The 1969 Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible made history when it was sold at RM Sotheby’s 2023 auction for an impressive $3,140,000. This record-breaking sale shows just how valuable this rare and iconic sports car is. The 1969 Corvette Stingray ZL-1 was the highest-performance Corvette available that year and featured an L-88 427 cubic-inch V8 engine with an aluminum block, making it a prized piece for any collector.
Source: RM Sotheby’s
The ZL1 was to cross across the block in Arizona on January 26, 2023. The highly anticipated auction of the 1969 Corvette Stingray Convertible ZL-1 at the RM Sotheby’s event finally arrived. As one of the most sought-after cars of its time, it was expected to fetch a high price. The atmosphere was tense as the bidding started, with car enthusiasts and collectors eager to get their hands on this unique vehicle.
The excitement continued to build as the bidding surpassed the $3 million mark, and the auctioneer declared that the car was one-of-two in existence, making it an even more prized possession. As the final hammer came down, the 1969 Corvette Stingray Convertible ZL-1 was sold for an astounding $3,140,000, setting a new record for what we know of as the highest price ever paid for a C3 Corvette.
The new owner of this Monaco Orange convertible now has in their possession not just a beautiful and rare car but also a piece of history. The ZL-1 was a car that was designed for Can-Am racing, and the upgrades from the L-88, including an aluminum block and other equipment, made it one of the highest-performance Corvettes of its time. It’s no surprise that this car was in high demand, with only one other ZL1 known to exist.
The 1969 Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible Purchase
The sale of this 1969 Corvette Stingray Convertible ZL-1 has certainly made headlines and broken records. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of the classic Corvette and the passion of car enthusiasts and collectors around the world.
The 1969 C3 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1 is widely acclaimed as an iconic vehicle amongst production Corvettes. The optional RPO ZL-1 increased the cost of the new Corvette twofold, granting the buyer a 560-horsepower engine crafted from aluminum similar to the one found in a CanAm racecar, packed inside a factory-built street-legal car. According to the documents from GM, only two cars fitted with this special feature were manufactured and released at the St. Louis assembly plant. The 1969 RPO ZL-1 was solely designed to meet the homologation requirements of the FIA and NHRA, with no intent of being made available for public sale.
On a cold December 30th day in 1968, John W. Maher of Leechburg, Pennsylvania, visited Harold Breman’s West Penn Garage and exchanged the keys to his previous car, a 1968 L88 Corvette Convertible, for the first factory-documented ZL-1 Convertible. The vehicle, with chassis 194679S710209, is the only ZL-1 Convertible ever made, and thanks to Maher’s network of connections, was the only ZL-1 sold to a retail customer.
The Birth of a Monstrosity: the ZL1
At the core of the ZL-1 lies a sophisticated iteration of Chevrolet’s formidable 427-cubic-inch L88 V-8 engine. Benefiting from a lighter aluminum block, beefed-up connecting rods, a revised crankshaft, bigger exhaust valves, a powerful high-lift camshaft, and a more robust aluminum cylinder-head design equipped with four additional head bolts, the ZL-1 was the most powerful engine Chevrolet had ever manufactured.
In March of 1969, the “open chamber” head design was finalized, yet the pre-production version of the engine originally used in 710209 was the “closed chamber” aluminum heads.
The L88 RPO, which came at a price of $1,032, had to be selected before adding the $3,000 RPO ZL-1 package. Power-assisted brakes, a heavy-duty suspension, a Positraction rear axle, and a transistorized ignition all came standard with this choice. Notable exclusions included a radio, heater, air conditioning, power windows, and power steering, as the fan shroud was excluded for the sake of uninterrupted airflow. With its all-aluminum components and accompanying features, the total cost of the ZL-1 package came out to an outrageous $4,718, which more than doubled the base price of a new Corvette.
Hardcore Racer Maher
During the summer of ’68, Don Yenko shared with his friend Maher a tantalizing prospect – a racing engine made from lightweight aluminum for the 1969 Corvette. The ultimate thrill for a racer like Maher was that it was available with an M40 automatic transmission, allowing for clutch dumps and powerful launches.
Maher was struggling to make his order a reality, yet with the help of Grady Davis, a twice national champion for the SCCA and a senior VP of Gulf Research (which was covertly associated with GM’s private racing programs), he eventually achieved his goal. On November 21, 1968, the GM archives produced evidence confirming the production of the ZL-1/M40 powertrain configuration. On the very following day, Maher placed an order for a Monaco Orange ZL-1/M40 Convertible (710209), which was accepted. This Monaco Orange hue was chosen in tribute to Davis for his assistance, and throughout the car’s tenure with Maher, the exterior would be decorated with a Gulf Oil racing livery.
The 1969 Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertibles Assembly Process and Early Life
An exhaustive array of GM documents depicts each phase of production for the 710209s and the significant parts and eventual assembly at the St. Louis facility in December 1968. It was closely preceded at every step by a complete series of internal memos, sanctioned approvals, and engineering modification recommendations, thereby permitting Maher’s particular request to be carried out.
All the paperwork associated with this factory-built ZL-1, such as Maher’s original invoice, tank sticker, and historical imagery, has been meticulously scanned with their effective dates of 9 December, matching the assembly date on the trim tag (710209).
On October 22, the original engine of Chassis 710209 was assembled, with the transmission installed afterward on November 29. Subsequently, the car was placed together by Maher on December 9. An NCRS Shipping Report confirmed that within one day of this, Maher’s one-of-a-kind convertible was ready to be delivered to West Penn Garage.
Shortly after purchase, modifications were done to the car to enhance its performance in drag racing, such as the addition of free-flowing side-pipes and a spare 4.11:1 rear end. Interesting GM internal documents revealed that in January 1969, a service bulletin was sent to the dealership to install a fan shroud (with clutch) in Maher’s ZL-1 due to overheating problems experienced by L88/M40 customers.
From February 1969 to November 1972, Maher and his powerful Corvette competed in hill climbs, autocross events, and drag races all over Western Pennsylvania. Due to its M40 transmission, the ZL-1 was fondly named “Winning Automatically.” In September 1969, the original engine block was destroyed and was then replaced by a new one supplied under warranty by Chevrolet.
1989 and after
In 1989, Maher pulled out the long-inactive ZL-1 with the goal of returning it to competition. This was entrusted to Bill Andrejko Auto Restorations of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and their skilled work was eventually showcased at the 1991 National Corvette Homecoming in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
For the next decade and a half, Maher participated in a range of events and competitions with his Corvette that resulted in him winning accolades from numerous renowned Corvette concours and racing occasions, such as Chip Miller’s Corvettes at Carlisle and NCRS National Conventions in Charlotte, Orlando, Monterey, and St. Louis.
In 2007, Maher passed ownership of the ZL-1 to its new keeper. After nearly four decades in the same hands, the vehicle made its inaugural debut alongside its new custodian at 2008 The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering.
Hoping to obtain Bloomington Gold certification, the consignor brought 710209 to Kevin Mackay’s Corvette Repair Inc. in 2012. This esteemed facility in Valley Stream, New York, is renowned globally as the preeminent restorer of classic Corvettes.
When taking apart the car, Mackay and his team found that it was still in great condition, with only its engine having taken some damage throughout its time on the track. Though it was not the original motor, the current one is a very early ZL-1 with all aluminum parts accurately dated by the manufacturer.
Following the refurbishment of its original Monaco Orange paint and black vinyl interior, Mackay finished the car just in time for the 2014 Bloomington Gold Show in Champaign, Illinois. After careful assessment of its complete factory documentation, the car was granted Bloomington Gold certification, authenticating it as the first of the two ZL-1 Corvettes made in the factory. Being now verifiably recognized as the “real deal,” the car was warmly invited to the Glenmoor Gathering, Radnor Hunt Concours, Pinehurst Concours, and exclusive Bloomington Gold showcase in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In 2018, this 1969 Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible was loaned to the renowned Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it was kept on exhibit until the January 2023 auction.
Featuring an acclaimed, meticulous restoration from the top-notch restorer of classic Corvettes, the provenance of 710209 is as remarkable as its performance and exclusive configuration. Backed up by exhaustive factory paperwork, it is unarguably the most exclusive and superior production Corvette in its class.
For the first time in three decades, an opportunity to acquire a factory ZL-1 was presented to the public at RM-Southby’s auction, with the added bonus of being the initial offering of a ZL-1 Convertible.
- Bloomington Gold Certified, one of two factory aluminum 427 ZL-1 Corvettes
- Powered by its factory-correct, date-coded all-aluminum ZL-1 427-cu. in. V-8 engine
- Wears an exquisite 2014 restoration by Kevin Mackay of Corvette Repair, Inc.
- Exhaustively chronicled by a trove of authentic GM documentation
- Further accompanied by documents from the original owner, including its original tank sticker, sales invoice, and historical imagery
- An unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the keystone of the ultimate Corvette collection
Here are some other articles you might enjoy:
Check out Vette Vues’ latest blog posts so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. Better yet, sign up for our Free e-Newsletter, which comes out twice a month with links to the latest blog posts. Join Now.
Enjoy Vette Vues’ Premium articles each month by subscribing to Vette Vues Magazine. Every month, Our Corvette magazine covers Corvette history, racing, Corvette owners and features, as well as Corvette events throughout the country. Subscriptions are mailed right to your home or office. Stay up to date with all the latest Corvette news by signing up today. Get your 12-issue Subscription Today!
While you are here, check out our great selection of Corvette T-shirts, Corvette Hats / Caps for Sale, and assorted Corvette Totes, Coolers, and Bags for Sale, all offering Free United States Shipping.