8 American classics to watch at Mecum Indy 2023
“Dana Mecum’s Spring Classic” auction—aka Mecum Indianapolis—is one of the largest auctions of the year, and there is always something for everybody. Last year’s sale featured over 2000 vehicles, and prices ranged from $1100 to $2.2M. Quite the spread.
Given the venue and the timing of this 36th annual event (May 12–20, the week before the Indy 500), rare muscle and significant racers always fill the docket. These include a group of Ram Air IV Pontiacs, Bruce Springsteen’s Chevelle, and a bunch of Shelby Mustangs, but below are the cars we’ll be keeping a close eye on.
The Z16 is a significant step in the Chevelle story. Marking the first time a big-block made its way into showroom Chevelles, the Z16 arrived in mid-1965 as a two-door hardtop that was hot on the heels of Pontiac’s GTO. With its 375-hp 396-cubic-inch V-8, it was potent but expensive and not actively promoted, so Z16 production only amounted to 200 units. In addition to the big-block engine, Z16s came with a Muncie M20 wide-ratio four-speed, a 12-bolt rear, heavy-duty suspension, a front sway bar, a rear stabilizer bar, 11-inch drum brakes, and stiffer frame rails. This Z16 is represented as one of just three in Crocus Yellow over white and has been body-off restored. It has sold before, first for $89,100 at Mecum Kissimmee two years ago, then for $165,000 in Scottsdale the year after. For Indy, the estimate is even more ambitious, at $250,000–$275,000.
Built by GM as an L88 coupe, prepared by legendary Corvette racer John Greenwood, and decked out in stars and stripes by his brother Bert, this big-block bruiser is a race-winner and record-breaker. One of three built by Greenwood and sponsored by BFGoodrich to promote its new line of T/A radial tires, it was initially meant for promo duty, but the crash of another one of Greenwood’s Corvettes meant that it was pulled off the bench and prepped for racing.
Part of that prep involved swapping the already-potent L88 engine for a race-spec aluminum ZL1 mill. Driven over the course of its career by John Greenwood, Bob Johnson, Dick Smothers, and Don Yenko, it won its class at the 1972 Watkins Glen 6 Hour race. It also ran at Sebring and Daytona. At Le Mans in 1973, it set the GT class speed record of 215 mph on the Mulsanne straight, before engine trouble took it out of the running at the four-hour mark. Given a concours restoration more recently, it’s one of the most in-your-face American cars to ever lap Le Mans, which celebrates its centenary this year.
While that Greenwood Corvette was lapping road courses, other ZL1s like this Camaro were burning up the quarter-mile. Ordering the ZL1 in your Chevrolet pony car, COPO 9560 in GM-speak, got you a race-derived aluminum 427 that the factory rated at 430 hp, but in reality it likely made quite a bit more.
Just 69 ZL1 Camaros were sold, and this Fathom Green car is one of the 50 that went through Fred Gibb Chevrolet in Illinois. It has a mostly unknown early history but was restored with correctly dated and numbered parts and sold at auction in 2007 for $603,750. At Indy, Mecum estimates it will bring between $700,000 and $900,000.
Named for promoter Don Ridler in 1963, the Ridler Award is essentially best-in-show for the annual Detroit Autorama, and it’s something that every hot rod builder dreams of winning. This Cadillac, built by the team at Super Rides by Jordan in Escondido, California, and known as “CadMad,” won the Ridler in 2019.
A 16-year project that reportedly cost $2M, it started life as a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham but now has a tube frame chassis, no rear doors, and a Chevy Nomad roof. It has go to match its show, too, with a 632-cubic-inch twin-turbo big-block V-8 that makes a reported 1025 hp. Auctioned off in 2020 for $302,500 (and profiled by us here), it has a $350,000–$450,000 estimate at Mecum Indy.
To the uninitiated, classic Corvettes all look pretty similar, but the right combination of letters and numbers can really peg the price meter. “ZR2” is certainly one of those combos. In 1970, the Corvette got an optional “LT1,” a saucy small-block with solid lifters and 370 hp. A “ZR1” package combined that engine with beefed-up suspension and brakes, an aluminum radiator, and an M22 “Rock Crusher” four-speed, while deleting air conditioning, the radio, and power steering/windows. For 1971 only, Corvette added the “ZR2,” which was essentially a big-block LS6-powered version of the ZR1. The solid-lifter 454 was rated at 425 hp, and just a dozen ZR2s were produced.
Built at the St. Louis plant and delivered new in Toronto, this car is reportedly the last of that dozen. The coupe, in Brands Hatch Green over a dark green interior, last sold in Scottsdale nine years ago for $495,000, and at Mecum Indy it has an estimate of $475,000–$600,000.
Although it’s primarily “legendary” if you were part of the Detroit street racing scene 50 years ago, this Hemi Challenger is nevertheless famous enough to be in the National Historic Vehicle Register, and for Dodge to name one of its “Last Call” Hemi models this year. That it is being sold from the same family that bought it new has also caused quite a buzz in the car media world.
The “Black Ghost,” as this triple-black Challenger R/T SE Hemi is known, haunted Woodward Avenue in the first half of the 1970s, beating lesser cars between the lights and then disappearing into the night. The disappearing act was partly because the owner was a police officer who wanted to keep his street racing hobby on the down low and avoid a super-awkward traffic stop. He stopped racing it in 1975, and in 2015, just before his passing, he signed the title over to his son. The current condition #1 (Concours) value in the Hagerty Price Guide for a ’70 Hemi Challenger R/T four-speed is $414,000, but an unrestored and very famous example like this could bring a hefty premium.
Casner Motor Racing Division, given the Italianate name “Camoradi,” was the outfit of American airline pilot Lloyd “Lucky” Casner. Camoradi’s best achievements were with its Maserati Birdcage, which won at the Nürburgring twice, but the team also campaigned with America’s sports car, the Corvette. Camoradi was allocated two factory-prepared Vettes for 1960, which supplemented the three given to fellow American sportsman Briggs Cunningham’s team. On its maiden outing in Cuba, this car won the GT-only race in Havana and three days later won its class at the Cuban Grand Prix (Stirling Moss won overall in Camoradi’s Maserati).
At Le Mans, it finished second in class behind Cunningham’s Corvette and 10th overall, but it didn’t actually cover enough distance to be officially classified. At the Swedish Grand Prix GT race, this Camoradi Corvette took the checkered flag but, while in Sweden, it got into a nasty wreck that smashed up the front end, hardtop, and windshield. The engine somehow wound up powering a speedboat in New Zealand, but the rest of the car remained in Scandinavia until the 1990s, when it was brought back to the U.S. and restored. Another piece of Le Mans history up for grabs during the race’s centenary, it has an oddly specific presale estimate of $2.0M–$2.1M.
In 1970, Plymouth launched its “Rapid Transit System Caravan” promotion and toured the country with “Supercar Clinics” in partnership with the Sox & Martin drag racing team. A big part of the party were the four customized Plymouths given wild paint jobs and body modifications. Three of them wound up in the collection of Steven Juliano, whose estate sold them via Mecum in 2019 for $236,500, $264,000, and $341,000. Juliano tried to buy the fourth one, this wild Cuda 440, but its owner would never budge, and it has only recently seen the light of day after almost 50 years in a garage.
Designed by Harry Bradley and built by Chuck Miller at Styline Customs, the Rapid Transit Cuda has a custom steel grille and lower fascia, as well as a custom rear and a little electric motor that rattles the shaker hood for car shows. Originally finished in red, it was painted green, blue, and white for the 1970 Rapid Transit System program and got its current red, orange, and white job with that lovely fade in 1971.
It was then purchased by a private owner who drove it around for a bit, didn’t like all the attention he got (what did he expect?), and stuffed it in the garage. The odometer shows just 976 miles. This marvelous Mopar has a $500,000–$750,000 estimate for Mecum Indy.