At the Arizona auctions in January, 199 Corvettes crossed the auction blocks at Barrett-Jackson, Russo and Steele, RM Sotheby’s, Gooding and Bonhams.
For each car offered, the auction houses sought to create an aura of uniqueness to distinguish that Corvette from the other 198. Their effectiveness at making that distinction boiled down to two important considerations: history, and specifications and equipment.
Take Lance Miller’s famous, and exceptionally successful, ’59 fuel-injected Corvette, the SCCA National Championship-winning Purple People Eater. It crossed the block at Barrett-Jackson during Saturday Prime Time and was, by many standards, the most special Corvette in Scottsdale featuring a sterling competition success history. It left the block unsold with a top bid of $1 million hanging in the hot, desert air.
Just 20 lots before that, a group of three Corvettes, a trio from 1955, 1956 and 1957, sold for $1,815,000 including the buyer’s premium. Their distinction (aside from being meticulously restored) was that each bore serial number 1 from its year’s production – and the ’55 was the first V-8 Corvette, the ’56 was the first Corvette with dual-quad carburetion, and the ’57 was not just the first 283 cid small-block Corvette but also the first Chevrolet off the line with that new V-8.
Farther down the Corvette pecking order there were some great, overlooked, values. As so many less-savvy collectors gravitate to the hyped big block cars, high performance small block Corvettes (the ones with carburetors, that is) sell for very reasonable numbers.
Case in point: Barrett-Jackson’s lot 1055.1, a 1965 327/365hp coupe. An NCRS Duntov Award winner and Bloomington Gold certified car, it was restored to a high order; it sold at Barrett-Jackson for a modest $93,500, having brought $82,150 at Mecum Kissimmee in 2010, $85,800 at Auctions America Ft. Lauderdale in 2012 and $84,800 at Kissimmee in 2013.
It is these high performance small blocks that embodied the lithe, balanced high-revving performance that Zora Arkus-Duntov fought to preserve in Corvettes, attributes displayed by Stingrays like Barrett-Jackson’s lot 1332, an underrated but still potent ‘72 sold for $192,500.
Then there is “history” embodied not only by the Purple People Eater and No. 1 chassis number ’55-’57s but also by the famed “entombed” ’54 put away in 1959 behind a brick wall and now presented pretty much exactly as it was unearthed in 1986. It sold for $110,000 at Barrett-Jackson. Mecum had sold it for $86,400 at Kissimmee in 2014, putting the result in Scottsdale in perspective for an non-driving Corvette historical artifact.
There were seven other ’54 Corvettes in Arizona, ranging in price from a restored example for $71,500 at Bonhams to $220,000 (Pennant Blue with 3,000 miles, NCRS Benchmark, Top Flight, Duntov and Bloomington Gold, the definition of flawless history and presentation).
In a gesture reflecting “Modern Times” (hat tip to Charlie Chaplin), there were eight late-model Corvettes built since 2012, including three 2012 ZR1s that ranged in price from $88,000 (two of them) to $143,000 for the first-built 2012 ZR1.
Uniqueness counts, even if it is only four years old.