Rare 1963 Corvette once owned by famed GM designer heads to auction

This 1963 Chevrolet Corvette was once owned by famed GM designer Harley Earl. Mecum Auctions, the company selling the car Oct. 12, estimates the car could sell for $1.5 million to $2 million.
(Sam Murtaugh / Mecum Auctions)

If you stepped into any U.S. car in the first half of the 20th century, it’s likely the late Harley Earl directly or indirectly influenced its design. Now a well-heeled buyer will be able to step into one of his actual cars.

Mecum Auctions has announced it will offer Earl’s own custom-built 1963 Chevrolet Corvette convertible at its Chicago auction Saturday, Oct. 12. The pre-sale estimate for the car is $1.5 million to $2 million.

Earl worked at General Motors from the 1920s through the 1950s and rose to vice president. His flamboyant designs have resulted in him roundly being considered the godfather of U.S. car aesthetic.

PHOTOS: Harley Earl’s custom 1963 Corvette


Earl’s contributions to the industry include tail fins, the Corvette, the practice of using concept cars to tease future models and planned obsolescence from one model year to the next.

Earl retired from GM in 1958. In 1963 the automaker built a custom Corvette as a gift for his decades of work. He owed it for two years, Mecum said.

The car was originally a red convertible, probably used as a test car by GM. It was painted metallic blue, with custom blue leather seats and white trim, Mecum said.

It was then customized with pieces that wouldn’t land on production Corvettes until 1965, including the hood, four-wheel disc brakes, chrome trim and the exterior badging. Other changes include the rare multi-piped exhaust running out the side of the car, just behind the front wheels. Only three other Corvettes are known to feature such a design.

Other custom flourishes made in Earl’s honor are a dashboard in front of the passenger with a series of gauges. The dials show lateral acceleration, altitude, inside and outside temperatures, and vacuum pressure, Mecum said.

Mechanically, the car is largely unchanged. It features a fuel-injected 327-cubic-inch V-8 that puts out 300 horsepower, and a four-speed manual transmission, Mecum said.

Based on its rarity and unique history, the car was an easy inductee into the Corvette Hall of Fame. It joins hundreds of other classic (and not so classic) cars at Mecum’s Chicago sale, which runs Oct. 10 to 12.

2013 has been a seminal year for the Corvette marque. The seventh generation recently went on sale and has been receiving wide acclaim from critics (you can read our review here).


On the vintage side, a rare 1968 Corvette L88 convertible recently sold at another Mecum auction for $3.4 million, a world record price for any Corvette at auction. Few Corvettes match that model’s value, but if there’s one that could top it, it could very well be Earl’s.


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