Why the "Greatest Corvette Barn Find in History" Is Being Given Away
Thirty-six vintage 'Vettes are up for grabs, including one from "Comedians in Cars"
“Son of a bitch, that guy won my cars!”
Chris Mazzilli is still upset about a Corvette giveaway from 1989. In a bid to attract more viewers, VH1 ran a sweepstakes that year where the winner would take home 36 Chevrolet Corvettes, one from each model year since the American classic debuted. Mazzilli, in his 20s at the time, was one of the two million people who entered. He didn’t win — but his Long Island neighbor did.
“I was wicked furious because the guy who won was in the town right next to me!” Mazzilli tells InsideHook. “And I was like, I can’t even believe it. I was depressed.”
Today, Mazzilli has those classic cars — all 36 of them — within his grasp. But instead of keeping them for himself, along with a group calling themselves the Corvette Heroes, he is giving them away again. Those who enter the “Lost Corvettes” sweepstakes have better odds this time around: when the contest ends April 30, there will be 36 winners instead of one.
If this is ringing a bell, especially if you’re a ‘Vette diehard like Mazzilli — who is now an owner of Gotham Comedy Club as well as Long Island’s Dream Car Restorations — you might know this particular sports-car stockpile as the Peter Max collection.
The Pop Art icon Peter Max bought all the cars from the VH1 sweepstakes winner with the intention of painting them, but he never got around to it, so over the years they’ve been tucked away in various parking garages across New York City. Eventually, Max sold them to “a group of New York real estate and parking garage professionals” — the Corvette Heroes — including Scott Heller, who was the one moving the cars from garage to garage. Mazzilli was brought in to assess and eventually restore the lot, and he’ll never forget the first time he laid eyes on them.
“At the time, they were in Upper Manhattan in a parking garage,” he says. “It was wild. We walked through this big kind of alleyway, and then boom — here are these 36 Corvettes entombed in bird doo, crud, an inch of dust, flat tires, missing pieces. But I’ve got to tell you, the hairs stood up on my neck. I got chills.”
“This is the greatest Corvette barn find in history.”
The problem with a barn find, as evidenced by the “bird doo”? They’re usually in rough shape, too rough for even most auto enthusiasts to deal with themselves. The 36 winners of these Corvettes won’t have to worry about any of that, because Mazzilli’s team has restored them to their former glory, putting between 40 hours (on the ‘89 Corvette) and 4,000 hours of work (on the ‘53) into the cars.
Originally, the idea was they’d be sold off one by one after they were restored, the crew would all wipe their hands — literally and figuratively — and that would be that. But Mazzilli thought such a historic collection deserved a bigger spotlight, which led to The Lost Corvettes docuseries which premiered on History and FYI networks this fall, and to the reconceived giveaway.
If you can’t picture the difference between an ‘89 and a ‘53, there’s at least one car in the collection you’re probably familiar with: the ‘56, which was featured on the episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jimmy Fallon.
“Seinfeld came to Gotham Comedy Club one night. We always talk about cars,” Mazzilli remembered. They talked about Fallon’s upcoming appearance, and how Seinfeld was looking for something Americana, something ‘50s. Mazzilli pulled up a photo of the ‘56 Corvette in Cascade Green. Seinfeld said it looked like a ‘50s diner; in other words, it was perfect, but he needed it right away. This was in 2014, not long after the cars were unearthed from the layer of crud, and it wasn’t anywhere near ready.
What viewers don’t see in the episode, and what Mazzilli recounted in minute detail, was a restoration for the record books, the problems only proliferating as the shoot got closer.
“I’ll never forget it, it was a Saturday, they were picking up the car at 1 p.m., I was at the shop, and the car won’t start,” he said. The rest of the story involves cracked engine blocks, wake-up calls from Comedians in Cars producers and a mid-shoot rescue mission for Jimmy and Jerry.
“We got it done, we had to get it done,” he emphasized.
Now some lucky ticket holder is going to be the proud owner of that driveable ‘50s diner, and 35 others will make their way into other homes. To enter the sweepstakes, you have to buy $3 tickets on the Corvette Heroes website (with discounts for bulk purchases), and proceeds will be donated to the National Guard Educational Foundation.
When asked where he’d like to see the ‘Vettes end up — would he care if another Peter Max type wanted to paint them? — Mazzilli cut in.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Listen, I definitely do not want to do a Peter Max. I don’t want [someone] to repaint the cars,” he said. After all, they’ve spent years getting the colors, the mechanics, the interior — everything — just the way they want it.
“To me, these are works of art. Some of them are masterpieces. They really are.”
All photos courtesy of Corvette Heroes