In 1969, Corvette only built one ZL-1 convertible, and it was never intended for public sale. Now, the ultra-exclusive Stingray is expected to hit the auction block next month for the first time ever.
According to RM Sotheby’s listing, this particular example was “strictly developed as an FIA/NHRA homologation experiment” and is the first of two factory-documented Corvettes with the high-performance RPO ZL-1 option—an aluminum version of Chevrolet’s monstrous 427-cubic-inch L88 V-8 engine. (The second model was a coupe.)
The bright-orange convertible was then sold to drag racer John W. Maher of Leechburg, Pennsylvania, in December 1968, coupled with an M40 automatic transmission. At the time, the $4,718 package more than doubled the base price of a new Corvette. “For that amount the buyer received a 560 horsepower derivative of the all-aluminum CanAm racing engine delivered in a street-legal, factory-built production car,” notes the auction house.
The drop-top model sports a redesigned crankshaft and pistons, more robust exhaust valves, a high-lift camshaft and stouter connecting rods. Considering the “open chamber” design wasn’t finalized until March 1969, this version features closed-chamber cylinder heads.
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Before you take the car out for a spin, take note of what you’ll be cruising without: The model is missing a radio, a heater, AC, power windows and power steering. Plus, the original engine had to be replaced under warranty within the first year due to Maher’s racing. The vehicle remained in the driver’s possession until 2007 when it was sold to Kevin Mackay’s Corvette Repair Inc., which then had the convertible fully restored in 2014 and installed an early, factory-correct, date-coded, all-aluminum ZL-1 unit.
Accompanying the Monaco Orange car are official documents from the GM archives, paperwork from the original owner, its original tank sticker and sales invoice. RM Sotheby’s will take bids on the roadster starting on January 26, 2023, and the house predicts the sports car could sell anywhere from $2.6 million to a whopping $3 million. If it does reach that lofty price tag—or better yet, surpasses the estimation—the model could break the record of the most expensive Corvette ever sold at auction. Currently, that title belongs to a 1987 L88 coupe that fetched $3.85 million in 2014.
Collectors, get your wallets ready.
Click here to see all the photos of the 1969 Chevrolet ZL-1 Corvette.