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By John Gunnell
According to collector car auctioneer Dana Mecum, the highest price ever paid for a Corvette was realized at his Sept. 4—7 sale in Dallas, Texas. Lot No. 123 was a ’67 Corvette convertible that sold for a whopping $3.2 million. The car was previously in the Buddy Herin collection.
Racing toward a record
Mecum’s auction listing stated the L88—powered roadster was sold new to drag racer Jim Elmer at Lyman Slack Chevrolet in Portland, Ore. The car is documented to be one of just 20 ’67 Corvettes sold with the L88 option. Elmer bought the car for drag racing.
Elmer’s first race with the fresh—out—of—the—box muscle ’Vette netted him an 11.47—second quarter—mile run at Puyallup Dragway in Puyallup, Wash. The only changes made to the car from stock at that time were a set of exhaust headers and 7—inch slicks.
That first run with Elmer behind the wheel set the stage for the L88’s lengthy drag racing career. The burgundy, stinger—hood Corvette captured the A/Sports class win at the 1967 Indy Nationals. Elmer ultimately ran a best of 11.12 seconds at 127.45 mph. Shortly after his record runs at Indy, Elmer damaged the car’s transmission and the rear end. He attempted to have the components repaired under warranty, but his claim was rejected when he showed up at the dealership with the car in full competition trim, including sponsorship decals and elapsed times written on the windows.
Unwilling to pay out of pocket for repairs, Elmer sold the car for $5,000. His friend and race buddy Rob Robinson bought it in February 1968. Robinson, in partnership with local GM parts man Clayton Cotardi, campaigned the car in NHRA A/Sports in 1968-’69. The Corvette was a common sight at West Coast venues such as Irwindale, Half Moon Bay, Woodburn, Seattle and Puyallup. It also raced at a drag strip in Boise, Idaho.
Robinson used it to turn in consistent runs between 11.1 and 11.3 seconds in the 125—130 mph speed bracket. The Corvette placed among the top five in NHRA national points standings.
In 1970, Robinson put the L88 back into street trim. He then sold it to Tim Thorpe, a well—known Corvette restorer. Thorpe started a restoration, but before finishing the job, he transferred ownership to Buddy and Nova Herin, who bought it in 1998. The Herins turned to the Nabers Brothers of Houston, Texas to complete the restoration.
The car was refinished in a close match to the factory color of Marlboro Maroon and the hood stinger was sprayed in gloss black. It was later repainted a more accurate match to the original Marlboro Maroon color. The car was fitted with a set of Kelsey—Hayes finned aluminum bolt—on wheels and non—DOT redline tires. The interior of the L88 is still mostly original.
In addition to its 430—hp, 427—cid L88 engine option, the car features an M22 “Rock Crusher” four—speed manual transmission, a 4.11 rear end, J56 heavy—duty brakes, J50 power brakes, factory side exhausts and the F41 Special Suspension. It is believed to be the only 1967 Corvette L88 convertible to retain its original body panels.
The car won a Regional NCRS Top Flight award in 1997. It took part in the 2008 Bloomington Gold L88 Invasion. Documentation for this rare first—year L88 convertible included the factory tank sticker, vintage racing photos and raceway time slips, including the first time slip issued after its maiden run at Puyallup Dragway.
Explaining the record price
According to John Kraman, the consignment director for Mecum Auctions, the sale of the car was a very emotional experience brought on by Buddy Herin being sick.
“Buddy’s stellar attitude, in spite of his terminal illness, drove what happened on the auction block,” Kraman explained. “He wanted $2 to $2.5 million and got $3.2, and other cars in the collection sold in excess of their reserve. Corvettes from the ’60s with a racing history are blue chip investments.”
The sale price of Herin’s L88 reflected a significant increase in L88 prices since 2010, when Mecum sold the first L88 built at its August Monterey sale for $1.25 million.
Corvette restorer Kevin Mackay, who said that he once bought the L88 for $70,000 and then sold it, revealed that another recent private sale of an L88 “went through the roof.” Mackay said he felt that any significant car is strong in the Corvette market.
“The first C3 sold at Barrett—Jackson for over $1 million,” he pointed out. “I think the run—up is just beginning and will go the next three to four years.”
Corvette parts and accessories supplier Mike Yager jokingly guessed that the sale went to “someone with a lot of money and a garage to fill up.” Yager admitted, “I had set my top prediction at $2.5 million, and it blew by that almost immediately.”
Former Corvette chief engineer Dave McLellen was philosophical about the auction price. “There’s no way to predict that kind of thing,” he said. “Our prototype Corvettes were multi—million—dollar cars and we just drove them like we stole them, but you’re not going to buy a car for $3 million and do that.”
Performance car builder Ken Ligenfelter — who owns 80 Corvettes — said of the record price, “I think the Corvette market is in great shape; some baby boomers are selling their cars and it all looks good, but I’m still sorry I passed up a lot of good L88s.”