This car has never been publicly offered - now the auction of the only 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ZL-1 convertible ever built has raised over $3 million.
If you ordered a Corvette at the end of 1968, you could easily more than double its 4,000 dollar base price with a few ticks in the options list. The L88 V8 engine with a displacement of seven liters and an output of about 560 hp was on the options list at $3,000. The ZL-1 option, which was offered as an RPO, was also important. RPO stands for "regular production option". On the Corvette of the time, this $1,032 option included a sportier chassis, beefed-up brakes, a beefed-up ignition system, and a limited-slip rear differential.
US racing driver John W. Maher ordered his Corvette Cabrio exactly like this back then and he also wanted a four-speed automatic transmission (order code M40) and the color Monaco Orange. Maher was especially drawn to the automatic transmission – it later helped him get perfect race starts. In total, he had to pay more than 10,000 dollars – including inflation, that would be 84,096 dollars at the beginning of 2023 (currently the equivalent of around 77,760 euros). Today we know that only one convertible left the factory in this configuration at the time - and this only convertible brought in 3,140,000 million dollars (currently the equivalent of around 2,885,158 euros) at an auction on February 26, 2023. Frank Wilke, analyst at Classic Analytics, emphasizes that no Corvette from the model year 1969 has been more expensive. However, the absolute sales record is still held by a 1967 L88 coupe that changed hands in 2014 for $3.8 million (3.49 million euros).
Sale was not planned
GM had developed the RPO-ZL-1 equipment with the L88 engine exclusively as an FIA/NHRA homologation experiment - a sale to private customers was not planned. GM representatives therefore only reported the experimental engine to certain racers. Maher's good friend, US racing driver Don Yenko, knew about the engine and told him about it. Maher placed the order immediately, but GM resisted the order tooth and nail. Only Maher's friend Grady Davis, senior vice president at Gulf Research, a two-time SCCA national champion - and at the time a partner in GM's clandestine racing operations - was able to win the order.
Incidentally, the expensive ZL-1 models expressly did not contain a radio, air conditioning, electric windows or power steering. Instead of the air conditioning, there was a so-called Astro Ventilation with controllable ventilation flaps in the rear window area. GM had developed the ventilation system as a replacement for the side vent windows that were omitted in 1968.Fresh air flowed through the bonnet into the interior and if the driver set the temperature control to heat, the outflow ventilation flaps in the area of the rear window base closed.
Elaborate assembly process
Documents accompanying the Corvette show that the ZL-1/M40 powertrain configuration was approved on November 21, 1968. GM assembled Maher's Corvette at its St. Louis plant. To fulfill Maher's unique brief, production was accompanied by a chain of technical recommendations, memos, engineering changes and synchronized approvals. On December 9, 1968, Maher's Corvette was fully assembled. For participation in drag races, Maher immediately had the sidepipes installed to minimize exhaust back pressure. In 1969 the bonnet with ventilation opening was added because the unit had overheating problems.
From 1969 to 1972, Maher raced his convertible in mountain races, drag races and autocross events. He nicknamed his car "Winning Automatically" with an eye on the four-speed automatic. The first engine was already worn out in September 1969, but Maher organized a technically identical replacement unit through his GM contacts, which is still in the Corvette today.
After 15 years of rest
After a 15-year break, Maher pulled his Corvette out of the garage again in 1989 and took it to Bill Andrejko Auto Restorations in Pennsylvania. Their specialists restored the special car to excellent condition. Maher took part in many exhibitions and races with the freshly restored racer. In 2007, Maher sold his one-off and the new owner took the car to renowned Corvette restorer Kevin Mackay's Corvette Repair Inc. in Valley Stream, New York. The restorers determined that everything about the Corvette was original. Although the engine was an exchange unit, it was an aluminum engine used only at the very beginning of production, just like the original. Mackay unveiled the Corvette at the 2014 Bloomington Gold Show in Champaign, Illinois, with a fresh black vinyl interior and new paint finish in the original 2014 Monaco Orange color. The Bloomington Gold Show is one of the world's largest Corvette events. After careful review of extensive factory documentation, the event judges awarded the Corvette Bloomington Gold certification, officially recognizing the car as the first of two factory-built ZL-1 Corvette models.
As a result, the new owner showed the car at many prestigious events before giving it on permanent loan to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia (US state of Pennsylvania) in 2018. It stayed there until January 2023.
GM only built one street-legal example of the 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible - although it wasn't intended for general sale. But racing driver John W. Maher from Leechburg (US state of Pennsylvania) was able to get hold of a copy because of his good GM contacts. This Corvette is well documented and well preserved to this day.
On January 26, 2023, the single copy changed hands for $3.14 million. That's the highest value a 1969 Corvette has ever fetched at auction.
The absolute record is held by a 1967 L88 Corvette coupe that changed hands in 2014 for $3.8 million.