1969 Chevrolet Corvettes
The Chevy Corvette is one of the most iconic and recognized American sports cars around. In its long history, it has gone through several major iterations, and has devoted fans for each generation. Here, we explore the history of the rarest of all the Corvettes, the ’69 Corvette ZL-1.
Base Model Corvettes And The L88
There were several changes made to the Corvette line at the end of the decade. In fact, 1969 marked the year that the Chevy small block engine increased in size from 327 cubic inches to 350 (5.7 liters) and, although tires remained the same from previous base models, all new cars at this point featured 8-inch wide wheels. Additionally, positraction differentials were an option in the Corvette at this time, with nearly all cars receiving it from the factory.
The L88, however, was a different beast, coming equipped with a 427 cubic-inch engine, competition hood, a heavy-duty M22 four-speed transmission, and special brakes, suspension, and ignition system. To make the car a true L88, all the options had to be ordered for the full package.
In the fall of 1968, the ZL-1 was released, as an option on the ’69 Corvette, and instantly became a legend, if not most notably for its price tag. The ’69 Corvette ZL-1 was identical to the base models and the L88 in appearance but carried a $6,000 additional price tag. In fact, this was the first instance ever in which an upgraded option was priced more expensively than the base model, and the ZL-1’s price was nearly double that of the base Corvette at the time. This wouldn’t be true again until 2009, with the ZR-1 Corvette.
Additionally, there were four other options required to order the ZL-1 that included a K66 transistor ignition, an F41 special front and rear suspension, a J56 heavy-duty brake system, and a G81 positraction rear. These alone totaled only $63 less than the base model price. This brought the astounding total price of the ’69 Corvette ZL-1 to around $10,000, which would total around $68,800 in today’s terms. This, as it turned out, was far too high a price tag for consumers as only two cars were ever officially ordered, built, and shipped from Chevy.
With this upgrade, however, came an absolute beast. This car was designed to be Zora Arkus-Duntov’s ultimate racer kit option. It featured an all-aluminum engine, which had been a goal of Duntov’s since 1957. Although all-aluminum engines have been basically standard since 1997, cast iron blocks were the norm then, and the ZL-1’s engine broke new ground. In fact, the ZL-1 engine was sold separately to several professional racers at that time, even powering the MacLarens in the late 60s in the old Can-Am series and was additionally included in the special order ’69 ZL-1 Camaro, which is highly sought-after today.
Although the ZL-1 engine was basically an all-aluminum version of the iron L88 engine, the internal construction wasn’t the same. The journals and web areas were built for more bolting locations and the ability to handle the extra power. With the motor’s ability to accept a dry sump oiling system, an optional gear drive for the camshaft ground with a higher lift and different duration than the L88, the engine seemed almost exotic. This made for an all-out racing machine that was formidable to both road racing and drag racing. Though street legal, this car was not made for the street.
Nevertheless, prospective buyers opted instead for the far more cost-effective L88, leaving the ZL-1 with only two officially manufactured cars, making it the rarest Corvette in existence. Priced at an auction today, the L88 would go for about a third of the estimated $1.4 million price tag of the ZL-1.
So, with only two of these machines in existence, where are they now, and who owns them?
The best documented and most famous of the two cars is the yellow coupe with black stripes currently owned by Roger Judski. Roger, owner of Judski’s Corvette Center in Maitland, Florida, purchased the Corvette in 1991. After trying to buy the ZL-1 for 12 years, he was finally able to purchase it for $300,000, considered at the time to be a shocking amount of money. The car is frequently seen at big car shows, such as Bloomington Gold or Corvettes at Carlisle.
This whereabouts of this car remained unknown for quite some time. Ordered new by John Maher in 1968, the car was used heavily in race circuits. It sported a Gulf Oil sponsorship until it was recently restored back to its factory condition. The Monaco orange on black convertible sat unused roughly from 1972 until 1989, and went through a few restorations in its lifetime. It maintained its original owner until 2005, when it was bought by Bruce Perrone, who was one of the few to know of the car’s whereabouts from a young age. The car has recently begun showing up on display at car shows.
There is a great debate in the fan community as to the true number of ZL-1s in existence, between those that were potentially built, converted, or swapped around. As the history of this machine continues to garner legacy, it’s possible that more unofficial ZL-1s will surface around car shows or auctions. With the official records of GM, however, and the well-documented accounts of the two official cars’ owners, there is a lot of authenticity surrounding these two models. The 1969 Corvette ZL-1 is one classic American car that should be seen when it shows up at a local show.