Legendary cars always come with notebooks full of documents or tons of mythology. This 1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1 is not only the former, but one of only two such Corvettes. For that production year, Chevrolet offered 21 different engine choices and three transmissions for America’s nascent sports car. The star at the top of the engine tree is the 427-inch V8 with the regular production order (RPO) code ZL-1. A street-legal product built for racers and racers, the price of a base Corvette doubled to $10,771 when it was ordered in 1969, or $88,827 in today’s dollars. It also gives the Corvette the guts to run the quarter in 11.2 seconds at 127 mph. This Monaco Orange model with black vinyl interior will be unveiled at the RM Sotheby’s auction in Arizona on January 26. The pre-sale estimate is $2.6 million to $3 million.
The ZL-1 V8 looks like a standard L88 big-block V8 that fits into a C3 Corvette. The ZL-1 was replaced with an aluminum block, saving 100 lbs. Upgrades include a redesigned crankshaft, high-lift camshafts, larger connecting rods, aluminum cylinder heads with four extra bolts, larger exhaust valves and stronger bearing journals. A later version, approved in 1969, would have an open-chamber design with a slightly larger combustion chamber, but it was too early for this car to adopt that engine. GM rated this V8 at the same 430 horsepower as the iron-block L88, underestimating the actual output of both engines. The real ZL1 figure is said to be between 500 and 585 horses, with RM Sotheby’s pegging the horse at 560 horsepower.
More than 50 years later, that’s still a healthy amount of power, so in 1969 GM licensed a bunch of additional options to make the ZL-1 manageable on the street. These include F41 suspension, Positraction rear axle, heavy-duty brakes with front discs and transistorized ignition. GM also omitted features such as air conditioning and a radio that weren’t on the ZL-1.
A drag racer named John Mayer purchased the car in late 1968 with a four-speed automatic transmission. He ran it too hard and the engine died and Chevrolet replaced it under warranty. (Another ZL-1 owner who blew out his engine during a race also had it replaced.) Maher had Bill Andrejko restore the convertible in 1989, then continued racing and showing the car until his 2007 year sold it. That owner sent the car to Kevin Mackay for a full restoration and has owned it until now.
The most expensive Corvette ever sold at auction was a 1967 L88 coupe that sold for $3.85 million in 2014, second only to a 1967 L88 convertible that sold for $3.424 million in 2013 Sold for USD. Many suspected that the car might break the $3 million mark. Given that it’s rarer than any L88, this is its first public sale, and prices for everything are out of control, a new record could be set in less than 4 weeks.