Attention Corvette lovers/collectors and Elvis Presley fans: You’ll have the chance to add the Riverside Red 1963 split-window coupe seen in the 1964 feature film Viva Las Vegas to your collection when it crosses the block at Mecum’s Houston 2014 Auction, set for April 10-14 at the Reliant Center.
Dana Mecum’s crew compiled this history of this distinctive Midyear:
In the 1960s, Harry Mann advertised his Los Angeles dealership, Harry Mann Chevrolet, as the largest Corvette dealer in America. But when the new 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Z06 made its race debut in the October, 1962 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside, Mann and his driver Gary Pickens were relegated to the sidelines. Chevrolet had issued only four Z06 Corvettes for the race; none of them had gone to Mann, and none would be available to dealers until December 1962.
Undaunted, Mann and Pickens ordered a new 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupe equipped with the RPO L84 fuel injected 327/360 HP engine, the same one used in the Z06, with the goal to assemble all the other pieces needed to build their own. The new car arrived to a flurry of modifications that included a roll cage, a comprehensive weight-reduction program and competition brakes. A recreational gambler, Pickens completed his new racer by painting his number - 711 - as dice on the doors, hood and rear deck.
Pickens raced the car throughout California in 1963, but his fifteen minutes of fame arrived in July when filming began in Nevada on the new racing-themed Elvis Presley movie Viva Las Vegas. The producers needed real race cars for the movie’s climactic racing scene, especially a new Corvette, and Pickens’ dice-liveried Riverside Red racer was the perfect choice.
It turned out to be Gary Pickens’ most lucrative payday; MGM rented the car for the duration of filming and paid Pickens to drive it, including a $500 bonus for the famous spinout scene, during which the car received the only racing damage of its career, hitting the rear clip without damaging the frame or any other fiberglass.
Gary Pickens raced the 711 Corvette again in 1964 with a replacement 1964 327/375 HP engine, eventually selling it to fellow racer Ron Herrera. In 1972, it went into private ownership in Los Angeles, where it cruised the streets--still in racing configuration--before disappearing into a garage.
Although hunted for years by hopeful collectors, the car remained secreted until 2011, when Corvette specialist Mike Scott learned that it was owned by a customer and close friend in Torrance, California. Scott and restorer Gary Nabers confirmed the car’s history, purchased it, and brought it to Nabers Brothers of Houston, Texas, who completed a thorough no-expense-spared restoration in March 2013 to qualify it for the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) American Heritage Award.
The Concours quality restoration included retaining the well-preserved interior, the 1964 engine Pickens installed, and the original matching-numbers Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed. Rare period-correct Z06 components were sourced and used wherever necessary, ensuring the car is authentically configured as it ran at Riverside in 1963.
The 711 Corvette has since been accepted into the Registry of Corvette Race Cars, qualifying it for vintage racing events at a wide range of venues. Importantly, it is fully mechanically sorted for high performance driving, a hard runner that tracks straight and handles and brakes with consistency and predictability.
The Gary Pickens 711 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupe combines provenance as a historically significant racing Corvette with that of a genuine movie star car, a rare combination that puts it in a category all its affords it a singularly unique position in the collector Corvette milieu.
(Information and photos courtesy Mecum Auctions)