$700 Craigslist Car Actually a Multi-Million-Dollar Mystery


It happens every now and then – particularly in the arts world. A casual thrift store or garage sale shopper with a curious eye picks up a discarded painting that no one seems to know much about. Grandma liked it. A previous tenant, maybe an art student, left it behind. Whatever the provenance, it just doesn’t go with the current décor. So, a buyer goes home with a $2 purchase that turns out to be a missing Picasso or Pollock or Matisse or Munch that ultimately makes the lucky buyer a fortune.

Now, in the kind of movie-worthy scenario that we here at E3 Spark Plugs dream of, a similar fortune just may happen to one lucky car owner.

A few years ago, an arguably clueless Craigslist poster sought information about a car he had listed for a mere $700. 

“SERIAL # X53L on documented 1953 pre-production Corvette Frame. We believe this to be a 1953 Pontiac prototype that was to assume the name Longoria? Info received todate indicates that ZAGATO designed and PINNAFARINA constructed the body for GM in late 52,” the ad read – misspellings and typos left intact. “Might anyone have knowledge of some former FISHER BODY executive that could assist in further identifying this automobile?”

Fortunately, before the ride sold for a gut-wrenchingly low price, a reader with a sharp automotive eye realized just what the car truly was: The storied No. 1 Cunningham Corvette, arguably the most sought-after ‘Vette ever built.

Turns out the $700 steal-of-a-deal actually is a 1960 model that was among three turned into racecars by the sportsman Briggs Cunningham, who raced them at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year. The cars were marked “1”, “2” and “3” and took turns leading the race. Numbers 1 and 2 didn’t finish, but number 3 did, winning not only its class and a permanent place in Corvette lore. Most expected that the cars would be preserved and donated to a museum collection following the race. Instead, Cunningham turned them back into street-legal cars and they were sold through a Chevy dealer, subsequently disappearing for decades.

Years later, Number 3 was found and restored by a father-and-son team. Number 2 turned up in an Irwindale, CA junkyard a few years ago. Petersen Automotive Museum board member Bruce Meyer acquired and restored it. But the whereabouts of the elusive Number 1 remained a mystery until that clumsy Craigslist post.

The car currently is owned by Gino Burelli, an Indiana car dealer and collector. It’s unclear how Burelli acquired it and where it spent the past half-century. But it appears that at some point, someone used or intended to use it as a drag racing car, based on its current state – it’s blue-on-white racing livery replaced by gaudy, poorly applied purple paint and a few key features, including its original engine, nowhere to be found.

Under terms of a 2015 legal agreement, Burelli will have the car fully restored by Kevin Mackay, who successfully restored Number 3. The restoration could take a year or more and cost upward of $500,000. Ultimately, experts estimate the car will sell for somewhere between $3 million and $7 million.

So the next time you see a $700 Craigslist clunker for sale, you just might want to take a chance.

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