Snag this pair of ’69 L88 Corvettes—one for the strip and one for the showroom
The racing laurels of a manufacturer often shower glory on the road-going models in the showroom, but in some of the most desirable instances, race-bred engines and suspensions actually make their way into models you can buy. Hello Group B homologation specials, Cobras… and the L88 Corvette.
The Mark IV big-block built a Le Mans pedigree and accumulated SCCA accolades to boot. A cast-iron block with a forged steel crank and connecting rods, topped with aluminum heads and a four-barrel Holley carb, paired with a heavy-duty gearbox and suspension to match, road-going L88s were true race car ambassadors. Factory-rated at a wonderfully conservative 430 horsepower, the L88 featured aluminum heads and forged pistons that took the previous L72 motor’s 11.0:1 compression to a head-turning 12.5:1 ratio. Now, at Mecum’s upcoming auction in Glendale, Arizona, two examples out of the 116 built in 1969 are set to cross the block. What makes these particular cars special, and how might they fare?
While most L88s were ordered with radio and heater delete, this green-over-green soft top retained the warm-air option. Less you think the owner was a complete softie, he road-tripped it—6000 miles, roundtrip, from Michigan to Alaska. We don’t begrudge him the heater, although we are morbidly curious exactly how many tanks of 99-octane that cost. Yikes.
With its second owner, the Fathom Green beast got back to racing, hitting the drag strip “with considerable success,” Mecum notes, until 1975. The car emerged from hibernation in 1986 to undergo a thorough restoration under the supervision of Corvette collector Vance Shappley and has won all kinds of authenticity accolades since. Should you wish to relive that 427’s drag strip days and give the motor some proper exercise, the car still has its 4.56 rear end.
Its Can Am White cousin retains its original engine and, like its auction block mate, was ordered as a soft top but comes with an optional hardtop. Though it’s believed to have 46,000 original miles, this example saw fewer racing days and, instead, has raked in some weighty certifications, including the NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence. Only 1101 Corvettes can boast this award, which is reserved for 1953–74 cars that score a minimum of 97 percent across various categories, including interior, exterior, mechanical, chassis, and operations. The contest is not, the site makes clear, a “cleanliness contest.”
These two cars, whether together or separate, have been no stranger to the auction block recently. The Can Am White car sold at Mecum’s 2018 Monterey sale, but since then, neither it nor its Fathom Green partner have found a new owner. The cars were first offered as a pair in early 2018 and have separately failed to meet reserve several times since.
Are buyers growing disenchanted with the L88? On the contrary, Greg Ingold , associate editor of the Hagerty Price Guide, observes that the broader L88 market is holding remarkably steady: “We haven’t moved the market for these cars for about a year. There doesn’t seem to be much going on, but we haven’t seen many fresh-to-market examples either.”
So if L88s are awesome, and consistently so, why are these Fathom Green and Can Am White cars struggling to sell, while this Tuxedo black pair sold for $990K?
Auctions are a multi-faceted affair, and venue, timing, and the assembled audience are critical variables—just as much as a car’s spec sheet. And that spec sheet, as this first-ever L88 sale witnesses, often contains a deeper story.
While Ingold is careful to note that “the L88 market should not be determined from the offering of this one car,” he says this car deserves a closer look. “It has a lot going for it. It was the first production L88 and it has great race history. While it didn’t quite meet expectations with a high bid of $1.8M, I think that is more indicative of the fact that the car was restored back to street specifications, effectively erasing any trace of its special racing history.”
For its conversion to street-spec, the convertible lost its beefy roll bar and slim, chopped race windscreen, not to mention its highly unusual black-and-blue-stinger livery—which it had from new—complete with flying red eagles. Most likely, the restoration also added a full interior. If the ’67 had remained in the race spec in which it earned second place at the ’67 SCCA Runoffs, would the price have changed? There’s no L88 ouija board, but it’s likely.
“The L88 will always be one of the top dogs when it comes to collectible Corvettes, and because of that I don’t expect interest to go away anytime soon. Just like any other high-end car right now, you need to bring the best example to market to bring the best money.”