1. home
  2. news
  3. Rarely Seen: The Five Rarest Corvettes Money Can Buy

Rarely Seen: The Five Rarest Corvettes Money Can Buy

Chevy has built roughly 1.5 million Corvettes, but you’ll pay the most for these five variants.

Rory JurneckaWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographerBarrett JacksonPhotographer

The Chevrolet Corvette is, simply put, an American icon. Earning the unofficial title of "America's Sports Car," Chevy has sold roughly 1.5 million of the fiberglass-bodied machines since it threw the switch on production in 1953. Just 300 C1 Corvettes were hand-built that first year on Chevy's Flint, Michigan, assembly line, all with "Blue Flame" straight-six engines, Polo White paint jobs, and two-speed automatic transmissions, making the 1953 version a rare Corvette, but not that rare. We've rounded up the five rarest Corvettes and, it may be interesting to note, each entry on our list of rarest Corvettes were built within the span of about a decade, from the early 1960s to the early 1970s.

  1. 1967 Corvette L88, 20 Built

The 1967 model year was the last for the C2-generation "midyear" Corvette, but the first for the wicked-powerful L88 package. Designed with competition in mind, the L88 package included heavy-duty brakes, a Positraction limited-slip differential, Muncie M22 four-speed manual gearbox, and the F41 sport suspension option. It also deleted just about everything that made the Corvette a peach to drive in the city but heavier than desired on a racetrack. That meant Chevy binned the air-conditioning system, along with the heater and radio.

But really, the L88 was all about its near-competition-spec 427-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) V-8 engine, which required 103-octane fuel what with its 12.5:1 compression ratio and myriad upgrades - from forged aluminum pistons to an aluminum racing-style radiator. Though factory rated at 430 horsepower, significantly less than the L89 package, those in the know saw the ruse with this rare Corvette.

Common knowledge is that General Motors used a lower-than-peak-rpm rating to discourage less knowledgeable buyers from running the L88 Corvettes on the road. Real output? Try upward of 500 hp. At a $1,500 premium, Chevy made just 20 in 1967 C2 form, though the L88 package continued with greater success for two more model years with the new C3 Corvette.

  1. 1967 Corvette L89, 16 built

In 1967, GM also produced a slightly less extreme Corvette with its L89 package. These Corvettes started with the L71-spec 427-cubic-inch V-8 rated at 435 hp, but they added the aluminum cylinder heads from the L88, giving some 475 hp and making this the most serious factory Corvette you could still reasonably drive on the street. The option cost about $400, but found just 16 buyers—four fewer than the wild L88, making for another worthy entry on the list of rarest Corvettes.

  1. 1971 Corvette ZR2, 12 built

This member of the rarest Corvettes club—the C3 Corvette—was all-new for 1968 with a more curvaceous profile than the shark-nosed C2, and GM engineers wanted an even wilder engine for the new-generation car. The L88 package ran its course by the end of the 1969 model year and was replaced with the new ZR1 for 1970.

The ZR1 was based on a small-block 350-cubic-inch engine, as opposed to the whopping 427 L88, which powerful as it may have been, didn't have the sheer bark of the larger-displacement engine. For 1971 only, that was rectified with the ZR2 package, including a 454-cubic-inch (7.4-liter) LS6 V-8 rated (and probably underrated) at 425 hp. While output wasn't quite as strong as big blocks in years gone by thanks to new emissions standards that reduced compression ratios, the ZR2 was plenty capable, with the M22 four-speed gearbox, heavy-duty brakes, sport suspension, and aluminum radiator similar to the old L88, along with air-conditioning and radio delete.

A $1,750 premium and fewer creature comforts led to just 12 1972 ZR2s being special ordered; Chevy canceled the package for the following model year.

  1. 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, Five Built

In the early 1960s, GM, Ford, and Chrysler had an agreement in place with the American Manufacturers' Association to abstain from factory motorsports programs. The move allowed the Detroit Three to focus on volume-production models and not go down the cash-burning wormhole that is auto racing.

Still, the much-loved "Father of the Corvette," Zora Arkus-Duntov, had a burning desire to see his new C2 Corvette take on the world's best sports cars at home and abroad. The 1963 Corvette Z06 got halfway there, with a 327-cubic-inch, 360-hp engine, 36-gallon endurance-racing fuel tank, and track-spec brakes and suspension that made it a hit with privateer drivers.

The ultra-rare 1963 Corvette Grand Sport was even better. With an all-aluminum 377-cubic-inch V-8 making 550 hp, more weight reduction from the modified body, and other improvements, Arkus-Duntov's goal was to distribute five of these cars to some of the country's best independent drivers and then show GM executives how successful they were. Surely, GM would then let him build the 125 cars needed to homologate them in GT racing.

As it turned out, things didn't go to plan. The five cars were built and raced, beating the Cobras at the 1963 Nassau Grand Prix, but GM put its foot down with regard to the racing ban and the program went no further. The cars were all sold off and various drivers snapped them up, including Roger Penske, who won the 1964 Nassau Trophy race with his. We drove a Superformance re-creation of this rare Corvette once, which you can read about here.

  1. 1969 Corvette ZL1, Two Built

Today, the ZL1 name means one thing: supercharged Camaro performance. More than 50 years ago, it meant the most powerful street Corvette the world had ever seen, and ultimately the rarest Corvette of all time.

Just one year into the new Corvette program, the ZL1's all-aluminum 427-cubic-inch, dry-sump V-8 engine came along, and though it was again underrated at some 430 hp, true output approached 600 hp. Various options were necessary before GM would supply you a ZL1 engine, including the F41 suspension package, G81 Positraction rear end, J56 heavy-duty brakes, and K66 transistorized ignition system. Once again, air conditioning and a radio were not available. This was the most expensive option package yet, ringing in at about the price of a new base Corvette all by itself.

As you might imagine, just two of these special ZL1 Corvettes were actually sold (one yellow, one white), but selling cars wasn't really the point, after all. Really, the ZL1 engine was developed to allow Chevy to keep a presence in the SCCA's wild Can-Am racing series, where Bruce McLaren would commission the engines for his race cars. The payoff was worth it, with McLaren winning 32 of 37 Can-Am races between 1968 and 1971. In fact, strong rumors say that the same yellow ZL1 Coupe sold for $300,000 to a well-known Corvette collector decades ago. True or not, the car would certainly be worth multiples of that today; being No. 1 on the list of all-time rarest Corvettes will do that for you.

Rarest Corvettes:

  1. 1967 Corvette L88, 20 Built
  2. 1967 Corvette L89, 16 built
  3. 1971 Corvette ZR2, 12 built
  4. 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, Five Built
  5. 1969 Corvette ZL1, Two Built

Rare Corvettes at Auction: