Viva Las Vegas
Movie Car at Mecum
Larry Jewett - March 15, 2014 08:30 AM
In the 1960s, Harry Mann advertised his Los Angeles dealership, Harry Mann Chevrolet, as the largest Corvette dealer in America. When the new 1963 Z06 made its race debut in the October, 1962 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 1963 Corvette coupe equipped with the L84 fuel injected 327/360 HP engine as used in the Z06 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 the 15 minutes of fame arrived in July when filming began in Nevada on the 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. 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.
In 1972, the car 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. 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 American Heritage Award.
The Gary Pickens 711 Corvette Sting Ray Split Window 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. It will be sold as Lot 129.1 at the Mecum Auction in Houston, Texas on April 12.