Find or Sell any Parts for Your Vehicle in USA

Unique Corvette built for 'Bunkie' Knudsen heads to auction

Mon, 24 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0700

Rare Corvettes are in the news these days, and one car that's drawing quite a bit of attention from collectors is a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette styling car known as the "Bunkie" Knudsen Corvette, built for Chevrolet general manager Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen. In just a few days, this uniquely styled 1963 Sting Ray convertible distinguished by it intricately designed side exhaust will be going up for auction.

But what's the backstory of this car?

The origins of this 1963 Corvette Sting Ray convertible show car date back to the 1959 Sting Ray racer built for the New York Auto Show designed by Larry Shinoda. That concept in turn inspired the XP-755 show car, also known as the Mako Shark. The Mako Shark was a huge hit on the auto how circuit at the time, and was a favorite of a number of GM executives. Chevrolet general manager Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, son of former General Motors president William S. Knudsen, arranged for Chevrolet Engineering to build him a roadgoing copy of the XP-755 for his own personal use, incorporating the external side-exhaust system, and featuring a Crimson Firefrost metallic lacquer finish topped by a white stripe and a white convertible top.

But that wasn't it, as the interior received a number of custom touches as well, including a custom shift console assembly, and 1964 model year seats finished in white naugahyde with maroon stripes. The door panels were also upholstered with white naugahyde with unique chrome-plated brass trim plate, along with traditional Corvette crossed-flag emblems, and slotted stainless steel floor grille plates. The steering wheel was crafted with two types of wood used on the rim, and the instrumentation from the 1964 model year cars was installed. Over the next few years a couple things were further tweaked on this unique car, including the installation of later instruments and 1967 model year seat belts.

Mecum Auctions
The car had quite a few differences underhood, all of which have been restored.

Under the hood, Chevrolet engineering swapped out the cast aluminum surfaces on the fuel injected 327-cid small block for chrome plates and crinkle-finish black paint. For the unique exhaust system to fit, the engine was modified as well, with the heater box being trimmed for clearance and the battery being relocated just behind the passenger seat.

Knudsen's Corvette was one of his daily drivers in his personal fleet of cars, which at the time included the Corvair, Nova, and Impala convertibles, which also featured the Crimson Firefrost paint. After the Corvette was returned to the engineering team at the factory, the external exhaust system was removed though other internal modifications stayed. The car was fitted with a stock exhaust system, and was eventually sold to a designer at Chevrolet Engineering, later passing through the hands of several owners in the Detroit area.

The Corvette was discovered in the early 1980s by Corvette collector Wally Abela in pretty sad shape after being neglected by its past owners, essentially serving as scaffold in a garage. It needed a complete restoration, and Abela along with noted Corvette expert Werner Meier spent several years bringing it back to its original appearance. Eight different fabrication and machine shops worked on recreating the side exhaust system alone.

Mecum Auctions
The custom interior has been restored.

The restored "Bunkie" Knudsen Corvette made its debut at the 1988 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance, and later appeared at several other concours events around the country. It was even exhibited at the National Corvette Museum from the date of its opening in 1994 until 2001, later passing into the collection of Bob McDorman in 2003. In 2010 the car passed into another private collection, later finding its way into Illinois collector Davis Nelsen's Acacia Collection, making an appearance at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.

The "Bunkie" Knudsen Corvette will be offered for sale at Mecum Auctions' Houston sale on Saturday, April 14.

Visit the auction's website for a complete list of lots and directions.

By Jay Ramey