|Vehicle:||1972 Chevrolet Corvette LT-1 A/c Test Mule|
|Years Produced:||1968–81 (All C3s)|
|Number Produced:||One test car; about 240–286 actually ordered|
|Original List Price:||Approximately $7,000 “as born”|
|Tune Up Cost:||$300|
|Chassis Number Location:||On frame|
|Engine Number Location:||Block pad on passenger’s front of engine, below cylinder head|
|Club Info:||National Corvette Restorers Society|
|Alternatives:||1963 Chevrolet Corvette 327/300 coupe, 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302|
|Investment Grade:||B (this car)|
This LT-1 Corvette, Lot W74, sold for $47,700 at Mecum’s Dallas, TX, auction on September 5–8, 2012.
In 1971, Zora Arkus-Duntov ordered a Corvette to be built to test the efficacy of air conditioning in combination with solid-lifter LT-1, 350-ci small blocks for the 1972 model year. This was the second time in 19 years that GM had tried this combination, the other being the solid-lifter ’64 and ’65 327/365 L76 cars with optional A/C.
Big revs, cool air
One of the major engineering concerns was that the GM/Frigidaire compressor was good for a maximum of 12,000 rpm, and the LT-1 tachometer redline was ordinarily 6,500 rpm. With a 2:1 ratio pulley, as was standard, the compressor would turn 13,000 rpm. For 1972, the LT-1 A/C package eventually required the installation of a Muncie M-20 wide-ratio 4-speed transmission, 3:55 rear-end gears, and a 5,600 rpm tachometer, which kept the A/C compressor’s revolutions within the correct parameters.
Chevrolet cannot break down how many examples of this combination were built for the 1972 production year. They can only give totals per each option. So as such, we know that there were 1,741 LT-1-equipped Corvettes, and 17,011 Corvettes were ordered with C-60 air conditioning. Some books mention 240 or 286 cars built with both but have no proof of a source to confirm their claims. Drew Papsun has been doing research on these Corvettes for 27 years and has found just over 200 cars to date with both these options.
The test car
This 1972 War Bonnet Yellow coupe had assembly-line revisions and change orders specifically requested by Duntov and the design/engineering group at the Tech Center in Warren, MI. In fact, it was originally ordered as a Bryar Blue/Black, base-motor car with a 4-speed, PB, PW, PS, PW, tilt/tele-steering column and air.
Many production revisions were made on the fly while it was still at the factory. In fact, the words “Cancel paint color from Bryar Blue to 989 per Floyd Uth, Product Manager” were clearly written on the build order copy attached to the gas tank. Additionally, an appropriately dated, numbered and stamped LT-1 was installed along with the rest of the required options.
This ’72 was built September 14, 1971, on the St. Louis assembly line and shipped to the Engineering Test Center in Detroit two weeks later. From there it was shipped off to the Desert Proving Grounds in Mesa, AZ, for hot-weather testing, where Zora drove it as a test mule. After testing, the build combination was approved for ordering and was advertised in the Corvette News magazine January/February 1972 edition. This car was then returned to Warren, MI, where it reportedly sat for almost four years.
A complete history
An auto dealer in Michigan (notorious for being able to buy GM Research/Test vehicles) bought this car from General Motors and sold it to Thomas Holton, the first owner. Second in line was Mike Polk, who helped to document this car’s Engineering Change Order # 28815-6. In 1981, Steve Gussack from New York bought the car and looked further into its provenance.
In 1988, during his stewardship, it received an NCRS Second Flight Award at the National Convention in Lancaster, PA. It was also invited — but was unable to attend — the Bloomington Gold Special Collection in 1986. It appeared in two movies — “Apollo 13” and an HBO Special — and numerous articles in Vette Views and Corvette Fever.
I believe the reason for receiving the National NCRS Second Flight was due to the fact that the “K” in the VIN number indicated to the judges that this was a base-motor car, not the replacement LT-1 that Duntov ordered installed and that was in the Corvette as it was presented for judging. Additionally, the exterior color had been changed from its original order, although before it was painted.
The proof is in the numbers
Terry McManmon was the NCRS National Team Leader during the time period this car was judged. He has kept assiduous notes on all the Corvettes that have gone through NCRS in his class while Team Leader. He gave me the block casting number (0010), date (H 6 1) and UAW original stamp-pad designation (V0813CKY 2S502354).
The numbers appeared to be both original and matching… all preceding the actual build date of the car itself, September 14, 1971. Only a well-engineered and coordinated effort by GM could have made this work.
I have spoken to Roy Sinor, NCRS National Judging Chairman; Stan Falenski, 1970–72 NCRS National Team Leader; Drew Papsun, NCRS and Bloomington Expert Judge and Corvette historian; and Terry McManmon, former NCRS Corvette Restorer magazine editor, 1970–72 National Team Leader and one of the highest ranking NCRS Master Judges, all of whom have provided personal insight and history on this car. I asked each of them what they thought the car was worth and what effect the GM/Duntov and A/C test status might have on its value.
They all seem to feel that the selling price at Mecum’s Dallas auction was fair, and possibly a better value to the buyer than the seller.
A piece of Corvette history
David Burroughs at Bloomington Gold mentioned that many Corvettes transcend BG, NCRS or Concours judging by the fact that they are really a part of history, relieved from being a typical factory production vehicle.
Think about it… close to 2 million Corvettes have been produced. Almost every one of them was ordered through the GM-RPO system at Chevrolet dealerships. The permutations and combinations produced some rare cars, but how many were used as test vehicles and experimentation platforms that ended up bringing new engines, options and suspension systems to the make? Not many.
So while this might just look like just another yellow Corvette to your average tire-kicker, to Corvette purists, it’s a piece of history. At this price, I’d call it well bought.
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)