We examine two special Corvettes and find originality alone doesn't drive value

Editor’s note: Originality is only one component of value. To demonstrate that, we had our Corvette expert, Michael Pierce, take a look at two of the cars that crossed the block in Scottsdale. The cars included a 1963 Corvette 327/340 that made $55,000, and a 1968 Corvette L88 coupe that made $451,000. Here are his thoughts.

Chassis number: 30867S119304
Engine number: 3119304FO702RE

• A true barn find
• Original “Survivor” example
• 2010 NCRS National Convention Four-Star Bowtie
    Award winner
• Matching-numbers example
• Few owners from new
• Powerful L76 340-hp engine option
• Offered with factory hard top

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 Chevrolet Corvette 327/340 HP
Years Produced:1963
Number Produced:10,919 convertibles
Original List Price:$4,787.05
SCM Valuation:$39,000–$72,000
Tune Up Cost:$300
Distributor Caps:$65
Chassis Number Location:Appears on engine pad, transmission, frame and VIN tag
Engine Number Location:Passenger’s side, front, on engine pad
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS), Bloomington Gold
Website:http://www.ncrs.org; http://www.bloomingtongold.com
Alternatives:1969 AMC AMX, 1968 Ford Mustang 428 CJ, 1968 Dodge Charger R/T
Investment Grade:B

This car, lot 151, sold for $55,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding’s Scottsdale auction on January 20, 2012. It was built July 11, 1963, and fitted with Positraction, M21 4-speed, radio and heater. It showed 38,346 original miles. The price was certainly a deal for the new owner.

Light on options, but not on style

Although an iconic ’63, this Corvette suffered the indignity of being from the only year of Corvette production where a roadster is less valuable than its coupe counterpart. It had very few options, the paint was obviously original but thin, and the car was on blocks in the far Northeastern U.S. for 20-plus years, so most of the external metal parts were either rusty or corroded.

However, the NCRS honored this roadster at the 2010 National Convention with its prestigious Bowtie Award for original cars. They determined that the mechanicals, chassis, interior and exterior were still within 85% of how each part of the car appeared when it was delivered from the St. Louis plant 49 years ago.

The low-option status, overall condition, and lack of paperwork/provenance all probably contributed to its low hammer price. It was not rare, not a Split-Window, not fuel-injected, not a tanker or Z06; it was just an original 1963, two-top, solid lifter roadster. But that originality is what should make it especially desirable.

This car was also offered but did not sell for a $98,000 asking price on a Canadian dealer’s website prior to appearing at Gooding. So it was not fresh to market, which may have affected the bidding.

Prior to the auction, I figured it would go somewhere between $60k and $70k. But $55k? This was a deal.

Chassis number: 194379S722210
Engine number: T0610LO 19S72210

• The only unrestored Monaco Orange example known
• Less than 18,000 miles from new
• Factory-delivered, matching-numbers engine
• Bloomington Gold Survivor, Benchmark and Hall
    of Fame recipient
• NCRS Top Flight Award Winner

A high-level award winner

Only 116 RPO L88s were produced in 1969, and this is perhaps the only Monaco Orange version. In addition to that, it has earned just about every nationally recognized Corvette Award available: NCRS Regional Top Flight, Bloomington Gold Survivor and Benchmark, and is a Bloomington Gold Hall of Fame inductee.

The Regular Production Option (RPO) L88 started with the 1967 Corvette and comprised a four-bolt main 427 with an unadvertised horsepower of close to 560. The additional cost for this option was almost 25% more than the base model Corvette. In 1968, 80 were built; in ’69, 116.

L88s are hot in this market, with good restored cars usually bringing between $300k and $600k. This ’69 presented better than many older restored examples but was actually extremely original and unmolested. Additionally, the original tank sheet, Protect-O-Plate and bill of sale (along with a complete chain of title) document the Corvette to its current owner. But why didn’t it bring a higher price?

Had this been a restored example, it might have received the attention of the current buyer plus those whose eyes are brightened by 99+-point restorations. You can compare it with a restored silver 1968 L88 roadster sold across town at Russo and Steele for a record $687,500 — measurably more rare due to its convertible top and lower production year. For someone, that added up to $236,000 more in value.

Originality only part of the package

To bring substantial sums of money, Corvettes must not only be original, they must be documented, highly optioned, highest performance and generally produced in very low numbers. Ultimately, both of these examples were well bought, but one — the ’69 L88 — was at the top of the Corvette food chain, and one — the ’63 convertible — was not.

While the ’63 didn’t have much documentation, it had not been wrecked and was a great example of how they were when they were built. It’ll be a great driver.

L88s are much more valuable than all but a handful of other Corvettes. Many of them have race history. Original examples, such as Lot 38, are money in the bank and huge horsepower in the garage.

But the L88 can’t readily be driven because it requires a minimum of 108 octane fuel, runs hot and wants to go in a straight line. It’s a torque monster and is legendary throughout the collector world.

The conclusion

Perhaps the most important factor at work here concerns the type of buyer at auction. At the high-end, many auction buyers are simply looking for what they consider to be the best of the best — and that often means instant gratification through shiny restorations of top-option cars. Cars with perceived needs, even if those issues are typical of factory production, may be overlooked, while immaculate restored examples bring top dollar.

That means if you’re thinking of selling an unrestored, original car at auction, ask yourself if it’s rarity will overcome its lack of visual sizzle.

For both of these cars, the ultimate appeal is to a sophisticated buyer who understands how few original examples are still around and can appreciate the fact that you can actually drive them, maintain them as an original, and let them go to the next buyer, who will hopefully maintain them for the next generation.

(Introductory descriptions courtesy of Gooding & Company.)

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