As the legendary designer and former head of GM’s Color and Style department, Harley Earl will always be remembered for his contributions to automotive design he made during his reign at GM in the heyday of America’s automotive manufacturing era. It was Earl that envisioned the idea of a two-seater sports car in the early 50′s and that idea culminated with the unveiling of the Corvette at the 1953 Motorama Show in New York.
Harley retired in 1958 but stayed connected to General Motors as an automotive consultant. In 1963, the corporation honored his service with the gift of a personalized 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Roadster that matched another 1963 Corvette built for Chicago Auto Show.
Earl kept the Corvette for two years and the two became a regular site around him home in Palm Beach, Florida. Harley drove the Corvette on a parade lap when he was honored as the Grand Marshall at Daytona in 1965.
Earl sold the Corvette to an Army veteran in 1965 and the car vanished until 1973 when it was purchased for $1,500 by a group who, unaware of its history, intended to run it as a drag car. As the Corvette had several unique characteristics, the group thought the car might be of some significance and decided not to convert it into a racer.
In 1980, the group took the ’63 Corvette to Carlisle where it was offered for sale. While there were no takes that weekend, the Harley Earl Corvette did catch the eye of Corvette enthusiast Joe Clark.
Clark could not stop thinking about the Corvette and he began to realize there was something special about the roadster so in 1981, he lead a group to purchase the car after a thorough inspection.
Although it had a 1963 VIN, the Corvette was fitted with several 1965-vintage components and a number of items that were never Corvette production options like the side-exit exhausts that ran through the body-work, instruments that were installed in the glovebox panel, metal footwell plates, custom leather seats and door panels.
Other features of this unique Corvette: The chrome trim and exterior emblems, interior control knobs and four-wheel disc brakes were all 1965 parts as was the hood. The headers intruded into the area where the battery was stored so it was relocated behind the passenger seat. Although the trim tag showed the Corvette originally was red, the Corvette was painted blue.
While disassembling the car one evening, Joe Clark made a discovery behind one of the door trim panels, a hand written number code: S.O.10323. Contacting the GM Design Staff, they confirmed that the car was the very one custom built as a gift to Harley Earl.
Born as a Fuel-Injected Red Corvette Convertible that likely did service as a pool car or test mule, the car was designated Shop Order (S.O.) 10323 and was built after the Chicago Show Car was completed. Records show the unique instruments in the glovebox were slated for the Chicago Corvette but as they weren’t ready at the time, they were added to the Earl Corvette instead.
Like the Chicago Auto Show Corvette, Earl’s Corvette was painted Medium Blue with custom leather interior and white seat trim. Both had the Larry Shinoda-designed side exhaust that was originally seen on the Mako Shark concept car. Finally, the fuel injected small block engine was replaced with a 327/300 V8 which, with the addition of air conditioning, made the Corvette much more suited to being a daily driver in South Florida’s climate.
The GM Design Staff also assisted in the restoration of the Corvette. The missing original S.O. plate was replaced with a correct replica as have the “General Motors Styling” badges that appear on the front fenders. GM also supplied the specifications to Al Knock Interiors to replicate the original interior.
The Harley Earl Corvette is a one-of-a-kind factory special with a historic pedigree. The Corvette is expected to cross the auction block during the Mecum auction held at the Bloomington Gold Corvette show on Saturday, June 27th.
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