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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    I agree with others, been around the Corvette hobby for 35+ years and the belief has been consistent that Roger Judski has the only verified, went down the production line in St.Louis, 1969 ZL-1 Corvette. This car may be one of the 5 ? or 7? It has some strong documentation from strong sources, arguably better than the Kevin Suydam car, but did it roll off the line with the aluminum block?? Maybe? A very, very expensive maybe.

    No documentation validated by NCRS, two dealer sales orders with different engine numbers and prices, not a single GM document with the VIN, closed chamber heads that are two bolts short of what the Aluminum block was designed for. No other documented closed cages we head L88. The list goes on, you decide, not spending my money on it.

    Next to last sentence in previous post was supposed to be. No other closed chamber ZL1 motors built only L88, missing head bolts is a no no.

    The nice thing about Rogers ZL1 is you can see it, it is on display in his dealership in Maitland Fl. along with several other very rare Corvettes. Worth stopping in if you are in the area.

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