in (Photo: Mecum)
Don McNamara’s patriotism was his inspiration for ordering the car in Ermine white with a red stinger and interior and to complete the patriotic theme he replaced the black wall tires with white and blue double stripe rubber.  McNamara was intensely private, was never married and never even had a credit card or checking account.  So finding the Corvette treasure hidden safely in his garage did not seem so out of character by the very few people that knew him. After the first year of ownership, not wanting to pay insurance, registration and license fees, he put the car away.  Until the mid 1980’s he only drove it occasionally at night until the mileage approached 3K when he put the Corvette away permanently.   The Corvette had only been driven by McNamara, the passenger seat had never been sat in and until discovered the Corvette had never been touched by water, never in rain or washed!

Other than a few personal touches like Edelbrock valve covers and four Corvette decals on the air cleaner the car remains as it was when ordered  with the L36 427/390 HP engine, M20 4-speed manual transmission and 3.36 Positraction rear end.  In addition tinted glass, telescopic steering wheel, AM/FM radio, side exhaust and bolt-on aluminum wheels were also added pushing the original invoice to $5.504.  With the help of his father a dealer was located that would keep the Marine’s dream alive and sell the car just below McNamara’s $5K limit.   This beautiful example of the last  year of the second generation Corvette will be sold along with the original window sticker, showroom sales brochure, Chevrolet warranty book with Protect-O-Plate, the original keys and fob and a duplicate set of keys; the original owner’s manual and plastic pouch, dealer record book issued by Ray Motor Co., a cashier’s check for a deposit and a receipt for the balance of the purchase price, the original State of Colorado license registration and title issued to McNamara dated May 22, 1967 and the NCRS Shipping Data Report confirming delivery at Ray Motor Company in Lamar, Colorado.  Lot S128 will cross the block on Saturday, April 12th.

Don McNamara added his personal touch of additional Corvette insignias to the air cleaner  (Photo: Mecum)
Former Chevrolet GM Bunkie Knudsen's personal Corvette 1 of 4 built with this custom exhaust (Photo: Mecum)
The featured car of the entire auction is Bunkie Knudsen’s personalized Corvette roadster, styled by GM, copying the modified 1963 Corvette shown at the New York Auto Show that year.  As many Corvette enthusiasts know Bunkie Knudsen was the General Manager of Chevrolet from 1961 through 1965 until he was elected executive vice president of GM®.  This is one of four second generation Corvettes modified by GM that included the custom exhaust pipes which exited through the body of the Corvette.  Last October Mecum offered another styling car which had the same modified exhaust feature and belonged to Harley Earl which was the top seller of the auction and sold for over $1M.  Knudsen’s  is the third “styling Corvette” offered since the October Chicagoland auction last year, the second was a pink 1963 roadster owned by Mrs. Harley Earl and failed to meet reserve in Mecum’s January event in Kissimmee.  But unlike the other two Corvettes, this one has been impeccably restored by noted Corvette restored Werner Meier . 

Knudsen's favorite Firefrost Metallic also used on the interior (Photo: Mecum)
The car was finished in Knudsen’s favorite custom color, Crimson Firefrost metallic lacquer  and accented with a full-length white stripe and white soft top (the car also retains a matching hard top). This combination was also carried through in the modified interior, where a unique custom shift console assembly was flanked by 1964-type seats upholstered with white naugahyde and maroon accent stripes.   In addition slotted stainless steel floor grille plates replaced the stock floor mats which was common GM styling cars of the era. A custom twin-spoke steering wheel featured two types of wood on the rim and 1964 instrumentation was used in the color-matching dash. The interior was later upgraded with changes to the instrumentation and the addition of 1967 seat belts.  The car was equipped with power brakes and windows as well.

GM stylists used Chrome and black paint on the engine (Photo: Mecum)
The 327 fuel injected engine and engine bay was also modified, substituting chrome plating and crinkle-finish black paint in place of the cast aluminum surfaces on the small block engine. The engine bay had to be modified to accommodate the special exhaust system which required trimming the heater box for clearance and relocating the battery to the area behind the passenger seat.

 After Knudsen finished with the car it was returned to stock appearance and passed through several owners who allowed it to fall into disrepair before being rediscovered by Corvette collector Wally Abela in a garage being used as part of a scaffold.  After buying the car Abela consulted Corvette expert and restorer Werner Meir who was able to trace its ownership and confirm its important heritage.   In 1984 Abela turned his Corvette over to Meier for a full restoration.  The unusually complex restoration took four years to complete and required eight different machine and fabrication facilities to complete the complicated exhaust system.  But when Meier finished the exquisite Corvette was invited to the Meadowbrook and Hilton Head concours events and has been shown numerous times in the Bloomington Gold Special Collection.  From its opening in 1994 until 2001 the National Corvette Museum had the car on permanent display.   In 2003 the car was sold and has resided in several collections until finding its way to Mecum’s Houston event.  Knudsen’s personal, unique Corvette, Lot S119, will also cross the block on Saturday, April 12th.   

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