24 May 2016

A Craigslist catch that got away

Have you ever looked at a Craigslist car ad and thought, “I wonder if I should take a chance?”

Here’s one that was posted on Craigslist in the Tampa Bay area of Florida about five years ago:

“SERIAL # X53L on documented 1953 pre-production Corvette Frame. We believe this to be a 1953 Pontiac prototype that was to assume the name Longoria? Info received todate indicates that ZAGATO designed and PINNAFARINA constructed the body for GM in late 52.”

The typos and misspelling might have been a clue that the person who wrote the ad did not know much about the car being offered.

“Might anyone have knowledge of some former FISHER BODY executive that could assist in further identifying this automobile?” the ad concluded.

This basket case could have been yours for perhaps $700. To no one’s surprise, it didn’t sell. Here’s what that wreck actually was: arguably, the most sought-after Corvette ever built. Today it is very likely worth several million dollars. It is the storied No. 1 Cunningham Corvette.

Instead of a “documented 1953 pre-production Corvette Frame” this car is a 1960 model that was among three turned into racecars by the sportsman Briggs Cunningham. He raced them at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year; the cars, marked 1, 2 and 3, took turns leading the race and delighting fans with their thunderous V-8 engines. No. 1 and No. 2 did not finish, but No. 3 did, winning its class and a permanent place in Corvette lore.

It might have been appropriate for the cars to be preserved in a museum collection after the race, but Cunningham turned them back into street-legal cars and they were sold through a Chevy dealer, according to one of the 1960 team’s drivers. After that, the cars disappeared for a number of years.

No. 3 was found in 1993, according to Kevin Mackay, owner of Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, N.Y., whose shop was hired to restore the car for the Miller family. No. 2 turned up in an Irwindale, Calif., junkyard in 1980; it was acquired by Bruce Meyer in 2000, a collector and Petersen Automotive Museum board member. But No. 1 proved elusive until a few years ago.

A yearslong tug of war over ownership ensued. To make a very long, tortuous story short: The Corvette — now positively identified as the No. 1 Cunningham Corvette — is owned by a partnership comprising Kevin Mackay; Domenico Idoni, an enthusiast; and Gino Burelli, an Indiana car dealer and collector.

Under the terms of a 2015 legal agreement, Burelli will commission Mackay to bring the car back to its original glory. Mackay earned acclaim for his restoration of Miller’s No. 3 Corvette.

The restoration, estimates Bryan Shook, a lawyer who specializes in legal matters involving vintage cars, could take a year and cost more than $500,000. (As of this writing, the car is in Indiana, in Burelli’s possession, awaiting the full payment agreed upon in the legal settlement, Shook said.)

Shook, who helped Mackay through the legal dealings, said he expects that Burelli will sell the car. “He’s shopping it,” Shook said. And a price of $3 million to $7 million — “possibly more” — is not unlikely, Shook added.

The exact story of where the first Cunningham Corvette was for the half-century it was missing may never be fully known. According to court documents, it appears that at some point it was intended for use as a drag racer. Its blue-on-white racing livery was replaced by gaudy purple paint, poorly applied. And key components, including the original engine, disappeared.

But Mackay said he has rare spare parts, as well as molds for special racing modifications done to the body (from his restoration of the Miller Corvette), to finish the job to a very high standard.

When it goes up for sale, don’t expect to see it on Craigslist. You missed your chance.

UPDATE July 14, 2016: Based on information subsequently provided by Kevin Mackay, this article has been revised to reflect the following changes: The order in which the No. 2 and No. 3 cars were found, originally from an interview with a Corvette team driver from 1960, has been reversed. In addition, this revision clarifies that Corvette Repair restored the No. 3 car for the Miller family and that the car is owned by a partnership in which Mackay has a share interest.

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Chas Boston, Massachusetts May 30, 2016 at 19:03
    The story is a little strange, especially when you see that all three Cunningham cars had quad headlamps and this car has duals. Also, all three Cunningham cars had a distinct Corvette cove on the front fender and door, and this car does not sport that same cove. The tailights, top and length all seem different as well. Finally the front end appears different than the Cunningham cars. Not sure that I am convinced about the authenticity of this story, either.
  • 2
    B Loncar Oregon May 30, 2016 at 10:07
    This article caught my attention so I read it..then rare mention of Briggs Cunningham.. well 27 years ago I bought Jaguar XK 140 from Chicago and among paperwork found a document that the car was owned by Briggs..Never heard of the man before. Called the number in California and talked to a son and left my number. Then "Lady Cunningham" returned a call telling me that this was their car - Red with black leather drophead.. Still have the car.. Thank you for interesting article
  • 3
    Howard USA May 31, 2016 at 15:49
    If the car was involved in any fender benders it may have a new non type front end.
  • 4
    Howard USA May 31, 2016 at 15:49
    If the car was involved in any fender benders it may have a new non type front end.
  • 5
    Estarianne USA May 31, 2016 at 18:59
    I wonder if the headlights were part of the street legal retrofit and the other vehicles were reverted? Lots of info missing from this story - namely, who posted the Craigslist ad?
  • 6
    Mike USA June 13, 2016 at 17:15
    Another picture is captioned "Extensive bodywork done in the late 1960s got rid of the dual headlights and made the No. 1 car hard to recognize as a ’60 Vette."
  • 7
    Jerry Garrett Fabulous Las Vegas June 13, 2016 at 21:06
    Remember this car wrecked and burned at Le Mans. Its racing drivetrain was removed. So what you have now is little more than the rolling chassis with a cobbled up shell on it.
  • 8
    Dave USA June 13, 2016 at 21:41
    Looks like a piece of crap!
  • 9
    WILLIAM D SMITH WICKENBURG, AZ December 29, 2016 at 10:06
    After this I do not know what to do. I have been trying to sell my corvette and have been thinking about craigslist, after this I am not sure
  • 10
    Laguna Mike Austin, TX December 29, 2016 at 10:06
    This reminds me of George Washington's hatchet!!!
  • 11
    David Palmeter Noblesville IN March 28, 2017 at 12:55
    Any update? Is the car in restoration yet?
  • 12
    Jack Juhasz Berea, Ohio May 14, 2017 at 14:52
    In the late 80 s, I worked at Since late auto rebuilds , cleveland, oh. I believe this is the corvette that came into our shop, and was to get a new front. I did this work , but was disappointed that only minimal other repairs were requested. I do remember painting it a maroon color , and it having mismatched wheels.

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