Yahoo editors selected this article as one of the best of year. It was first published on October 28, 2014.
Peter Max was not a car guy. So when he purchased a collection of 36 Chevrolet Corvettes, one from every year of manufacture up until 1989, he had a very specific plan: He would use this slice of American history as a tool to self-promote his work as an artist, painting the machines in lurid colors while staging them in various oddball scenarios only the most expressive of minds could envision.
Only that never happened. Instead, Max left his collection in a New York City storage lot, which is where they've lived for a quarter of a century, sat gathering inches of dust, moved only when switching from one storage location to another. However, that is all about to change, as the cars are now under new ownership – one that will lovingly restore the 'Vettes and get them back on the road.
The story of how Max acquired the cars began in 1989, when music network VH1 held a contest to award a lucky viewer with a Corvette from every year of the model's existence, from 1953 to 1989. Hemmings reports that VH1 purchased the cars for $610,000, and made its money back by creating a 900 number and charging contestants $2.00 per phone call to enter.
Placing just one call, Dennis Amodeo, a carpenter from Long Island, won the prize. Shortly after receiving his army of Corvettes, Amodeo received a call from Max who had seen the collection at an auto show in 1990. Max stated that he wished to purchase the cars, and at a meet in New York City, the two hashed out a deal that reportedly included $250,000 in cash, $250,000 worth of Max's artwork and an agreement that if Max ever sold the cars, Amodeo would receive a portion of the proceeds, up to $1 million.
Why Max never executed his plan for the Corvette collection remains a bit of a mystery; in 2010, he talked about adding 14 more years of vehicles to bring the tally up to an even 50. Once again, that never happened. Perhaps it was the sheer amount of work that was required after the artist had let the cars sit for so long; some of the cars, like the 1974 and 1984, would cost more to restore than the vehicle's worth, and time was reportedly unkind to most of the 'Vettes in the group – two-thirds of which sport the less-sought-after automatic transmission with 14 of the cars convertibles; none feature the prized big-block V-8.
Still, after Max approached a guy named Peter Heller to locate a new storage garage for his collection, according to the New York Times, Heller decided instead to offer the artist a deal to purchase the 36 Corvettes. Max agreed for an untold sum (it's unknown whether Amodeo will receive a portion of the proceeds, as stated in Max's original deal). Some of the cars, Heller discovered, could be show-ready with relatively basic restoration, and he plans to have even most decrepit vehicles brought back to life.
When complete, the collection will return to the market, hoping to deliver a tidy return on Heller's investment and keep the wheels turning on the once forgotten Corvettes of Peter Max.