Chevrolet presented the very “First Retailable Unit Built” Corvette ZR1 for auction at Barrett-Jackson on Saturday, January 19, 2008, with all proceeds from the auction to benefit the United Way. The VIN was publicly declared to be number “001” in a unique series within the U.S. DOT standard 17-digit VIN format. The car presented on the block (as an illustration) was 1G1YY26EX850022EX.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:The Million-Dollar ZR1 Bargain
Years Produced:2009
Number Produced:none yet, but at least one by 2009
Original List Price:$99,000
SCM Valuation:$99,000
Tune Up Cost:$0 (warranty coverage)
Distributor Caps:N/A (8 ignition coils @ $72.12 each)
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side dash top at windshield base
Engine Number Location:Pad forward of the cylinder head on right side
Club Info:Corvette Club of America P.O. Box 9879 Bowling Green, KY 42102-9879
Alternatives:2004–06 Ford GT, 2006– Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR, 2004–06 Porsche Carrera GT, 2005– Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Investment Grade:Next 12 months, A+ 13–24 months, B+ 25–36 months B

This first 2009 ZR1 sold for $1,100,000, including commission, at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, Arizona, on January 19, 2008. The car, which became the third incarnation of the ZR1, started out as a challenge by GM’s president Richard Wagoner to then-Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill. Impressed by what had been done with the Z06, Wagoner asked Hill what he could do with no holds barred. The result was code named the Blue Devil (since Wagoner was a Duke University alumnus). The car and the project have echoed GM’s trials and tribulations, but in November 2007, the ZR1 got the green light. There were probably more names ruled out with Blue Devil, though it might have been popular in North Carolina. Since Zora Duntov once proclaimed that “all Corvettes are Super Sports,” that and the SS moniker were also out. Stingray was considered for a while, along with Z07 and Z08, but in the end ZR1 (two letters, one number, no hyphen; the current GM parlance for equipment and options coding) was put back to work. It does seem to fit the task. In its most recent incarnation, from 1990 through 1995, the ZR-1 was the 375-hp Lotus-designed, Mercury Marine-built 350-ci supercar of the time. In 2009 tune, the supercharged 376-ci LS9 mill is generally quoted at 620 hp, and it propels the car fast enough to earn a driver a 200 mph Club hat at Bonneville. While GM has said it is looking at about 1,000 units per year, other sources suspect that it will be about half that. The upcoming CAFE standards make this even more likely, especially since it will be the first Corvette to pay the “gas guzzler” tax.

1 of 1 option code BD1, in LeMans Blue

Since the official announcement at the NAIAS in January that the ZR1 was a go for 2009 production, there has been much speculation about price and availability. As an added kicker, GM also announced that the first saleable production unit was going to be auctioned off at Barrett-Jackson. This car will be finished in LeMans Blue with GM equipment code BD1. In addition, GM tossed in a three-day course at the Bondurant Racing School (something rumored as part of the regular ZR1 package), signed design team artwork, and Corvette Museum delivery, in addition to the UAW-blessed option of the new owner being the first person to start the car at Bowling Green Assembly. GM’s pal Jay Leno drove the blue prototype—which was on display at GM’s booth during the sale—up onto the block. Leno also was the color commentator while the car was auctioned. In describing the ZR1 program, Leno kicked in the buyer’s option of taking delivery of the car at Jay’s Big Dog garage, “so we’ll all get to drive it.” The one thing we do know about ZR1 #1 is the price—$99,000—since the IRS would really like to know how much of that $1 million hammer price is going to the United Way. This price will most likely apply for the rest of ’09. However, “dealer adjustments” have already begun, with double MSRP being reported in a few instances. This brings us to this car and this buyer. The final bidder (who actually increased his own bid to put it at an even $1 million hammer price) is Dave Ressler, a guy who sells a lot of Silverados and Suburbans in North Dakota and Montana. Having lived in the Flickertail State myself, I can safely say that Mr. Ressler is probably the antithesis of most of his customers from his native North Dakota, in that he’s no shying wallflower. As the owner of Chevrolet dealerships in Mandan, ND, and Bozeman, MT, along with the Toyota franchise in Bozeman, he has been extremely successful. How can one become wealthy selling pickups to frugal farmers? Simple—truly successful farmers don’t like to be flashy. Instead of going to the Buick or Cadillac store, they’ll spend their grain and subsidy checks on a heavily optioned Chevy pickup, and rightfully call it a work vehicle at tax time. They’re generally gearheads too, and you do find interesting vehicles in those machine sheds, including the occasional new Corvette. Ressler broke onto the scene at Barrett-Jackson four years ago when he paid well over retail for a 1969 Camaro Z/28 cross ram. He wore a vivid yellow sport coat to match the yellow paint on the car. Since then, loud sport coats have become his trademark, and in this case, he pulled a bright blue one off the rack in his skybox. Apart from Ressler having the correct sport coat at the ready, this sale felt orchestrated, although I have only my gut feeling to go on. Two years ago, he bought the oldest known Corvette in existence for a million bucks. This time, when the bidding reached $900,000, he raised his own bid to the $1 million mark. After the car was hammered sold, he was on stage with some of his employees, presenting checks from each dealership’s United Way campaigns to GM’s own United Way fund. A coincidence that he had the checks there and ready?

Conspicuous consumption or investment?

Most Corvette web forums were abuzz after the sale, with a 50-50 split. One camp said he was the biggest idiot on the planet, paying a million bucks for a silly plastic car that doesn’t even exist yet. The other camp generally defended his purchase, observing that not only can he spend the money he earns as he chooses, but that a worthy cause actually got the lion’s share. I think he’s nobody’s fool, and actually was one of the smartest buyers all weekend. Here’s why. Despite the fact that Ressler is a Chevy dealer, if he wanted a ZR1, he’d have to order one through normal channels. Then he’ll get what GM sends him, when they see fit. This way, not only is he guaranteed the first car in the series—with a unique serial number and option code, to boot—but he has already paid MSRP for it. As a dealer, he missed paying the lower invoice, or getting dealer holdbacks or incentives such as higher allotments for Corvettes, but this unique car offsets that. As it is, he’s not strapped for cash to buy it. In addition to the $901,000 off-the-top charitable donation write-off, he could also use the $99,000 spent for the car as a promotional expense if that ZR1 spends any time at all on display at his dealerships. Therefore, when people say he was foolish for paying ten times retail for it, he really didn’t and he wasn’t. In fact, after the charitable deduction, he may end up being the only person to pay sticker for an ’09 ZR1. How foolish is that?

Comments are closed.