Corvettes have been good to car dealer and racing legend Rick Hendrick.
He had his first date with his wife in one nearly half a century ago.
Then, in 1976, he sold that same Corvette to pay for his first car dealership in South Carolina. Today, he owns 94 dealerships, 15 of which are Chevrolet stores, from the Carolinas to California (none in Michigan).
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But the Corvette that Hendrick, 70, bought on Saturday is in a different league. It’s the one of his boyhood dreams. It is the first mid-engine 2020 Corvette Stingray.
“I’ve been going to those auctions for 25 to 30 years and I’ve bought a lot of No.1s at auction for charity,” Hendrick told the Free Press this week. “But nothing like this car. This had bidders from all over the world. It was so much drama. When you have the CEO of General Motors on the stage, that’s a big deal.”
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A wild scene
Hendrick happens to own one of the largest private collections of Corvettes in the world, including several with VIN number 0001. He is a member of the Corvette Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
So it’s fitting that the mid-engine Corvette with VIN number 0001 would wind up in Hendrick’s garage, even at an eye-popping $3 million. The money is donated to the Detroit Children’s Fund.
The car, a 3LT with the Z51 performance package, crossed the block at the 49th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction in Arizona on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Hendrick said. The energy in the room amplified instantly with the crowd “screaming and the auctioneer was screaming, it was wild,” he said.
Outside, tens of thousands of people milled about hoping to witness the rare cars at auction, he said.
Barrett Jackson said the auction was its largest and most successful in its 49-year history. The event, which went January 11-19, had a “record number of bidders” vying for over 1,900 vehicles that sold for $129.7 million. There were nearly 1,200 pieces of “automobilia” that brought in more than $3.7 million, Barrett Jackson said. Also, $7.6 million was raised through the sale of nine charity vehicles, bringing the total amount sold on the Barrett-Jackson auction block to more than $141 million.
The top non-charity vehicle sold that day was a 2017 Ford GT for $1.5 million, Barrett Jackson’s news release said. Besides the 2020 Corvette, the second-highest selling charity vehicle was the first production 2021 Lexus LC 500 Convertible Inspiration Series VIN 100001 for $2 million.
“But this is a car many people had their eye on. I was hoping I could get it and it didn’t get out of my price range,” said Hendrick, who declined to disclose his range, but said the $3 million he paid for it, “was close to my limit.”
The car that Hendrick bid on at auction was a pre-production prototype, a stand-in if you will. GM’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Kentucky will begin production of the actual cars in early February. Shipments to customers start before the end of February, GM said.
“I’ll go to the plant and watch it come off the line,” said Hendrick of the actual car he bought. “They have an unbelievable Corvette museum there in Bowling Green and I’ll put it in there for a few days and then bring it home.”
King of Corvettes
Home is Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Hendrick’s company headquarters are located. He is CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group and Chairman of Hendrick Motor Sports, the championship NASCAR racing empire he started in 1984.
On the Motor Sports campus, located in Concord, North Carolina about 20 miles north of Charlotte, there is the production center where engineers and technicians meticulously spend months hand-building NASCAR vehicles, which each cost about $100,000. There is an area where the pit crews practice for hours daily to shave off a millisecond during a race’s refueling and tire change stop.
Next to all that sits Hendrick’s personal refuge, the Heritage Center. It is a 58,000-square-foot building with nearly 210 of the rarest cars in the world inside. Of those cars, 120 are Corvettes. Getting inside is invitation only.
This is where Hendrick will put the 2020 Corvette Stingray when he gets it next month, he said,
“I won’t ever drive it,” said Hendrick, who opts to tool around in a black GMC Tahoe SUV instead. “I’ll put it away.”
The 2020 Corvette will be nestled among other noteworthy Corvettes owned by Hendrick such as the first built in 1955, 1956 and 1957, he said. He also has the first Corvette ZR1 to roll off the line in 1989, he said.
King Leopold III of Belgium, another Corvette junkie, owned two Corvettes: 1967 and 1971, both silver. Today, Hendrick owns both along with singer Roy Orbison’s 1967 black Corvette and former Mexican President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s 1967 white Corvette.
“My favorite Corvette of all them was a 1967 Corvette 427 big block,” said Hendrick. “That was the second generation, but it was the first Stingray. It had hideaway headlights, it had the factory side pipes and the 427 engine. I have 32 of them, in every color.”
Museum of memories
Hendrick also owns the car actor Tom Cruise drove in the movie, “Days of Thunder,” which was loosely based on Hendrick’s life. In it a car salesman convinces a crew chief to work for a brash young driver. Hendrick became friends with Cruise before and during the filming of the 1990 movie.
In fact, Hendrick has many star-studded pals. About six months ago, he sold one of his 1967 Corvettes to the rocker Sammy Hagar. In return, the Red Rocker gave Hendrick the guitar he played in the “I can’t Drive 55” video.
Upstairs, above Hendrick’s prized-car collection, Hendrick has a man-cave on steroids. He displays about 165 autographed guitars and other instruments from super stars such as Lady Gaga, even a fiddle signed by Charlie Daniels.
The Heritage Center is also a private museum of Hendrick’s life.
“I have the first car that my dad and I built together here,” said Hendrick. “It was a 1931 Chevrolet Coupe. I was 14 years old.”
Hendrick was in his early 20s working at a gas station in Raleigh, North Carolina, when he met his wife, Linda, and asked her on a date.
“The first night we went out was in my 1963 Corvette Stringray roadster,” a car he had rebuilt at that time. It broke down during their date, he said.
“So big impression there,” Hendrick said, laughing. “But we eventually got married. So I built a replica of that gas station in the museum.”
Then there is the racing trailer that his son, Ricky, used when he was a NASCAR driver. It is a shrine of sorts today. In 2004, RIcky was flying in a Hendrick Motorsports plane to a NASCAR race. The plane crashed and all 10 people aboard, including Hendrick’s brother, John, Hendrick’s two nieces and Ricky were killed.
“Losing a child, you never get over that,” said Hendrick.
Pause on pre-orders
But Hendrick counts his blessings. He said GM President Mark Reuss let him drive a pre-production 2020 Corvette and, “The car is super special. It’s a halo car for dealers.”
Hendrick’s Chevrolet stores have about 1,000 pre-orders for the 2020 Corvette and he has stopped taking any more orders because it will be a few years before the existing ones are filled.
For now, Hendrick reflects on his good fortune
“I love GM and Chevy so much because that was my first opportunity. The auction was a great cause and it was the first mid-engine Corvette that I’d been dreaming about and reading about in hot rod magazines since back in the day,” said Hendrick.
“The things I love most in my life, after my family, is the automobile business and racing,” he added. “I’ve been blessed that I can do both and I can make a living.”
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Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Man who paid $3M for 2020 Corvette Stingray says he’ll never drive it
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