While the second-oldest Ford GT40 will dominate the interest of car fans around April's classic car auctions, a pair of Chevy Corvettes offer an interesting story of their own — including one so pampered it's never seen a passenger.
The first at Mecum Auctions is the Bernie Knudsen Corvette, a one-off 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Styling Car that was built for General Motors Chevrolet Division General Manager Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen.
Besides its most obvious and outrageous feature — gleaming chrome side pipes — the car features a special paint scheme (Crimson Firefrost Metallic accented by white stripes), a modified interior (pulled from 1964’s model and boasting then-chic white Naugahyde with maroon stripes) and custom under-the-hood touches (chrome plating and crinkle-finish black paint took the place of cast aluminum on the 327 cubic-inch V8).
“All of Knudsen’s cars came in this color, and I’m sure he was out and about showing it off often,” says Mecum consignment director John Kraman, who estimates that the car could fetch close to $1 million. “It’s a real automotive landmark that has special panache.”
The second Vette made Kraman’s “hair stand on end” when he walked up to it for the first time. “You just don’t see this that often.”
By “this” he means a 1967 Corvette Sting Ray with a shockingly scant 2,996 original miles on the odometer, the prized possession of a former Marine who bought the car new with some Las Vegas winnings and kept it until his death in 2011. Mecum’s selling points on the car are almost comical: “The original owner, Don McNamara, is the only person to have driven the car,” “3 people are known to have sat in the car,” “no one has sat in the passenger seat.” Mecum might as well add, “Please take off your shoes when entering the Time Machine.”
“It’s a great color scheme (white with a red stripe) and must be the absolute best second-generation Sting Ray in the country,” says Kraman, who predicts upward of a $1 million for this lot as well. “The first thing that jumps out at you is how different an original car feels from a restored one. This is what it must have looked like in the showroom, down to the whitewall tires.”
As unique as the car is its owner. McNamara, who lived in Colorado Springs, never married and was intensely private throughout his long life. After buying the car with his jackpot winnings, he drove it sparingly, and soon denied he still had it, preferring to keep a low profile. By the mid-80s the car only had a few thousand miles on the clock, the result of late-night drives.
And then as suddenly as the car came into his life, it seemed to vanish — until a friend who had been willed all McNamara’s belonging discovered the car covered by U.S. and Marine Corps flags, a snarling bear long in hibernation.
Perhaps not surprisingly, American iron also is in the spotlight at Barrett-Jackson’s upcoming Palm Beach auction (April 11-13, South Florida Fairgrounds; Fox Sports, see listings). One is an iconic 1954 Chevy Corvette Convertible in black over red, which was purchased by a Florida real estate developer named Frank Grimaldi. Actually …
“Frank bought a building just because the car had been abandoned there,” laughs Gary Bennett, Barrett-Jackson’s vice president of consignments. “He joked with me that after spending two years restoring the car, he was upside down on it. But when he said he made $500,000 on the building, I told him he was doing just fine.”
This early Vette is a vestige of a time when Chevrolet was still trying to convince the public about the merits of its two-seat sports car, and only 3,640 were built that year.
Another unique car from a cultural perspective in the Palm Beach line-up is a 1966 Shelby GT350 H Fastback that was part of the Hertz rental car pool. Hard as it is to imagine today, “Hertz had these amazing cars available, and for many people, that was a license to rent them for $25 a day, which was a bit back then, and take them straight to the track,” says Bennett.
The Hertz Shelby recently underwent a two-year restoration at Scranton’s Classic Mustangs in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., and sports its original 4-speed automatic 289 engine, Autolite performance carburetor and unique Tri-Y headers. Think about that next time you hit the rental lot and slip that key into the anonymous econo-box ignition.