Dan Duckworth, courtesy of Mecum Auctions
This past summer, a trio of 1978 Pace Car Edition Corvettes sold over the course of 36 days. That’s not unusual in the auction world, but this was different. These cars brought $10k, $20k, and an astounding $86k, respectively. Every collector-car situation is unique, with parameters and factors changing with every sale. And that’s why, in an analytical sense, it’s interesting when we can compare apples to apples by examining several identical models, all sold during a short time period. And that’s just what happened with these three cars. But why the enormous spread for what was essentially the same make and model? Pull up your favorite garage creeper as ACC tells all. Let’s look at some of the details, in ascending order of price:

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1978 Chevrolet Corvette Indy Pace Car Editions
Years Produced:1978
Number Produced:6,502
Original List Price:$13,653
SCM Valuation:$19,500–$36,000 (L48), $21,500–$40,000 (L82)
Tune Up Cost:$300
Distributor Caps:$12
Chassis Number Location:VIN plate under lower left windshield corner
Engine Number Location:On block in front of right cylinder head
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS)
Alternatives:1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, 1995 Chevrolet Corvette Indy Pace Car Edition convertible, 1998 Chevrolet Corvette Indy Pace Car Edition convertible
Investment Grade:C

$10,165 — Lot F5, Mecum Auctions, Dallas, TX, September 4–7, 2013; VIN: 1Z87L8S904569

This Pace Car was part of a 150-plus car collection and had not been run in some years. Like all the 1978 Pace Cars, it featured removable glass roof panels, a tilt-telescopic steering column, AM/FM radio (this one the RPO UM2 version with an eight-track tape player), remote-operating mirrors, power windows and door locks, and air conditioning — plus the Pace Car side decals.

Otherwise it was not well optioned, featuring only the base 185-hp L48 engine, an automatic transmission, and the tape player. Our ACC reporter didn’t cover the car in his report, but from the images, we can call this car somewhere around a #4 condition. Generally, the car presented well enough outside and inside, with the difficult-to-match silver leather seating looking especially nice.

Driver or project?

Under the hood, however, the busy engine bay offered mixed messages, with fresh-appearing paint on the engine together with other components that looked weathered. Along with the warning that the car had not been started or driven recently, a missing air-conditioning V-belt gave the impression that some time and attention would be needed.

Buying a non-running car is always a gamble, but in this case I believe someone actually made a strong buy for a couple of reasons. First, usually someone with the resources to collect more than 150 vehicles also has the resources to buy good examples. This one looked generally good inside and out, and the appearance of a repainted engine suggests — although by no means conclusively — that an overhaul (or at least a validation of fitness) had been done at some point. So while the non-running status helped keep bidding down, it may have also paid dividends for the buyer if the entire package turns out to be solid.

In that case, a fresh battery, fluid changes, lube and safety check may be all that’s necessary to have a viable runner. There was very little risk at $10k, so this one looks like a score, considering the market for nice base-engine cars is around $20k

$20,330 — Lot F52, Mecum Auctions, Chicago, IL, October 10–12, 2013; VIN: 1Z8748S905175

Equipped with the higher-output 220-hp L82 engine, 4-speed Muncie M21 close-ratio gearbox, and represented as a 12,073-mile car, this Pace Car held all the cards. This was as good as Corvettes got in 1978.

Added positive elements were the original Pace Car decals included in a box instead of fouling the sides of the car, the inclusion of factory tags and manuals, and a fairly rare radio option: the period-correct RPO UP6 AM/FM stereo with integrated CB radio. (“Breaker, breaker; Cooter, good buddy, you got yer ears on?”) In short, this Pace Car is just what you’d hope to find if you wanted one — a low-mileage example with evidence of careful ownership since new.

Market price, smart buy

This car presented reasonably well, although various minor flaws were apparent, including some swirling on the black body sides, slightly blemished seat upholstery, and either water-spotted or blemished alloy wheels. Under the hood, the L82 looked authentic and unmolested, right down to the now-oxidized fasteners and mousy period GM wiring. We could call this a solid #2 car, bordering on #2+.

With no decals and apparently low mileage, this example looked like a smart buy to me. L82 4-speed cars in good shape tend to trade between $20k and $40k, and this one’s low mileage and good condition were key to its value.

For the price of a new Fiat 500, the valets will definitely park this one front and center on Saturday night. It was twice the money of the Dallas car, but way more than twice the car. Call it a fantastic buy.

1978 Chevrolet Corvette Indy Pace Car Vanderbrink

$86,400 — Lot 15L, VanDerBrink Lambrecht Collection, Pierce, NE, September 28, 2013;

VIN: 1Z87L8S904699

Until its sale in the VanDerBrink auction in Pierce, NE, the only time this Corvette ever saw any action was on April 26, 1978, when it left Bowling Green, KY, heading for Nebraska by rail. That it was subsequently delivered to Lambrecht Chevrolet, parked there without ever even being unwrapped, and then left idle for more than 35 years is the stuff of legend. Although some might call it a life unfulfilled instead.

The four miles showing on the odometer strictly represented whatever distance the car covered on its way from the assembly line to its train trip, plus occasional movements between storage spots at the Lambrecht dealership. As well, no set up, pre-delivery service or detailing was ever done, as the cardboard protectors were still on the floors, plastic still covered the seats and steering wheel, and the little center hubcabs and Pace Car door graphics were likewise still in their original boxes.

And having never been sold, the car was still on its MSO. The auctioneers didn’t so much as dust the car off, and it certainly looked the part of Rip Van Winkle with its decades-old coating of dirt.

Car myth and auction fever

Disheveled as the car appeared, the legend definitely came home to roost on auction day, as a local gent outbid all comers to nab the car he’d eyed for so many years in the window of the local dealership. Unquestionably, the price paid was way north of the $19,500 to $36,000 ACC price-guide estimates for ’78 base-engine Pace Cars — especially considering this one had an automatic transmission and only the AM/FM/CB radio option.

Not only was this car’s $86k price more than eight times the cost of the first ’78 Pace Car on our list, but the price put this C3 Shark in the same neighborhood as some very good first- and second-generation Corvettes.

But theoretically, under all the dirt and grime from years of storage, this car should be as close to perfect as you would have found back in ’78. The trouble is, condition didn’t really factor into this deal, at least not as much as the car’s story did.

The bottom line

The car-collecting skill set is something of a voodoo cocktail — part mechanical aptitude, part financial analyst, part historical sleuth, and part emotional savant. When all these talents contribute to help you find a truly special car, the world is fine. But when one of them goes haywire — either totally underperforming or else being grossly overenthusiastic — the outcome can spin you into a ditch. How can we really make heads or tails out of such a wide spread in prices?

The bottom line is this: The Mecum cars sold right where they should have, based on their options and condition, and both were smart buys in this market. But the Lambrecht car was by all accounts off the charts, and there’s nowhere to go but down in terms of its dollar value — especially if the new owner drives it anywhere but onto the lawn at Bloomington Gold.

But don’t rush to judgment too quickly. When you consider that this Pace Car may be something more than just a NOS Corvette, specifically the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for its new owner, the $86k sale price was not only money well spent. It was actually cheap.


Comments are closed.