This article is from Hagerty, by Brandan Gillogly // December 16, 2019 and pictures credited to Mecum
What does it take to become the most desirable Corvette ever built? How about one of the meanest 427 big-blocks to ever roll out of Detroit and a road-racing pedigree to go with it? Just 20 Corvettes were equipped with the race-bred L88 powerplant for 1967, and this convertible is documented as being the first. After a no-sale at an auction appearance earlier this year when the bid crept past $1.5 million, the first-ever L88 Corvette is headed to Mecum’s Kissimmee sale, where it could take the title of most expensive Corvette sold at auction.
Chevrolet had a phenomenal year in 1967. The brand launched a new generation of pickup trucks and introduced the world to the Camaro, which debuted the 350 V-8, the engine that would go on to be the standard bearer for the Chevrolet small-block for decades. It was also the final year for the second-generation Corvette, one of the most beautiful cars ever built. As a send-off, Chevrolet gave the 1967 Sting Ray a little-known engine option meant for racing, the L88 427.
The Mark IV 427 big-block debuted in 1966 and boasted up to 450 horsepower in the Corvette thanks to the L72 engine and its solid lifter cam. Later builds of the L72 were labeled as producing 425 horsepower, while no mechanical changes were made, creating a bit of Corvette lore as to why Chevrolet would care to sandbag its power ratings. It wouldn’t be the last time, either.
The L88 engine took the L72’s foundation and added aluminum heads and an even more radical camshaft with 326/334 degrees of duration at .015 lift on the intake and exhaust, respectively, and an equally wild .540/.560 inches of lift. The new heads and forged aluminum pistons set the static compression at 12.5:1–up from 11.0:1 on the L72–and meant the engine would require 103 octane gas for proper operation. With all of its racy parts, the L88 was rated at 430 horsepower, five horsepower less than the triple-carbed L71 that was otherwise identical to the L72. Who did Chevy think it was fooling?
Each of the 20 L88 Corvettes built in 1967 also came with a bevy of high-performance options bundled with it, including the burly M22 “rock-crusher” four-speed, F41 suspension, heavy-duty power brakes, G81 Positraction differential, performance radiator, and radio/heater delete. It made it a formidable track tool and that’s just what it was used for, as it was raced by Tony DeLorenzo in 1967 with lots of SCCA checkered flags to show for it. In 1968, Yenko Stinger veteran Jerry Thompson also got some seat time as Owens-Corning and eventually Hanley Dawson Chevrolet sponsored the car in competition where it successfully held its own against Cobras.
After its race career ended in the early 1980s, Ken and Gary Naber restored the Sting Ray and it began collecting other trophies, this time at car shows. It has won several National Corvette Restorers Society Top Flight Awards as well as the Muscle Cars and Corvette Nationals Triple Diamond award.
All of those accolades, and those are just a sample, mean that this will likely be one of the most talked-about cars at the upcoming Kissimmee auction. The current record for most expensive Corvette is held by a 1967 L88 Coupe which sold in 2014 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale for $3.85M and this car may have a shot at taking the crown.
Its race pedigree is balanced by the fact that it was extensively modified for race use and lead a tough life. Some buyers may prefer an unrestored example, but as far as big-block Corvettes that left the factory with the goal of track domination in mind, few can compare.