1965 Pilot Line Corvette: From Testing to Mecum’s Auction Block

1965 Pilot Line Corvette Valued at $900,000 to 1.2 Million!

What makes this special 1965 Pilot Line Corvette so unique? It has the perfect blend of performance, history, and pedigree. This 1965 Corvette Sting Ray “Pilot Line” Convertible, Serial No. 003, is the first non-competition Corvette ever to receive a Mark IV big-block engine and the first with 427 power. It is the first 1965 Corvette Convertible and was a GM Styling Exercise Corvette. Mecum estimates this 1965 Corvette will fetch $900,000 – 1.2 million when it crosses the auction block on May 21, 2022, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Read on to learn all about this historic Corvette.

1965 Pilot Line Corvette No 3 GM File Photo
1965 Pilot Line Corvette No 3 GM File Photo

1965 C2 Corvette

The 1965 C2 Corvette model was in its third year of the second-generation Corvette. For a little review of what was new in 1965, the big news was the Mark IV Big Block engine, 396 cubic inches pumping out 425 horsepower. Side-mounted exhaust systems first appeared in 1965 as well as the introduction of the four-wheel disc brakes.

Styling adjustments include removals of the depressions in the hood, which the 1963 and ’64 Corvettes had. On the 1965 models, the horizontal bars in the grille were black, and the outer trim was bright. This made the 1965 models’ grille unique. The grills on the front fender were now three functional vertical slots.

All of the 1965 C2 Corvettes were manufactured at GM’s St. Louis Assembly plant.

We are looking at a 1965 Pilot Line Corvette, Serial No. 003, the first 1965 Corvette Convertible that will be going to the Mecum Indy Auction held May 13 through the 21 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indiana.

What is a Pilot Line Corvette?

Before production, with every new model year of a Corvette, a test run of “pilot cars” is made to validate the design. These pilot cars are used for testing to make sure everything works as calculated. A few pilot cars go down the assembly line to scrutinize any major issues the manufacturer might come across before the full production begins. They check to see if there are issues with the assembly process or with the car itself. A pilot line car is not quite a prototype, yet it is not quite a production car either.

You might have seen one of these pilot cars without even knowing it. When you are at the next Corvette event with GM designers and engineers on hand, check out the cars they are driving. Look at the last three digits of the vehicle identification number. You will see very low numbers, likely under 20. These are early-built cars that they drive and test.

1965 Pilot Line Corvette Convertible Serial No. 003: GM Styling Exercise

November 2019 Cover Vette Vues Magazine
November 2019 Cover Vette Vues Magazine
November 2019 Vette Vues Magazine
November 2019 Vette Vues Magazine

David Holden and Mike Tucker were the new owners of this historical 1965 Corvette convertible (cover car of the November 2019 Vette Vues Magazine) which had just been restored by the Nabor Brothers of Houston Texas. As some of you know, a Nabor Brothers restoration is highly respected. In 2011 the brothers were inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at Bloomington Gold. Ken Nabor passed away before the restoration was completed, but Gary finished it and brought it to the Corvette Chevy Expo in March 2019 at Galveston Island Texas for everyone to enjoy.

This 1965 C2 Corvette VIN 194675S100003 body number S1 was the first convertible in 1965. This preproduction Corvette was initially a Pilot Line Car but then became an engineering project car – GM Styling Exercise #5807 and a Show Car for GM with many early components.

These photos were taken prior to the Nabor Brothers restoration.  Notice the decal for the GM Styling Exercise #5807.
These photos were taken prior to the Nabor Brothers restoration. Notice the decal for the GM Styling Exercise #5807.
These photos were taken prior to the Nabor Brothers restoration.  Notice the decal for the GM Styling Exercise #5807.
These photos were taken prior to the Nabor Brothers restoration. Notice the decal for the GM Styling Exercise #5807.
These photos were taken prior to the Nabor Brothers restoration.  Notice the decal for the GM Styling Exercise #5807.
These photos were taken prior to the Nabor Brothers restoration. Notice the decal for the GM Styling Exercise #5807.

This 1965 Corvette came off the assembly line in St. Louis Missouri Ermine White with a Tan leather interior. It had a fuel injection engine with the M21 transmission. There are holes in the fender which exist today where the fuel injection emblems were. This 1965 build date is August 6, 1964.

Photos from the Naber’s Brothers restoration.

Duntov and the Corvette Big Block History

To understand the significance of this car, let’s first explore some Corvette history of the “Big Block.”

Duntov was frustrated with the AMA ban on racing. He continued to look for a solution to beat the Ford Cobra. It was decided to put the new Chevrolet “Big Block” into the Corvette. The new Big Block was introduced in 396cid, 425 horsepower form which also required a special hood to give clearance for the larger power plant. The option number was an L78 and cost $292.70 over the base coupe price of $4,321 and convertible of $4,106. Of the 23,564 Corvettes produced in 1965, there were 2,157 that chose the new L78 Big Block.

There are two notes I want to mention on the 427ci with the 425 and 450 hp engine:

  1. The L72 427ci, 425hp engine was not an option until 1966.
  2. Another interesting thing about the 427/425 is that just before the production of the 1966 Corvette, an Engineering Change Recommendation (ECR) changed the L72 427 engine’s horsepower rating from 450 to 425. Corvettes with build orders arrived at the factory specifying the 427 with the 450-horsepower rating before production began. In the early production, they had a mix of 450 and 425 hp designations from the dealers in late 1965. There is no actual difference in the engines except that cars ordered after the start of production had air cleaner stickers reading 425 hp. It was only the factory rating that had been revised.

Al Grenning did a seminar at ProTeam that you can watch on YouTube. In his seminar, he discusses the development of the Mark IV Big Block engine. His seminar starts with the Mark IV engine which had already been developed in its generic form. What Al does in the seminar is to track and trace a particular project and a particular engine through the program so you can see how it transpired and how it ended up.

Check out his seminar below:

Remember, Al started at a point where the Mark IV engine was developed and existed in its very first generic forms. So, what are the forms? He explained that there are three forms: One form is passenger cars, another form is the commercial version – school buses and trucks, and another form is for marine, i.e., boats.

When the engineers at Chevrolet Research and Development get an engine, such as the 427/396, it had to be developed for passenger cars of each of the Chevrolet platforms. The engine must become part of that car, such as a Corvette – that engine must be fitted into that platform. It may mean changing manifolds; if the car is going to have air conditioning, it may need different brackets. The engineers need to make the necessary changes so the engine would fit in the engine compartment. The generic form of the Mark IV engine had to be adapted for the Corvette platform. To do that, teams were set aside for each of those applications. The team that was set aside for the Corvette platform were Denny Davis, Fred Frincke, and Cal Wade and they worked with Zora Arkus-Duntov in the process. In one of the documents Grenning showed, was a list of things they were to do to adapt for the Corvette platform. (Remember, this is before the introduction of the Mark IV Corvette engine introduction in the 1965 Corvette.) In this list, they were to build the service package for the Mark IV engine in the Corvette.

One of the documents showed that they would be given six engines to work with: A, B, C, D, E, and F. But, because of budget problems, they only ended up getting five engines. They end up with engines A through E. The engines were to be worked on concurrently.

We learn that engines B and E are 427s, and all the rest are 396s. One of the 427 engines was a service engine. It had a bill order/work order, to be adopted for the Corvette platform for a service application for racing.

One of the items in the work order was that they were told that they should use as many regular service components as possible. This way, they didn’t have to “reinvent the wheel” which in turn would save money.

In other documents, they are told to remove engine E (this was one of the 427s and the engine that was to be built for the competition/racing package). They were going to do something special for this for 1966 (not 1965). The date on the build order is October 26, 1964.

The next form date Al Grenning shows is February 18, 1965, which is five weeks before the Sebring race. Zora finds out that one of his Grand Sports is going to compete in that race. Zora decides it needs one of the Mark IV service engines. So, five weeks before the competition, they need a service engine. So where do they get the engine? Al Grenning traces the numbers and concludes that they use engine E. (Note: this is just a brief description of the seminar. The link is at the bottom of this article for those of you who are interesting in ALL the details Al presented including engine numbers, document numbers, etc.)

The rest of the YouTube video goes on to talk about the L88 engine. For our purpose, we want to focus on Engine B.

I also want to mention that there is another interesting seminar with some details about the 1965 Corvette engines. In an NCRS Seminar by Ken Kaiser – The Mark of Zora, we find out that the 1965 Corvette was supposed to have a 427 with a mechanical cam. It was going to be advertised at 450 hp, but the actual was 475, and that’s without the heavy package. But that did not happen. (The seminar’s main theme is “How Chevrolet’s Relentless Pursuit of HP Benefited Corvette.”

Check out the seminar below:

1965 Corvette Pilot Line Duties Complete

A copy of the NCRS Shipping Document S100003. It verifies the GM official Production Date of 8/6/1964 and that Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group in Warren, Mi is the Dealer where it was shipped.
A copy of the NCRS Shipping Document S100003. It verifies the GM official Production Date of 8/6/1964 and that Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group in Warren, Mi is the Dealer where it was shipped.

Our 1965 is now done with its Corvette’s pilot line duties. It came off the line at the St. Louis assembly plant with tag 900CC. Its GM official Production Date was 08/06/1964, and it was shipped to Zone-0, Dealer 502. The dealer’s name and address were Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group, Warren, Michigan. David has provided us with a copy of the NCRS Shipping Document S100003 (photo up above).

Once at GM Engineering the Special Work Began.

(Another interesting tidbit that David learned from talking to a man named Art Armstrong, who is a retired GM engineer from the 60s, is “in those days GM engineering was so advanced they could make or fabricate anything they needed from scratch.”)

David explains, “The front cross member on the 1964 frame was hammered down at engineering to clear the harmonic balancer on the 427. I do not know how far down they had to lower it, but that part of the frame is still original in the car. The 427 was mated to the car then. We have no way of knowing for sure what transmission engineering was placed in the car at that time or whether they just left the M21 in the car. An M21 is what was in the car through the years. We have no proof that it could have been an M22 Rock Crusher.”

The engineering did all the work on the car and body and made the application of the handmade fan shroud, special heat shielding, and extra-heavy-duty suspension parts. These were done in engineering.

The best that can be determined, David explains, “The 1964 body side louvers were cut out to 1965 louvers at engineering as well.”

Engineering did all the paint and bodywork and dyeing of the factory interior. They essentially redid the entire car. The car was painted a 1964 Cadillac color. The GM design studio went with GM Firemist Green exterior color with an upscale more luxurious light green interior.

A little more on the Original Engine:

Going back to Al Grenning’s video, remember, he shows in his video that there were five engines, three were 396s and two 427s. The one 427 (engine E Zora would use). That leaves one more 427, engine B. Of engines A, C, and D, the first 396 motor for Corvettes went into Corvette 0046. This car was shipped from the factory on 08/27/1964 when the regular production line started. David’s 1965 Corvette was born on 08/06/1964 so, David explains that this would mean that VIN 003 with the 427/450 Horsepower motor was the first application of a Mark IV Big Block in any regular production Corvette. Thus, the installation of the handmade brass MARK IV 427 emblems on the fenders.

Underneath the 1965 Pilot Line Corvette’s shipped hood now lies the 427-CI 450HP motor installed by engineering for sale to the public.

1965 Pilot Line Corvette Finished Photos from Restoration

Some history on the Nabor Brother Restorations

Ken & Gary Naber were inducted into the Bloomington Hall of Fame. Here is a little history on the brothers (courtesy of Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA):

In 1953, the Naber Brother’s dad took the boys to see the GM Motorama Corvette. In 1957, people began leaving Corvettes in their care. Although the pair (18-year-old Ken and 10-year-old Gary) weren’t getting paid to restore anything, the ’57 fuelie was a source of fun and education for both of them. Ken Naber bought a Gulf service station in 1963 and simultaneously bought a new 1963 Corvette coupe with a damaged left quarter panel. When the repair was completed, the Corvette repair business was officially started. But a clever name was needed. Quickly, Naber’s Motors was chosen, and it has been their name ever since.

The business evolved from a general repair shop to one exclusively for Corvettes. Thousands of cars later, in 1986, Naber Brothers became singularly focused on world-class Corvette restorations. Although not exclusively, that focus became especially associated with 1967s. Some of their highlights include the Delmo Johnson 1963 ZO6 race car, the DeLorenzo 1967 L88 race car, the yellow 1969 ZL1, plus dozens of other award-winning Corvettes. Obviously, their level of immersion and their track record for quality make them one of the leading sources for Bloomington Gold and NCRS quality restorations. Their experience has also been highly important to Bloomington Gold on the Certification field. They have served for decades as judges on the National Corvette Certification Board.

Ken and Gary have influenced and inspired hundreds of customers and thousands of owners to become involved and restore Corvettes to meet the standards of factory authentic appearance.

Corvettes at Auction at Mecum Indy 2022

Corvettes are hot on today’s collector car market and this Lot S122 1965 Pilot Line Corvette convertible is drawing serious interest from collectors and racing enthusiasts. Corvette 003 is powered by a 427 CI big-block engine and represents a long, proud history of milestones and the first application of so many firsts to America’s Sports Car. One of the earliest Pilot Line cars and the prototype for the Mark IV big-block production cars, the Corvette 003 is certainly one of the most significant and collectible of all second-generation Corvettes.

With 276 Corvettes up for auction, there’s no telling what treasures will be uncovered at Mecum’s 35th annual Spring Classic Auction at Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. We have a list of the Corvettes that will be crossing the blog categories by year group generations with their lot number and auction day. Check it out to see which cars you might be interested in. There will be Corvettes in all price ranges! We will update the list after the auction with the results so be sure and check back later.

Here is a Video the Mecum Auction produced on the 1965 Pilot Line Corvette you might find interesting:

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Here is another Pilot Line Corvette you might enjoy learning about. It is a 1957 Pilot Line Corvette #162 and was one of approximately twelve “pilot” RPO-579 fuel injection Corvettes assembled at the St. Louis Corvette plant in the first two weeks of October 1957. 

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