In this blog post, we look back to the September 2013 issue of Vette Vues Magazine when we featured Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette Astrovette.
Alan L. Bean’s 1969 Corvette ‘Astrovette’
The first thing you notice about this Corvette is the unusual paint scheme. Although the cover of the 1969 Corvette sales brochure featured a Riverside Gold Stingray, it did not exactly look like this Corvette.
This uniquely historic Corvette has some remarkable stories. So let us start out at the beginning.
The Vietnam War had divided our country, but the space program helped unite it.
The men and women who entered the dangerous profession of outer space were American heroes. Many of them returned from war as military aviators and test pilots. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Missions were in every Americans’ thoughts.
President John F. Kennedy began an extensive expansion of the U.S. space program in 1961. President Kennedy understood the need to restore America’s confidence.
He proclaimed, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
“On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American to travel into outer space. When he returned to terra firma, Shepard got behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette.”
“Shortly after Shepard’s historic flight, then General Motors Executive Edward N. Cole presented the astronaut with a new, white, 1962 Corvette. The car had been outfitted by GM designers with a customized space-age interior.”
For those not familiar with Florida, Melbourne is less than 20 miles south of Cocoa Beach. I am sure you remember Coca Beach, home of the American sitcom I Dream of Jeannie that starred Barbara Eden, the 2,000-year-old genie, and her master/astronaut Larry Hagman. Although the story is factious, Cocoa Beach is where many of the people lived that worked at the John F. Kennedy Space Center and launch site for NASA.
No doubt, because of the proximity to the Space Center, Rathmann became friends with many of the astronauts, including Alan Shepard, Gus Grisson, and Gordon Cooper. He negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to put them into Chevrolet cars. Under the loan, the astronauts could choose any Chevrolet they wanted. No big surprise, six of the first group of astronauts chose Corvettes. The program was set up and the astronauts could lease a car for $1-a-year. The lease program ended in 1971.
This is where our feature Corvette comes in.
Alan Bean once owned this 1969 Chevrolet Corvette, referred to as the “Astrovette”. It was one of the special leased program cars.
To refresh your history, Alan Bean was part of Apollo 12 and in November 1969, Alan Bean became the fourth man to walk on the Moon. Bean resigned from NASA in 1981 to become a painter.
He was 37 at the time he received his car from the special program. His typical day consisted of training to fly to the moon and at night, he enjoyed driving his Corvette around the little barrier island town of Cocoa Beach, nestled between the great Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River Lagoon.
However, his Corvette was not the only one like it. Three duplicate Stingray Corvettes were actually delivered to the Rathmann dealership, all of them coupes, with the same paint scheme.
From what I have learned, it was Bean’s idea to have all three cars painted the same color scheme. The crew of the Apollo 12 was close; consequently, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon agreed with Bean to order the cars alike. Bean ordered the three 1969 Corvettes in Riverside Gold.
There is more to the history of the unusual paint scheme.
Alex Tremulis was an industrial designer who held automotive design positions at Cord Automobile, Duesenberg, General Motors, Tucker Car Corporation and Ford Motor Company and later establishing a consulting firm. The astronauts commissioned Tremulis to draw up some designs for them to choose from to go with the gold paint. He drew up three designs. On the side of the third proposal was a red/white/blue logo that identity of each of the crewmembers. He also devised the black wings to go with the gold paint.
When Alex Tremulis made his designs, he made them to look like the 1964 Triumph Gyronaut that captured the absolute Land Speed Record for motorcycles in 1966. Oddly enough, the Gyronaut was first painted to look like the 2-wheeled Summers Brothers’ Goldenrod streamliner that held the wheel-driven land speed record from 1965 to 1991. Anyway, the idea was to have both the world’s fastest car and world’s fastest motorcycle with matching colors.
In a letter to Alex Tremulis, dated October 29, 1968, Allan Bean writes, “Each day I had looked at my mail hoping to receive your sketches for Pete’s, Dick’s, and my Corvettes, so I was happy to get your letter. The only thing that concerns me is that we expect to get our cars within the next week to ten days at the Cape and we plan to get them painted as soon as they come in because we will drive them back to Houston. This means that for us to be able to use your designs, we need them in hand as soon as possible.”
Well, the proposals came; the cars were delivered on time, and Jim Rathmann got them painted with Alex Tremulis design(s). They had both painted cars before but wanted to make sure this paint job was perfect so they took the car to a professional body shop that has a paint booth they could paint the car in. Rathmann also added, for the astronauts, a quarter-inch white stripe between the black and the gold. Danny Reed writes, “There are still some question about whether Rathmann put the black on, or if they were delivered gold & black. Rathmann did add the stripe and R, W & B Tags. We will probably never know.”
You might also find it interesting, that only these three Corvettes in Chevy’s special lease program were special ordered and registered in the lessee’s name. Our feature Corvette has the original tank sticker on it that says: “Courtesy car delivered to Alan L. Bean.”
This is where Danny Reed comes in.
Himself being a space enthusiast as well as a Corvette enthusiast, he saw photos of the car in an issue of Life magazine in 1969. However, much to his surprise, he spotted it in a GMAC lot in his hometown of Austin, Texas in 1971. It had the familiar black wings on a gold Corvette. The car was for sale, and they were taking closed-bids, so naturally, Danny put his bid in, but unfortunately lost.
Several weeks later, GMAC called and asked if he still wanted the car, as the winning bidder had not come up with the cash. Danny quickly mustered up $3230 and was able to get the car.
Danny usually starts the car every week, brings it up to temperature and drives it for about four miles every third week. The odometer shows the 35,000 original miles.
Specifications: 1969 Corvette Astrovette
- 427 CI/390HP Turbo-Jet V8 with the 4-bbl Rochester carburetor
- Power and torque (SAE gross): 390 hp @ 5400 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
- Drivetrain: 4-speed manual, RWD
- Dimensions L: 182.5 in, W: 69.0 in, H: 47.8 in
- Wheelbase: 98 inches (2.489 m)
- Weight: 3450 lb
- Frame: Full-length welded-steel ladder type with five cross members. Steel box sections, welded.
- Front suspension: Independent, unequal-length A-arms, coil springs; tubular shocks and stabilizer bar
- Rear suspension: Independent, trailing arms, toe links, transverse chromium-carbon steel leaf spring, tube shocks, and anti-roll bar
- Steering: Saginaw recirculating ball, 17.6:1 ratio, 2.9 turns to lock, 39.0 turning circle
- Rear axle type: Sprung differential, Hypoid gear
- Brakes: Hydraulic, vented four-wheel discs; 11.75-inch diameter, single calipers
- Performance 0-60 mph 6.0 sec, quarter mile 14.3 sec @ 93 mph (est) (Speedometer goes to 160 mph)
1969 Corvette Astrovette Options:
- Restraints (RPO A82)
- 4-Season Air Conditioning (RPO C60)
- Special Positraction Axel 308 Ratio
- Turbo-Jet V8
- 4-Speed Transmission
- Wheel Covers (RPO PO2)
- AM/FM Pushbutton Radio (RPO U69)
- Riverside Gold
Apollo XII Astronaut Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette Coupe
427/390HP TURBO-JET V-8
4-SEASON AIR CONDITIONING
1969 Corvette Astrovette Documentation
- Order Sheet / Build Sheet / Shipping Order / Protect-O-Plate / Owner’s Manual with Alan Bean notes.
- Original Tank Sticker with Alan L. Bean’s name on the sticker. Video: dropping tank – finding sticker.
- Letter from Alan Bean to Alex Tremulis, renowned automobile designer, referring to paint design options.
- Letters from and photographs of Apollo XII Astrovettes by Dollie Cole, widow of Ed Cole, President of GM.
- Alan Bean letter detailing special lease program founded by GM President, Ed Cole and Jim Rathmann.
- Autographed picture of all three Astronauts in Space Suits and their matching Gold & Black Corvettes.
- August 1969 running footage of Alan Bean driving to, parking and leaving T-38 training at the Florida Cape – including footage of the Apollo Crew in front of Alan Bean’s LMP Corvette – and Dick Gordon sitting on the hood!
- Astrovette appraisal by Ray Repenczynski, one of the nation’s top Corvette restorers and founding member of NCRS – providing the guidance and expertise in preparing the Astrovette for judging – “original / as delivered”. National Corvette Restorers Association Awards
Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette was only entered into and judged at NCRS Regional and National Events, where “Originality and Condition” are held to the Very Highest Standards by NCRS Master Judges.
Feb 2001 Regional Baton Rouge, LA Top Flight
Jul 2002 National Houston, TX Top Flight
Nov 2002 Regional Waco, TX Performance Verification
Jul 2003 National Hershey, PA Top Flight
Jul 2003 National Hershey, PA Duntov Award of Excellence
Jul 2008 National St. Charles, MO American Heritage Award
The Astrovette has been featured at the Corvette Chevy Expo in Texas. Here is a short video for you to enjoy.
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