One-of-two 1969 ZL1 is holy grail of Corvettes, could sell for $3M

1969 Corvette Convertible Stingray ZL-1 front three quarter
RM Sotheby's/Motorcar Studios

In the collector car world, there are varying interpretations of the term “rare.” Where does one draw the line? A thousand examples? A couple hundred? A few dozen? However you define it, this 1969 Corvette ZL1 convertible is certifiably, no excuses, a rare beast.

This C3-generation ZL1 is one of two, to be precise, which means opportunities to buy them do not come up frequently. However, RM Sotheby’s announced yesterday that it will auction off the famous Vette at the company’s Phoenix sale in January. What we have here is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to own the rarest Corvette produced. If it sells, the car has a legitimate shot at becoming the most expensive Corvette ever sold at auction.

If you’re sitting there asking “what the heck is a ZL1,” allow us to illuminate. Chevy’s famous L88-code, 427-cubic-inch big-block engine hit the scene in 1967. You may recall from our article on the $2.7M L88 Corvette sale last year that this big-block was an all out racing engine one could order straight from the Chevy dealer. L88s were very high-compression V-8s with aggressive cam setup. Chevy advertised a respectable 430 horsepower, but these engines were widely rumored to make more like 500 hp in period. While the L88 put down impressive numbers, big-block Chevys are incredibly heavy lumps of iron. Gobs of grunt sure helps, but shedding weight from the front of the car does a lot more for balance and overall power-to-weight ratio. That’s why the ZL1 got an aluminum-block L88.

Even the ordinary L88 wasn’t widely publicized, so the trick was knowing how to order it. Buyers had to cough up nearly $1000 on top of a car whose base price was just over $4000.

If you thought the L88 was an expensive option, the ZL1 was prohibitively so. Just the engine alone added more than $4700 to the price tag with zero other options selected, which was more than double that of the base Corvette. That cost was a big reason only two Corvette owners decided to take the plunge.

1969 Corvette Convertible Stingray ZL-1 engine
RM Sotheby's/Motorcar Studios

For a little more background, this will be the first time since 1991 that a Corvette ZL1 comes to public auction. The car that changed hands more than 30 years ago is this orange convertible’s sister—a yellow and black coupe that was auctioned off for $300,000 reportedly after being seized by the DEA. RM Sotheby’s car due to cross the block in Arizona next month has never been offered for public sale; it was last sold in 2007, when the current owner bought it from the original owner. It then received a restoration by Kevin Mackay in 2014 and was certified by Bloomington Gold as the first of the two ZL1s produced. It’s since been extensively shown and displayed.

Naturally, a one-of-two Corvette ZL1 doesn’t come cheap. RM Sotheby’s is listing an estimate of $2,600,000–$3,000,000. Such a result would put the sale price in the category of top three Corvettes ever sold at auction. However, given that it’s such a rare and special vehicle, with no public sales for over three-decades, and a high degree of excitement sure to surround it, a final price is anyone’s best guess.

With the all-time Corvette auction record sitting at $3.85M for a 1967 L88 Coupe, the ZL1 has a fair shot at setting a new record. Whatever happens, don’t expect an offering like this to come around again for a very long time.

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    This car is “suspect” in my mind. It is true there were only 2 1969 ZL-1 Corvettes. Both were coupes. The yellow coupe shown in the link above and a white coupe. The white coupe was purchased new in Salt Lake City, UT by Mr. Jack Cheskati of Grand Junction, CO. Jack later sold the car to Otis Chandler. Last time I spoke with Jack about the car he thought it was in a collection in Washington state or Oregon.

    The complete body off restoration was done by Corvette Repair Inc. Valley Stream NY. It was a team effort for sure. I hope it breaks the bank !

    Auto, Not Interested! I will wait for the yellow stick…lol. I do like the color and the fact that it is a convertible I guess I could convert it to stick!. Even though rare, I would rather have a HEMI Challenger or Cuda. And I am not biased as I have a C3 Vette and a 70 Challenger Convertible and a 74 Challenger (unfortunately both auto, but I had to buy them when I had the opportunity!).

    No, not my “holy grail”, but it was when I was 19 in 1969. Now, my C5 could probably blow its doors off. As a “dyed in the wool” Chevy gal since waaay back, I can say that I’d never want to drive this thing. Would rather enjoy my 68 Camaro ‘vert 350/350; ’03 Vette 50th Anniv. Convert or even my ’95 Z/28 ‘vert. All with manuals. This ZL-1 is solely a ‘glass case’ specimen.

    Two were sold to the public and 7 were produce, the Orange one was able to get it through Gulf Oil Reseach and Don Yenko connections, they had very close relationships with GM. Document with a Factory Original Corvette Order Copy (Tank Sticker) which went to a forensic lab to be tested. How was this done very simple, they were given 3 other known factory original ones, examine by the experts before they were tested. The lab tested the age of the paper, thickness, what it’s made out of, the type, ink and the glue. All 4 match perfectly. This was a one owner car until 2007. Sworn affidavits from the original owner and the original dealer where it was delivered. He also had a 1968 Factory L88 which he traded in when he heard about the aluminum engine. The other documents are over the top. This ZL1 in bullet proof, I’m not given you a story just the facts ! there a document showing the gross weight of the car. With an aluminum block the weight would be less than a cast iron big block.

    I really enjoy articles on Corvettes and no exception here. Unfortunately for me I guess that there is no car that is worth these kind of dollars. My passion is to drive a beautiful car like this. Not hide it away til I die so someone else can say “look what I’ve got”.

    For those in the know – more than 2 were built. Just like the “missing” 8th TA Convertible, there are other examples out in the wild.

    Far more interesting than many other 1 of 1 cars out there from the days when you could order a car ang get an option combo no one else did. Clocks were a pretty good way to get a 1 of 1.

    Mr. Maher must’ve been well connected indeed. The listing says after seven months of terrorizing hill climbs, autocross events, and drag races across Western Pennsylvania the original engine blew up and he got it replaced – under warranty!

    The best I could do back in the day at 20 years of age was a new 69 Camaro COPO 427. Obviously not as wild as the ZL1 it was still pretty fair. I still remember the whine of the M22 and the big 1-2 shift at 6500, very satisfying. Any high-compression Mark IV will put a smile on your face. They may not be as fast as some by today’s standards but they serve it to you raw. I apologize for the off-topic.

    There were 2 factory built ZL1 cars in 1969. The yellow one which is owned by Roger down in Florida and no other documented ZL1 has been found to date. The white car was thought to be real but it is now believed that it left the factory as an L88 car and raced with a ZL1 engine. The Yellow one is the only 69 ZL1 that has been authenticated. This orange ZL1 is believed to have been an L88 automatic car and raced as an ZL1. There is no documentation that is is a real ZL1 and among collectors in the inner circle they all agree this orange car was not one of the 2 ZL1’s built in 69. In addition the build date is too early like the white car to have been a factory built ZL1. Any potential buyer should do their homework on this car.

    7 ZL1 engines were shipped to St.Louis and 5 were returned. One blew up on an engine stand and another one vanished out the back door. There were engineering prototype cars. The total number is unverified but certainly more than 2 or 3.

    Transmissions are rated for torque capacity, not horsepower. For example, an engine producing 300 hp at 6,000 rpm will produce less torque than an engine producing 300 hp at 4,000 rpm. (hp = torque x rpm divided by a constant) Originally, the THM350 was rated for engines up to 350 lb-ft of torque, and the THM400 was rated for engines up to 400 lb-ft of torque.

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