Rick Tavel: Records Are Made to be Broken

earlleadAs you probably remember from Chris Demorro’s recent article here at Corvette Online, the auction market for Corvettes, and particularly blue chip Corvettes, is hot and though Asian investments in top-end cars has been a factor, that is only part of the reason prices are skyrocketing.  Just to give you the latest results, early in September at Mecum’s Dallas auction over 170 Corvettes crossed the block, where 106 of those were sold for a combined hammer price of $9.106 million. 

This 1967 L88 sold for $3.2 million, a record for a Corvette.

This 1967 L88 sold for $3.2 million, a record for a Corvette.

One of Twenty

No one would dispute that the star of that auction was the impeccably restored 1967 L88 former drag car, which sold for a world record price for a Corvette of $3.2M.  The car was one of only twenty L88 Corvettes produced for the 1967 model year and, obviously, a rare car that would be the cornerstone of any Corvette collection. 

When the excitement and dust settled following the sale the one of the questions on several Corvette enthusiasts’ minds was, “what will Dana Mecum do for an encore?”

1967 L88 Star World RecordDana Mecum, known as “The Dealmaker”, has brokered some of the world’s best cars, but this year his offerings of Corvettes has been better than good and could only be described as “awe inspiring.”   Each auction seems to offer better and better Corvettes, evidenced by his latest event in Dallas where five of the top ten cars sold were Corvettes. 

Those cars included the aforementioned 1967 L88, a 1957 “Airbox,” a 1963 Z06, and two 1967 427 cubic inch Corvettes, all exceeding a $200K hammer price.  Good quality first- and second-generation cars were selling in excess of $100K and it was hard to find a second-generation Corvette with a big block engine selling below $150K. 

A Seller’s Market

Most sellers are aware of the hot market and are setting their reserves on the cars accordingly.  For example, a 1969 L88 was bid up to $430K and still failed to meet the seller’s reserve price, even though that same car was sold earlier in the year at a different auction for $280,500. Non big block second-generation Corvettes in good shape saw prices over $75K. Even good quality third generation Corvettes showed increased attention, especially those with big block or LT1 engines.  And though bargain prices can still be found in the third- and fourth-generation cars, those with rare or interesting options are seeing increased demand and higher prices.   

The important ingredients to solid investment-grade collector cars are provenance, documentation, condition, originality, historic significance, and rarity.

As most collectors are aware, aside from the basic economic theory of supply and demand, the important ingredients to solid investment-grade collector cars are provenance, documentation, condition, originality, historic significance, and rarity.  Obviously the “blue chip” collector cars have all of these important requirements.  Some owners think that simply being old demands a high price, but unless the car possesses at least some of the aforementioned attributes it is nothing more than an old car. 

“Barn Find” Fad?

Admittedly, there are some buyers who have paid exorbitant prices for cars designated as “barn finds” with no special attributes other than a good story about the find.  In many cases the car is not only unrestored or not running but not even cleaned for the sale.  A buyer paying high prices simply because the car is a “barn find” with no special options or provenance will find that the car will not hold its value in the long run.  To be a “blue chip” collectible the car must check all of the attribute boxes. 

A review of the world’s record Corvette indicates it met every one of those requirements.  It had a documented ownership history, records and pictures compiled throughout the years, was among the top 4 or 5 in NHRA national points standings during its day, a track record holder, was in outstanding condition following a restoration by the renowned Corvette restorers, Nabers Brothers, and was one of only twenty L88’s produced for the 1967 model year.  Certainly, that’s hard to top, and it’s understandable how a knowledgeable (and well-funded) Corvette collector would love to have it as part of their collection.  

But records are made to be broken, even the $3.2M record for the Corvette.  Hard to believe?  Well Corvette lovers, listen up and tune in to Mecum’s Chicagoland auction Saturday, October 12, and look for lot S110.   Not resting on his laurels,  Dana Mecum and his staff are offering one of the rarest and historically significant Corvettes in existence, considered by many to be one of the five most important Corvettes of all time, the “Crown Jewel”  of Corvettes, Harley Earl’s personal Corvette, modified and given to him by GM for his outstanding service. 

Better than a Gold Watch

Harley Earl was not only the father of the Corvette and the designer of some of the most beautiful, trend setting cars ever produced – Earl’s contribution to the growth and sales of GM cars literally cannot be overstated, and the corporation wanted to do something special for him when he retired.  So General Motors’ designers and engineers imagined and built a customized, modified 1963 Nassau Blue Corvette roadster for him which became his personal car. 

The design shared some styling elements from the Corvette shown at the 1963 Chicago car show as well as features from future years’ Corvettes.  This Corvette had special through-the-body side exhausts (one of only four ever produced), upgraded brakes which would appear on the 1965 Corvette, additional custom gauges, and a custom interior which included blue and white leather upholstery, a custom console, and stainless steel foot wells.  Since Earl lived in Florida and needed air conditioning, the car has the 327 cubic inch engine.  As Grand Marshall of the Daytona 500 in 1965, Earl drove his special Corvette in a parade lap before the race.  Every year the winner of the historic race receives the Harley J. Earl Trophy in recognition for his contribution to the automobile and racing.   

1963 Corvette Earl 6Lost and Found

The history of the Earl’s Corvette after he sold it is an interesting tale of getting briefly lost before being rediscovered, researched and restored.  General Motors had all the design specifications for the specially built car, helped identify the historically important Corvette, and has aided the owners in providing accurate details for restoring the car.  All the custom interior details were supplied to Al Knoch so he could replicate them for an accurate restoration.

So if there is a Corvette that could knock the 1967 L88 record holder off its pedestal, this is the car.  This Corvette checks off every box of a blue chip investment/collector car, and perhaps more importantly, it was the personal Corvette of the man who conceived what has become America’s sports car.  It isn’t one of twenty, or even one of five.  It is one of one and it doesn’t take an economics major to realize the potential value of this unique Corvette in a market that is red hot.  So stay tuned and join with me being the first to ask the Dealmaker, “After this, Dana, what can you possibly do for an encore?”

About the author

Rick Tavel

Rick Tavel is a freelance automotive journalist and an avid car enthusiast. Though he spent his professional career as a business executive now retired he devotes his time to writing, organizing Corvette events, and consulting for his company, R/TCorvetteConsultants. He is currently working on a book about the significance and development of the C5 Fixed Roof Coupe. Along with his book, he is also working on a registry for these cars. He currently owns a show quality survivor Trans Am, a Corvette C5 FRC and a Corvette C6 coupe.
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