Friday, January 18, 2013

Vetting Another Corvette's Allure


And then there's this:

A paint-pitted, faded Corvette for $225,000?

On Monday, I wrote about Chevy's brand-new 2014 Corvette Stingray being introduced at Detroit's auto show.  Although most people won't be able to justify the purchase of such a car for their personal use, since Corvettes take a sports car's usual inefficiencies as a passenger vehicle to the extreme, the Corvette is still a bellwether of how American drivers expect their dream rides to look and perform.

Oftentimes, America's premiere sports car doesn't make waves in the international automotive media the way next year's Vette did this week, but the nameplate's legend and aura consistently boasts remarkable resiliency.  Since it holds a revered place in the hearts and minds of automotive enthusiasts, even during Detroit's decline, when Chevrolet shipped hunks of misfitting fiberglass out to the carbuying public and labeled them "Corvettes," longsuffering fans would patiently admire their model's glory years and console themselves that somehow, someday, the Corvette would be back.

The car is that iconic.

That's why it's not really much of a surprise to learn that a yellowed, paint-pitted 1954 model from Maine is going on the auction block in Florida tomorrow with a plausible selling price estimated to be between $175,000 and $225,000.

Two hundred and twenty five thousand dollars!  For a completely unrestored, as-is 1954 car that hasn't been driven since it was entombed by its original owner into a grocery store in Brunswick, Maine, in 1959.

That's Corvette love for ya, folks!

It also helps to explain how this car's story is part of its value.  As they say in the antiques trade, it has a great "provenance," or history.

Purchased new by Maine grocery story magnate Richard Sampson, the car was driven mildly for about five years.  I say "mildly," because there are only 2,331 miles on the untouched odometer.  With winter weather being exceptionally grueling in the Pine Tree State, many owners of exotic or "cream puff" cars put them in storage for the snow and ice season, and while I don't know it for a fact, it's likely that Sampson only got this car out of mothballs for the few days during Maine's glorious summers when driving is indeed pure pleasure.

And this Corvette, being a convertible, likely made it an ideal cruising car for both the back roads of Maine, as well as its narrow lanes that wind along its shoreline.  A while ago, I commented that I used to find it remarkable that so many Maine residents own convertibles, considering the state's brutal weather, but I can't help but acknowledge that a perfect day in Maine really is a perfect day, and a convertible is a great way to enjoy those few yet glorious perfect days.

Anyway, at one point in 1959, Sampson decided to preserve his wonderful little two-seater for posterity, and had it bricked into its own tomb in a store under construction in Brunswick.  Eventually, the brick coffin was taken down, and the car was enshrined in Sampson's daughter's home in Florida.

Can you imagine having your father's vintage white Corvette convertible sitting in your living room?  Its years of being bricked away in Brunswick were amazingly kind to the car, with the only serious visible damage being to the paint job - it pitted, which, considering GM's abysmal record of bad paint jobs over the decades, isn't surprising - and the wide white sidewalls yellowed with age like untended fine linen.  The convertible top has stains from being left out in Maine's many rainy days, but the interior is practically flawless, as are its flashes of chrome.

Experts estimate it's the only unretouched, completely original 1954 Corvette in existence.  And fortunately, 1954 was a glorious year for the Corvette.  No warped fiberglass on this beauty, but plenty of elegant flourishes and sexy lines, along with chic wire "veils" over each oval headlight, mimicking the veils women of that era wore on their hats.

If its fetching looks don't grab you, or the price it may well fetch this weekend at auction, how about this stunning bit of trivia:  even if it sells for $225,000, this "entombed Corvette" won't be the most expensive Corvette ever.  That distinction goes to a far less glamorous 1969 Corvette L88, which sold for $446,250 in 2007.

Almost half a million dollars!  And that's for one of Chevy's newer 'Vettes.  Granted, the grand champion Corvette was built for racing, while the 1954 model was mostly for prestige touring.  But still, it tells you something about the Corvette market out there, and the interest these cars command.

As does our prized 1954 model.

One guy bricked up his pampered convertible for 27 years, his daughter displayed it inside her house, and even with pitted paint and yellow sidewalls, it could command upwards of a quarter-million-dollars at auction tomorrow.

Yesterday I warned that we Americans don't know as much about our history as we should.  Judging by the keen interest people still have in our vintage cars, and the prices they're willing to pay for them, maybe I was wrong about that.

The antique car market, and Corvette aficionados in particular, prove that we Americans can learn our history when we want to!
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Update:  Our "entombed Corvette" was Lot #S187; updated selling info has yet to be posted as of Monday evening.

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