Everybody remembers “the one that got away,” and we’re not talking about fish, except for members of the genus Stingray.
Kevin Mackay owns the restoration shop Corvette Repair, in Valley Stream, New York, that has produced some of the finest Corvette restorations in the world, most notably historic race cars.
In 1990, Kevin was hot on the trail of a 1967 L88, and not just a street variety but a coupe with a provenance a mile long. This particular example was victorious as the #8 Sunray DX racer, gloriously American in red, white and blue, winning at famous tracks like Sebring and Daytona. It was ordered brand new through Yenko Chevrolet in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and inspired large doses of car lust as the best-looking Corvette body style in history.
Today, this illustrious Corvette racer resides in a collection in Long Island, New York, and is worth, we guestimate, somewhere in the millions of dollars.
But, 26 years ago a man named David Dempsey was driving this coupe—highly customized and minus its racing colors and big-block L88—modified with a one-piece Eckler’s nose; powered by a modified small-block and missing race parts.
Mackay was in Upstate New York looking at another L88 Corvette—a 1969 model, also a race car—driven on the track and still owned by Tom Ryone. Over the course of their conversation Mackay learned Ryone had once owned another historic racing L88, a 1967 model, which was more desirable than the 1969.
Mackay’s jaw must have dropped when Ryone pulled from his wallet a photo of the old Vette and blurted out the name of the man he sold the car to.
“He told me David Dempsey, and I said, ‘Wait a minute. I know that X@$ #@%* car!!!’”
Dempsey had been president of the local Corvette club in Long Island and drove a customized 1967 small-block Corvette coupe. Needless to say, Mackay couldn’t wait to make a call on Dempsey.
“So, I went to [Dempsey’s] house. At that time I had a partner in the business. He went with me. I knew the Corvette had to be white with red interior cause it raced with blue sides, making the DX colors red, white and blue.”
Sure enough, the trim tag revealed a white car with red vinyl interior. Right away, Mackay was almost 100 percent sure this old coupe was the Sunray DX race car. The birdcage was intact, but even more of a clue was the factory heater-delete plate still on the firewall with factory sealer. Chevrolet only made 35 heater-delete 1967 model Corvettes, and 20 of those were L88s. Of course, every L88 was heater-delete in 1967.
Dempsey was asking $19,000 for his customized 1967. Mackay didn’t hesitate. He was buying significant Corvettes for a serious collector named Ed Mueller, a man with foresight and vision. Mackay’s instructions were to buy that car no matter what it takes.
“I said I want the car. But Dempsey said he had a couple (meaning a married couple) ahead of me. He said if they didn’t want it, then I could have it.”
Mackay didn’t want to leave Dempsey’s house without the 1967 coupe. So he upped his offer. “I said, ‘I’ll give you $25,000 for the car, and a $2,000 deposit.’”
Mackay remembers Dempsey’s confused response. “He said, ‘you’re going to give me six grand more for the car?’”
“Yeah,” Mackay replied. Surely, Dempsey would sell now.
“He looks at me and says, ‘I got to give the other couple a call. If they don’t want it, you’re going to get it for $25 grand.’”
Mackay wanted to keep upping his price until he got the car. But his partner advised waiting. Mackay said, “If we walk out of here now we’re going to lose this car. I’m going to go back in there and offer him $30 grand for the car.”
Mackay’s partner felt the couple wouldn’t have that much money to spend on the 1967 coupe and he and Kevin would get the car later for $25,000.
But, sure enough, the next day the couple bought the car. “[The couple] were upset with me because it cost them $6 grand more to buy the car, a lot of money in 1990.”
As disappointed as Kevin Mackay was, he also proved very resilient. “I was so upset I lost the deal on that car that I went to all the other Sunray DX cars and we found all the other ones.”
Author’s Note: If you know of a Rare Finds or an interesting “One That Got Away” tale (and old pictures) email your contact information to Jerry Heasley at email@example.com. Follow on twitter @jerryheasley