1969 Corvette ZL-1 one-of-a-kind heads to auction

Legendary cars always come with notebooks full of documentation or reams of mythologizing. This 1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1 is not only the former, it is one of only two such Corvettes built. For that production year, Chevy offered 21 different engine choices and three transmissions for America’s nascent sports car. The star at the top of the engine tree was a 427-inch V8 with Regular Production Order (RPO) code ZL-1. Created as a street-legal production special for draggers and racers, ordering it doubled the price of a base Corvette to $10,771 in 1969, or $88,827 in today’s dollars. It also endowed the Corvette with the guts to run the quarter in 11.2 seconds at 127 mph. And this Monaco Orange example with the black vinyl interior will cross the block at RM Sotheby’s Arizona auction on January 26. The pre-sale estimate is $2,600,000 to $3,000,000.  

The ZL-1 V8 looks like the standard L88 big-block V8 that could be fitted to the C3 Corvette. The ZL-1 swapped for an aluminum block, saving 100 pounds. Upgrades included a redesigned crankshaft, high-lift camshaft, larger connecting rods, aluminum heads with four additional bolts, larger exhaust valves, and stouter bearing journals. A later version approved in 1969 would get the open-chamber design that had a slightly larger combustion chamber, but this car was too early to get that engine. GM rated this V8 at the same 430 horsepower as the iron-block L88, underrating the actual output of both motors. The real ZL1 number is said to be somewhere between 500 and 585 horses, RM Sotheby’s pegs this one at 560 hp. 

That remains a healthy amount of power more than 50 years later, so in 1969, GM mandated a bunch of additional options to make the ZL-1 controllable on the street. These included an F41 suspension, Positraction rear axle, heavy duty brakes with front discs, and a transistorized ignition. GM also omitted some features, the air conditioning and radio unavailable on the ZL-1.

A drag racer named John Mayer bought this one in late 1968, fitted with the four-speed automatic. He raced it so hard he blew the engine, which Chevy replaced under warranty. (The other ZL-1 owner blew his engine racing and had it replaced, too.) Maher had Bill Andrejko restore the convertible in 1989, then continued racing and showing the car until he sold it in 2007. That owner sent the car to Kevin Mackay for a nut-and-bolt restoration, and has owned it until now. 

The most expensive Corvette sold at auction was a 1967 L88 coupe that went for $3.85 million in 2014, just ahead of a 1967 L88 convertible that sold for $3.424 million in 2013. Many suspect this car could break the $3 million barrier. Given that it’s rarer than any L88, that this is the first time it’s been offered for public sale, and that prices for everything are out of control, there could be a new record set in just under four weeks.

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