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The Konner Corvette: How one dealer got its own special-edition sports car
It makes sense that carmakers would name special-edition models for race drivers, since performance and speed fuel enthusiasts’ passion for cars. Tie-ins with fashion designers have generally been less convincing, although the Pierre Cardin AMC Javelins were interesting. Only Chevrolet, however, once named a limited-run car after one of its franchised dealers: the 1986 Corvette Malcolm Konner Commemorative Edition.
Fifty were made to honor a dealer who, through his devotion to the Corvette and innovative marketing, became the country’s #1 seller of Chevy’s sports car.
It’s called Paramus Chevrolet today, but from 1961 until 1996, the big dealership on busy Rt. 17 in Paramus, New Jersey, was Malcolm Konner Chevrolet, which advertised as “New Jersey’s Headquarters for new Corvettes.” Malcolm Konner made it so, building his dealership into a mecca for Vette enthusiasts. Corvettes were sold from a separate, upper-level showroom and were serviced by exclusive techs. Because the dealership was selling so many Corvettes, Chevy stationed a field engineer there on a semi-permanent basis when the C4 debuted.
The dealership became renowned within the Corvette community and Chevrolet for its large annual show, for which GM loaned historic Corvettes, including the Stingray racer, Mako Shark I, and Manta Ray. Corvette luminaries—including chief engineers Zora Arkus-Duntov and his successor, Dave McLellan, designer Larry Shinoda, and racer John Greenwood—were among guests at the shows.
“Zora Arkus-Duntov would go to the big Corvette shows like Bloomington and Carlisle, but this was the only dealership he attended,” says Gary Konner, Malcolm Konner’s son, who worked with his brother, R.J. Konner, at the dealership.
Special man, special car
Malcolm Konner’s death while on a Chevrolet-sponsored trip to Italy in 1983 shocked the Corvette community he’d fostered, as well as people within GM. When Gary and R.J. Konner later approached Chevy with the idea of producing a special edition to honor their father, supporters like Division General Manager Bob Berger and Chief Engineer Don Runkle helped make it happen.
The result was a special paint-scheme option for the 1986 Corvette offered only through Malcolm Konner Chevrolet. Regular Production Option (RPO) 4001ZA was a $500 package indicated as “Malcolm Konner Special Edition Paint” on the window sticker.
“It was the only time they put the dealer’s name in an RPO code,” says Gary Konner, adding that some other large GM dealers’ requests had been refused.
The Corvette offered a selection of two-tone combinations, but only the Konner cars got the exclusive Silver Beige/Black scheme. “Malcolm Konner Commemorative Edition” badges adorned the exterior, with another on the center console. All 50 cars had Graphite leather interior. The Konners had wanted to further distinguish the car with BBS wheels, but these had to be installed as a dealer option.
The 1986 Corvette was perhaps best known for the return of a convertible, which had been dropped after 1975. Notable additions to all ’86 Vettes included ABS brakes and the Vehicle Anti Theft System (V.A.T.S.). In mid-year, the L98 Tuned Port Injection 5.7-liter V-8 gained aluminum cylinder heads, adding five horsepower (to 235 hp) and cutting 40 pounds.
The Malcolm Konner Corvettes were coupes, 20 with the 4+3 manual transmission and 30 automatics. Ten with each transmission had the optional Z51 Performance Package, and just one of the 50 was equipped with RPO B2K, the Callaway Twin Turbo conversion.
“It was the only 1986 Callaway made,” Gary Konner recalls. “In 1987, we became the biggest seller of B2Ks.”
To make delivery of these special editions more memorable, the Konners flew a dozen or so customers to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to pick up their Corvettes at the factory and then drive them back to New Jersey. It was a reprise of a trip Malcolm Konner had done with customers to pick up their new 1959 models from Corvette plant in St. Louis.
While the Malcolm Konner Vettes were not identified with special serial numbers, each car had a number on a small window sticker. Gary Konner bought #50, a stick-shift car with the Z51 package and BBS wheels. It’s still part of his collection, which also includes the first 1988 Corvette Challenge race car and the first 1995 ZR1.
Of the ’86 Malcolm Konner Commemorative Edition, he says, “It reminds me of my father’s love for cars, Chevy, and Corvettes, and the fact that GM would consider honoring him by putting an option code with his name on it.”