36 rare vintage Corvettes found in a Manhattan garage after they were abandoned for decades will be raffled off for charity
Corvette Heroes is hosting a nationwide raffle of 36 Chevrolet Corvettes — one from every production year between 1953 and 1989. Before being restored for the contest, the Corvette collection was hidden in different Manhattan garages for 25 years. Benefits from the giveaway will go to the National Guard Educational Foundation. The Corvettes are now being displayed in an interactive 3D online auto show. Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
A historic collection of 36 classic Corvettes saved from dilapidation after being hidden underground in a Manhattan garage for decades will soon be given away in a nationwide sweepstakes. Corvette Heroes is hosting The Lost Corvettes sweepstakes that will be giving away the cars that it touts as the "greatest barn find in automotive history." The Corvette collection has an unusual backstory: this isn't the first time all 36 of the Corvettes have been given away together. They were originally a part of a 1989 giveaway that landed the cars in the hands of a Long Island man who then passed the cars along to artist Peter Max. Max, however, left the Corvette collection untouched in multiple Manhattan garages for decades before the current team acquired the fleet and decided to host a new giveaway. The sweepstakes collection includes a Corvette from every production year between 1953 to 1989. This does not include 1983, the one year Chevrolet didn't make a Corvette, although Chris Mazzilli, a Corvette enthusiast and integral player in the giveaway, created his own version of a 1983 Corvette for an episode of History Channel's special series "The Lost Corvettes" which focuses on the restoration of the 36 car collection. The Corvettes can now be viewed in an online virtual and interactive auto show that allows people to read each individual car engine's specs, hear the sound of the engine, listen to the car "radio" that plays the hit song from the model's year, and more. The giveaway will stop accepting admissions on September 8, and the drawing of the winners will take place on September 30. Entrants cannot select which car they'd like to win as everyone is automatically entered for all 36 Corvettes. However, people can purchase as many entries as they'd like: a ticket costs $3, five tickets cost $10, and 20 tickets cost $25. The proceeds will go to supporting the National Guard Educational Foundation. Oregon is exempt from the giveaway due to sweepstakes laws. Keep scrolling to learn about the unusual history of these 36 Corvettes:SEE ALSO: I took a private NYC tour in a vintage 1933 Buick with startup Nowaday and I saw a different side of the city This isn’t the first time this set of Corvettes has gone up for auction.
In 1989, VH1 held a sweepstakes that gave all 36 Corvettes to a single owner.
"We walked into this conference room and [a guy] picked up a blanket over the table and in it were little reproductions of 36 Corvettes," CEO of Bungalow Media + Entertainment and member of the startup team at MTV Robert Friedman told Business Insider about the meeting where the initial sweepstakes was first pitched.
"We took a look and our mouths were wide open ... and we decided this would be, in effect ... our tenfold promotion that helped define what VH1 meant to at that time the American consumer," he continued.
VH1 paid $610,000 for the vehicles, according to DesignYourTrust.
Source: DesignYourTrust "Just the imagination of one person winning these 36 cars...it was something we could really taste by taking a look at this conference room," Freidman said.
At the time, people had to either dial in or send a postcard to participate at $1.99 per entry. About 1.5 to 2 million people entered the original contest, Mike Heller told Business Insider. The Heller family — along with the Spindler family — currently owns the Corvette collection.
"None of us went into this thinking we could make some money," Freidman said. "The numbers were so big, in the millions of entries, and as a result, we actually made people [talk] about it being $2 or $3 or $4 million of profit."
"No one thought about this as a revenue-producing project," he continued. "It was an image project."
Dennis Amodeo from Huntington, Long Island won the sweepstake.
Amodeo then sold the 36 vehicles to Peter Max, a commercial pop artist who had been following the sweepstake, according to Heller.
Amodeo struck the deal with Max, who then took the cars back to Manhattan once the giveaway ceremony was over.
At this point, all of the vehicles were presentable and drivable but needed work, according to Freidman and Heller.
Max planned on painting all the cars for an exhibition and auctioning them off again at Yankee Stadium, according to Mazzilli.
But in the end, the most Max did was some paper test color strips on the side of the cars.
Instead of being a massive art collection, the Corvettes sat untouched in Manhattan garages for 25 years.
“It was the beginning of the contemporary art craze,” Freidman said. “[We] were going to paint these things, auction them off and do something for charity, but I never heard anything else. I just assumed they were sold one by one.”
Heller's father, Scott, had a working relationship with Max and helped move Max's Corvettes around the city whenever the garage or building the cars were stored at was sold.
“We watched as these cars were slowly falling into disrepair over the years,” Heller recalled.
Finally, in 2014, the Heller and Spindler families purchased the Peter Max Collection after Max decided he wasn't going to do anything with the vehicles.
Around this time, the families approached Chris Mazzilli, a Corvette car collector, and asked if he wanted to help consult and restore the cars. Mazzilli is a "die-hard Corvette expert and builder," according to the History Channel.
Source: History Channel Mazzilli agreed and called his business partner Dave Weber, who co-owns Dream Car Restorations with Mazzilli, to go visit the garage in Upper Manhattan where all of the Corvettes were stored with him.
"We walked in and all 36 cars were sitting there entombed in dust," Mazzilli recalls. "They hadn't been touched in years, and I mean ... some of them had like a quarter-inch of dust ... bird doo, crud, flat tires."
Seeing the cars in such a dilapidated manner made the hair on Mazzilli’s arms stick up, he said.
"It took my breath away," Mazzilli recalled.
“Being a guy who has loved Corvettes all his life as far back as I can remember, seeing these cars all in one place,” Mazzilli continued. “It was really unbelievable.”
Mazzilli and Weber started going through all 36 cars in the garage and took notes on what the predicted value of the collection could be. The Heller and Spindler family purchased the cars at an undisclosed price.
When the families first purchased the collection, they had no further plans for the vehicles besides wanting to “restore [the] cars back to their former glory,” Heller said.
However, they didn’t have an execution plan in place.
Mazzilli then suggested the idea of turning the "barn find" into a television series and pitched Friedman specifically, who then helped the show get sold.
“We all came together [and] came up with an idea of ‘why don’t we redo the sweepstakes that was wildly popular 30 years ago today?’” Heller said.
The group also decided to use the sweepstakes as an opportunity to benefit a charity, specifically the National Guard Educational Foundation.
They wanted the charity to be veteran-based, and decided the NGEF was "aligned with [their] values," according to Heller.
Thus began the start of the six-episode History Channel special “The Lost Corvettes” that focuses on the restoration of the 36-car collection…
...as well as the start of the process of preparing the cars to be given away again.
"The History Channel has been a fabulous partner in this, one in terms of the series itself, which did extremely well, but more importantly in terms of being a promotional partner with us," Freidman said.
The team wanted the show to appeal to both car users and the general History Channel audience.
“There was an opportunity for us to really tell some great stories about these cars that combine not only great storytelling but for car enthusiasts, the opportunity to fix them,” Freidman continued. “Most of them didn’t drive, so we just thought the timing of this was perfect.”
Heller estimates that the entire collection is worth between $2.5 to $3 million, and Freidman hopes the money being brought in after the sweepstakes will be in the millions.
Heller claims most of the value lies in the 1953 to 1959 Corvettes because those are the "real classic cars" while the 1967 and 1969 are replicas.
Some of the cars are still in the process of being repaired today at the Dream Car Restorations shop on Long Island.
The rest of the collection, still unrepaired and unrestored, is sitting in a Manhattan garage.
“Every car needs something different,” Mazzilli explained.
The 1953 Corvette had the most extensive damages and required 4,000 hours of restoration.
This is because the car was initially in rough shape when it was first purchased decades ago, according to Mazzilli. “We had to do everything on that car,” he recalls.
The '53 is also one of the most valuable cars in the collection, according to Heller. He claims the 1953 Corvette is worth close to half a million dollars.
Other Corvettes require a 40-hour fix, especially the newer builds.
The 1989 Corvette only took 20 to 30 hours to repair.
This is because it still had "very good" paint on it and a new car smell on the inside, according to Mazzilli.
The '89 Corvette had only clocked 7,500 miles before it was tucked away in the garage.
The team tries to do repairs in similar year groups so buying parts is simpler.
The most common issue in the vehicles is the carpets and upholstery that either needed to be repaired or replaced, according to Heller.
“It’s mostly cosmetics and minor mechanical work,” Heller said.
Most of the mechanics of the vehicles didn’t need extensive work.
Mazzilli’s favorite is the 1955 Corvette, pictured below.
“[The ‘55] is the first year that they debuted the V8 engine in a Corvette,” Mazzilli explained.
Heller and Freidman's favorite is the 1956 Corvette more, pictured below. The collection's Cascade Green 1956 — similar to the 1958 version below — build has a particularly special history: the sporty Corvette was featured in Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" during the Jimmy Fallon episode. It also retains its original factory paint job.
Chris Mazzilli, who also owns Gotham Comedy Club in New York, has a close relationship with Seinfeld, who is a car-lover, according to Heller.
"Chris told Jerry years ago about this collection and the whole story and said, 'A car you want to use for your show, by all means,''' Heller explained.
Seinfeld, who had Fallon coming up, looked through the photos of the collection, and the “ immediately stuck out as a fun car,” according to Heller.
“It’s bittersweet,” Heller said when describing how he felt about the sweepstakes. “Over the years, as you see the cars being fixed up and really return to their former glory, you can't help but get attached to them.
"Our hope is that [the 36 winners] go on to love these cars and the story will live on," Heller said. "We get people contacting us from all over the world who are Corvette lovers and they see the story and they're just blown away."
Corvettes have historically been at the center of American fascination, and both Freidman and Mazzilli agree that the Corvette is the country’s first true sports car.
"[The Corvette is an] interesting concept ... because it's either sort of led or followed what was going on in any given year," Freidman says, giving an example of the gas crisis.
"In years where there was no gas crisis, it was fine to have a gas guzzler sports car, and then years when there was a gas crisis, you saw the [Corvette] reflect culture and the powerful engine was downgraded so it wouldn't use as much gas," he further reflected.
Freidman claims Corvettes are steeped in history and storytelling.
He also hopes this isn't the end of the story of these 36 Corvettes. Someday in the future, Freidman wants to tell the stories of the Corvettes and its new owners.
"You know your kids leave the house and you're happy assuming they're happy, but on the other hand you're sad and disappointed?" Freidman asked. "This is really how I feel about this. It's been a great ride."