One of the Rarest Corvettes of All Time Is Headed to Auction

This one-of-one 1969 ZL-1 Convertible has never before been offered to the public

The orange 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible, which is heading to auction in Arizona in January 2023 through RM Sotheby's
There is no other Corvette like it on the planet, literally.
Motorcar Studios ©2022 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Much of the excitement around the Corvette brand centers around the sports cars to come. The current eighth-generation of Chevrolet’s icon will soon go hybrid and all-wheel drive for the first time ever, and hardcore fans are eagerly anticipating the upcoming (2025?) ZR1. But the real ‘Vette diehards? They shouldn’t look forward to the ZR1, but instead look backwards to the ZL-1. 

Specifically, we’re talking about the 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible. Not ringing a bell? That’s totally understandable, as this ridiculously rare, one-of-one Corvette has previously only existed in the private collection of two owners, but now RM Sotheby’s has been tasked with offering it for sale to the public for the first time in history. This “keystone of the ultimate Corvette collection,” as the company dubs it, is slated to sell at their Arizona auction on January 26, 2023, at the Arizona Biltmore. The estimated selling price? Between $2.6 and $3 million. 

There are two key components that make this third-generation Corvette so rare. First is the engine, an aluminum version of Chevrolet’s 427-cubic-inch L88 V8. As RM Sotheby’s details, only two cars were built with this lightweight engine and delivered through the dealer network, as the “1969 RPO ZL-1 was strictly developed as an FIA/NHRA homologation experiment and, in practice, never truly intended for sale to the public.” Plus, it more than doubled the price of the Corvette at the time, so most people weren’t keen on shelling out. The second important point is that this is the only ZL-1 Convertible ever built.

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The story behind the car is as exceptional as the specimen itself. The headline attribute on the RM Sotheby’s listing is that the collector car is Bloomington Gold Certified, a prestigious accreditation that signifies the “car appears as it would just after completion of ‘typical factory production,’” so you’d expect this to be a garage queen, locked in a hermetically sealed container for the last 50 years; but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the auction house notes, the original owner, John W. Maher of Leechburg, Pennsylvania, immediately took his extremely expensive, extremely rare sports car and “terrorized hill climbs, autocross events, and drag races across Western Pennsylvania.” 

“By September 1969, the car’s original short-block assembly had been blown and was replaced by another short-block assembly furnished under warranty by Chevrolet,” RM Sotheby’s writes. Yes, that means the engine in this auction lot isn’t exactly the original, but it is “an extremely early, factory-correct, date-coded, all-aluminum ZL-1 unit.”

Despite its rough-and-tumble beginnings, the Corvette has been through at least two meticulous restorations (leading to the eventual Bloomington Gold certification in the 2010s, completed by the second owner) during its life and is presented here with reams of documentation to vouch for its provenance that interested buyers can look over before the sale. 

Head to RM Sotheby’s to read the full story, see the full slate of photos and, if you’re feeling flush with a Christmas bonus, potentially inquire about bidding in January.

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