For being an old race car, this 1960 Corvette has generated more than a number of headlines following its rediscovery in a St. Petersburg, Florida warehouse back in 2012. Since then it was said to be stolen and then its ownership claims were subjected to a number of lawsuits. This long strange saga of the former racer could finally be coming to a close. The latest news is that the ex-Le Mans race car will headline the RM Sothebys auction at Amelia Island this May.
The 1960 Corvette was one of three set up for racing by American Privateer Briggs Cunningham who received clandestine assistance from Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov for the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans. Chassis number 3535 would race at Le Mans wearing No. 1 and it would retire following an accident during the race’s 32nd lap. The No. 2 Corvette in the race would also retire but the No. 3 Corvette driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman would finish first in class and eighth overall.
Following the race, the Corvettes were shipped back to the States where they were converted back to stock trim and sold as used, its new owners never knowing the significance of them until years later. The no. 2 Corvette was identified early on and landed in the collection of Bruce Meyers. Corvette Restorer Kevin Mackay found the winning No. 3 Corvette which was restored back to its Le Mans livery by Chip Miller. But the no. 2 Corvette would remain hidden until 2012.
During his search, Kevin had located the chassis numbers for the three cars which were eventually published by the Briggs Cunningham auto museum following the death of Chip Miller in 2004 to Amyloidosis. Eight years after the passing of Chip Miller, the car was apparently discovered in a Florida warehouse and the subsequent google search of the VIN identified it as the no. 1 Le Mans Corvette. The Corvette was then sold on a bill of sale to Kevin Mackay and Lance Miller who showed off the car for the first time at Corvettes at Carlisle.
That 2012 public reveal at Carlisle was marred when a Florida man named Dan Mathis Jr claimed the car has been stolen from his father in the late 1970s and ownership of the car was further muddied after Mathis obtained a certificate of title for the car from the State of Florida. Local and state police were called to the Carlisle show before determining that this was a civil matter.
Mathis filed suit in Federal Court over his ownership of the car, but then filed for bankruptcy several months later and sold his “interest” in the 1960 Le Mans racer to automotive collectors Domenico Idoni and Gino Burelli who continued to press the courts for ownership of the car. After nearly three years of legal wrangling in various courtrooms, a federal judge ruled in 2015 that the car would be owned in a three-way partnership crafted by lawyers representing Burelli and Mackay that will end the ownership dispute of the car. In the agreement, Mackay’s partners would have to pay him $750,000 to buy out his 30% interest in the car.
Following a separate lawsuit on an unrelated claim against Idoni, plaintiff Larry Martin was awarded $250,600 and was able to file a lien against Idoni’s interest in the 1960 Corvette which grew to nearly $500,000. Martin tried to have the Corvette seized and sold to satisfy that judgment but Burelli was able to temporarily stop that by buying out Idoni’s interest in the car.
Burelli ran into financial difficulties with his commercial property business and was sued by Key Bank for defaulting on $3.6 million in loans. Burelli was told to sell his 70% interest in the car by March 31, 2019. That same year, Burelli had another lawsuit filed against him and his automotive dealerships for $28 million and he was forced to close Harbor Buick GMC in Portage, Indiana where the car had been stored. Mackay asked the court for an emergency hearing saying the car was in danger from creditors and it was unsure whether its multi-million dollar insurance policy was still active.
Martin filed a motion in that case and the judge agreed to have a receiver appointed who would take possession of the car and sell it at a future no-reserve auction. With all the parties bound to the agreement, whoever buys the car will take it free and clear of all the claims.
RM Sotheby’s recently announced that the 1960 Le Mans Corvette would be offered at no reserve during its Amelia Island auction to be held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on May 22nd. Early estimates for the car range from $900,000 to $1.3 million.
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