Harley Earl retired from a long and glorious career at General Motors in 1958, and among his many contributions to the brand was a car that would become a performance icon: the Chevrolet Corvette. In 1963, General Motors paid tribute to its longtime creative genius by giving him a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, styled and equipped to match one displayed at the 1963 Chicago Auto Show. Next month, Earl’s Corvette will cross the block at Mecum’s Chicago sale.
At first glance, the most noticeable features of the Harley Earl Corvette are its distinctive sidepipes. A closer look, however, reveals numerous details that would appear on later Corvettes, such as the dual-circuit four-wheel disc brakes that would debut in 1965. The chrome trim, exterior badging, dash knobs and hood were all parts that would debut in the 1965 model year as well, and the side pipes were a non-factory design originally seen on Larry Shinoda’s Mako Shark concept car. Even the instrumentation in Earl’s car, built under shop order (S.O.) 10323, was unique, including an altimeter, an accelerometer, a vacuum pressure gauge and an inside/outside thermometer. Power came from a 300 hp 327-cu.in. V-8, and S.O. 10323 also specified air conditioning to ensure Earl’s summertime comfort in the Florida sun.
According to Mecum’s auction description, Earl kept the car for just two years, though he reportedly drove it regularly on the streets of Palm Beach. It next went to a retired Army veteran from Maryland who used the car for a cross-country odyssey that became the subject of a local newspaper article. The Corvette would then drop from the radar until 1973, when it was purchased from a bankruptcy sale by a group looking to build a drag car. A detailed inspection soon revealed that the car was no ordinary Corvette, so the buyers opted to preserve their find intact.
In 1981, the one-of-a-kind Corvette was sold to Joe Clark, who was able to enlist the help of GM’s Design Center staff in both identifying and restoring the car (along with Corvette restoration specialist Bob Gold). Since completion, the car has been inducted into Bloomington Gold’s Great Hall in 2011. It also crossed the block at a couple of previous Mecum auctions, bidding up to $985,000 at Mecum’s 2009 Bloomington Gold sale and later selling for $925,000 at Mecum’s 2010 Indianapolis auction. In 2010, Mecum also sold a Corvette patterned after Earl’s and built for Bunkie Knudsen for $400,000.
Mecum’s Chicago sale will take place October 10-12 at the Schaumberg Convention Center in Schaumberg, Illinois. For more information, visit Mecum.com.