Have you ever looked at a Craigslist car ad and thought, “I wonder if I should take a chance?” Here’s one that was posted on Craigslist in the Tampa Bay area of Florida about five years ago: ”SERIAL # X53L on documented 1953 pre-production Corvette Frame. We believe this to be a 1953 Pontiac prototype that was to assume the name Longoria? Info received todate indicates that ZAGATO designed and PINNAFARINA constructed the body for GM in late 52.” The typos and misspelling might have been one clue that the person who wrote the ad did not know much about the car being offered.
“Might anyone have knowledge of some former FISHER BODY executive that could assist in further identifying this automobile?” the ad concluded. This basket case could have been yours for perhaps $700. To no one’s surprise, it didn’t sell. Here’s what that wreck actually was: arguably, the most sought-after Corvette ever built. Today it is very likely worth several million dollars.It is the storied No. 1 Cunningham Corvette.
Instead of a “documented 1953 pre-production Corvette Frame” this car is a 1960 model that was among three turned into racecars by the sportsman Briggs Cunningham. He raced them at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year; the cars, marked “1”, “2” and “3”, took turns leading the race and delighting fans with their thunderous V-8 engines. Numbers 1 and 2 did not finish, but number 3 did, winning its class and a permanent place in Corvette lore.
It was expected the cars would be preserved in a museum collection after the race, but Cunningham turned them back into street-legal cars and they were sold through a Chevy dealer. After that, the cars disappeared for a number of years.
Number 3 was found first, and restored by the late Chip Miller and his son Lance. Number 2 turned up in an Irwindale, Cali., junkyard a few years ago; it was eventually acquired and restored by Bruce Meyer, a collector and Petersen Automotive Museum board member. But Number 1 proved elusive until a few years ago, when enthusiasts looking for it discovered the purple beast in the Craigslist ad.
A years-long tug of war over ownership ensued. To make a very long, tortuous story short: The Corvette—now positively identified as the Number 1 Cunningham Corvette—is owned by Gino Burelli, an Indiana car dealer and collector.
Under terms of a 2015 legal agreement, Burelli will commission noted Corvette restorer Kevin Mackay of Valley Stream, N.Y., to bring the car back to its original glory. Mackay earned acclaim for his restoration of Miller’s Number 3 Corvette.
The restoration, estimates attorney Bryan Shook, a vintage car legal specialist who helped Mackay through the legal dealings, could take a year and cost more than $500,000. (As of this writing, the car is in Indiana, in Burelli’s possession, awaiting a final payment agreed upon in the legal settlement, Shook said.)
Shook said he expects Burelli will sell the car. “He’s shopping it,” Shook said. And a price of $3 million to $7 million – “possibly more” – is not unlikely, Shook added.
The exact story of where the first Cunningham Corvette was for the half-century it was missing may never be fully known. But it appears that at some point it was intended for use as a drag racer. Its blue-on-white racing livery was replaced by gaudy purple paint, poorly applied. And key components, including the original engine, disappeared.
But Mackay said he has molds and rare spare parts still available from his restoration of Miller’s Corvette to finish the job to a very high standard.
When it goes up for sale sometime in the next year or two, don’t expect to see it on Craigslist. You missed your chance.