Concept cars and styling mules usually lead brief but eventful lives, created quickly to provide the reality check only a full-scale car can provide, shown a few times to gauge public reaction or circulated internally to gain executive sign-off on a new model, then reskinned, stripped, or even crushed. It wasn’t always that way, though – this second-gen Corvette led something of a charmed life, and is getting another chance to bask in the spotlight here at the 2011 SEMA show.

Built in September of 1963, this was originally the personal car of Chevrolet General Manager Bunkie Knudson. The car ended up being sold to a Chevrolet Engineering Department employee, who won the opportunity to purchase it in a drawing held during a special party in the summer of 1964, in which surplus engineering vehicles were being disposed of.

Today, the car is part of the MY Collection, owned by Mid America Motorworks founder and Chief Cheerleader Mike Yager, and is the centerpiece of the company display at SEMA. At a distance, it could be mistaken for a customized C2, but a closer inspection reveals the details that identify it as a one-of-a-kind prototype. The Cadillac Fire Frost Blue paint is one clue, and the Cadillac division also contributed the interior carpet as well. The nose of the car highlights the custom bumper and cast egg-crate grille, and a special hood covers the production-spec 327 cubic inch V8, rated at 365 horsepower.

As your eye travels down the flank of the Corvette, you notice the familiar-yet-unique sidepipes with tapered guard grills that foreshadow the later trend toward billet “phantom” accents adopted by custom car builders. Inside, there are more engineering adventures; the high-back leather bucket seats are matched by custom door panels, and the telescopic steering wheel is yet another hand made prototype. Not only are the side windows power-actuated, but the vent windows operate with the touch of a button as well.

While this bespoke styling and engineering exercise didn’t show the future direction of production Corvettes in every detail, it still is an invaluable look at how Chevrolet’s talented designers were playing a game of “what if” and experimenting with concepts at full scale in the real world. We’re lucky to have cars like this to give us that glimpse into the minds of the men who gave us America’s iconic sports car.