The Legendary 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ZL-1 Convertible

Jan 20, 2023

The 1969 Chevrolet ZL-1 Corvette enjoys a mythical status among production Corvettes. The selection of the RPO ZL-1 option more than doubled the price of a new Corvette, and for that amount the buyer received a 560-horsepower derivative of the all-aluminum CanAm racing engine delivered in a street-legal, factory-built production car. GM documents on file verify that only two so-equipped cars were produced at the St. Louis assembly plant and delivered through their dealer network. The 1969 RPO ZL-1 was strictly developed as an FIA/NHRA homologation experiment and, in practice, never truly intended for sale to the public. And yet, on the chilly afternoon of 30 December 1968—John W. Maher of Leechburg, Pennsylvania arrived at Harold Breman’s West Penn Garage, tossed the keys to his trade-in (a 1968 L88 Corvette Convertible), and finished up the purchase paperwork for chassis 194679S710209, the first of these two factory-documented ZL-1 Corvettes. It is the only ZL-1 Convertible built, and—thanks to Maher’s influential friends—the only such Corvette ever sold new to a retail customer. THE ZL-1: A MONSTER IS BORN At the heart of the ZL-1 is a lightweight refinement of Chevrolet’s 427-cubic-inch L88 V-8 engine. Featuring an all-aluminum block, stouter connecting rods, a redesigned crankshaft, pistons, larger exhaust valves, a high-lift camshaft, and an upgraded “open chamber” aluminum cylinder-head design with four additional head bolts, the ZL-1 was the most powerful engine Chevrolet had yet created. Importantly, the “open chamber” head design was not finalized until March 1969, and so the pre-production version of this engine—as originally fitted to 710209—retains “closed chamber” aluminum heads. Having to first select the $1,032 RPO L88 before adding the $3,000 RPO ZL-1, power-assisted, heavy-duty brakes came standard, as did the heavy-duty suspension package, a Posi-traction rear axle, and transistorized ignition. The list of what you didn’t get was equally impressive: radio, heater, air conditioning, power windows, and power steering. Even the fan shroud was omitted because it interrupted airflow. At $4,718, the outrageous supplementary price of the all-aluminum ZL-1 package and its required speed accoutrements more than doubled the base price of a new Corvette. In 2012, the consignor submitted 710209 to Kevin Mackay’s Corvette Repair Inc., of Valley Stream, New York, widely hailed as the world’s foremost restorer of historically significant Corvettes. Upon disassembly, Mackay and his staff found the car to be remarkably well preserved, and it quickly became evident that its blown engine was thankfully the only damage it had sustained during its racing career. Though not the original unit, the engine currently residing in the car is an extremely early, factory-correct, date-coded, all-aluminum ZL-1 unit. Refinished in its factory-correct Monaco Orange paint and black vinyl interior, Mackay completed the car in time for the 2014 Bloomington Gold show in Champaign, Illinois. After much scrutinous review of its comprehensive factory documentation, 710209 was awarded Bloomington Gold certification and formally recognized as the first of the two factory-built ZL-1 Corvettes. Now conclusively recognized as “the real deal,” the car has also been a welcome guest at the Glenmoor Gathering, Radnor Hunt Concours, Pinehurst Concours, and special Bloomington Gold exhibits at Charlotte, North Carolina, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2018, this ZL-1 Convertible was loaned to the prestigious and internationally acclaimed Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, remaining on display there until very recently. Wearing an accurate, award-winning restoration from the most highly regarded restorer of historically significant Corvettes, 710209’s exceptional provenance is matched by its incredible performance and unique specifications. Thanks to its extensive factory documentation on file, this is, rather irrefutably, the finest and most unique special-interest production Corvette. This opportunity represents the first time that a factory ZL-1 has been offered publicly in 30 years and, more importantly, the first time that the ZL-1 Convertible has ever been offered publicly. This legendary creation offers a truly unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime chance to secure the ultimate keystone to any reference-grade collection containing significant examples of “America’s Sports Car.”