Rarest Corvette Ever
Back in the 60’s, racing was a big part of life for automotive manufacturers. At that time, Stock Car Racing was not like NASCAR today – it actually involved racing factory stock cars. This meant anybody could go down and buy a car off the lot and drive it in the races. As crazy as that sounds today, it is true. In 1969, Chevrolet knew the Corvette was the best they had to offer, and many of the competition components used at the track were available via the Regular Production Option (RPO) program. This meant if a person had the money, they could essentially order a street-legal race car that could qualify for NASCAR type Stock Car Track Racing! Back in those days, a person could go down to the car lot, fill out a form, and buy whatever they wanted in a car. They simply checked off the options, paid the fee, and got the car they wanted. This also led to the Rarest Corvette Ever.
When Carroll Shelby launched his company and started selling the Big Block 1965 AC Cobra, the game got serious. As a result, in 1967, 1968, and 1969, there was an option known as RPO L88 on the list for Corvette buyers. This gave the Corvette buyer the option to choose a monster big block 427. This package included many desirable options, such as a forged crankshaft, reinforced connecting rods, aluminum pistons, aluminum heads, and 12.5:1 compression. They also threw in a Holley 4 barrel carb, a lopey camshaft, and hardened valvetrain.
Rounding out the L88 package included an M22 RPO Rock Crusher 4 speed transmission. This engine was a beast, and it had the drivetrain to match. The cost for the L88 package was an additional $947.90, above the already hefty price of $4,781 for the base Corvette. This brought the grand total to around $5,700. Granted, these seem like laughably low prices today, but the average new car in 1969 cost $2,000, and the average annual income was $6,500. A $5,700 car was way out of reach for the average buyer at that time.
A Corvette Beast Was Unleashed
The L88, with all these upgrades, was laughably underrated at 430 horsepower, which was a marketing move. Chevrolet did not want to attract too much attention with this beast, since it was not the daily driver the normal Corvette was. This monster only ran on 103 octane gas, and it was not really a road car. If you chose this option, you did not get power windows, air conditioner, or a radio. This was truly a race car with a license plate. It didn’t even have a fan shroud or a choke, so driving it daily was nearly impossible, as it would overheat in street conditions at low RPMs. If a race team bought this car, however, they could make some minor tweaks and have a real beast. All they had to do was replace the factory exhaust manifold with long tube headers, make a few tweaks here and there, and they would produce in excess of 54o horsepower with no problem.
Despite the lack of driver friendly options, there were 116 special orders made for the L88 C0rvette between 1967 and 1969, making it very rare. The reason for this number being produced was simple – manufacturers were required to produce 50 of them to consider them ‘factory production’, which allowed them to be used in sanctioned racing. There were 38,762 total Corvettes built in 1969, so 116 is obviously a small percentage. To put that in perspective, there were 377.286 Honda Civics made in 2017. This means there were 1/10th as many total Corvettes made in 1969 as there were Civics in 2017. To make only 116 of any car makes it a rare car, no doubt, but this is still not the Rarest Corvette Ever.
The Rarest Corvette Ever
That brings us to the Rarest Corvette Ever, and this is the Corvette that enthusiasts dream about. In 1969, buyers were offered an even more amazing configuration than the L88. If someone wanted to drag race, they needed even more horsepower than they could get with the L88 package. Stock Car drivers also needed something to contend with the venerable rare Mustang 428 that had been torching the tracks. To remedy this situation, Chevrolet offered Corvette buyers a genie in a bottle – the fabled ZL1 option.
This was basically an addition to the L88, but replaced the cast iron block with a lighter and more effiicient all-aluminum engine block. Buyers still retained all the aforementioned go-fast goodies that the L88 offered, including the aluminum heads, lopey cam, and Holley 4 barrel. This made for a car that shook the ground when the engine started, and sent the competition into a panic. This option cost an additional $3,000, in addition to the $1,000 L88 option. This brought the total price of the car to around $8,500. A car of this nature was truly for the serious race teams only, as not many people could afford this. Someone could buy a 1969 Mustang Boss 302 Fastback brand new for $3,450. This $8,500 price tag was way out of line for almost everyone at a time when the average person didn’t make that much in a year. This was especially difficult to justify when considering the fact that this car was not really a daily driver.
Due to the hefty price and the fact that they were not street friendly, only 11 were ever made. These were made as prototypes and test models. Only 2 of these genies in a bottle were actually ordered and sold. Both of these cars survive today, and when it come to the rarest cars, this is certainly what I call the rarest Corvette ever. By the way, if you think that $8,500 price was crazy in 1969, the cars today are both valued at $1,400,000 USD each. That is what I call a return on investment! The ZL1 option was not a Corvette only package, either. The 1969 ZL1 Camaro was also a beast that had this option!
Leave your comment at the bottom of this page to let me know what you think! Have you ever seen a real ZL1 Corvette?
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