The Peter Max Corvettes in the summer of 2014. Photos by Richard Prince, courtesy of Richard Prince Photography.
In 1990, a Long Island carpenter by the name of Dennis
Amodeo won the prize of a lifetime for a Corvette fan: one of every year Corvette built from 1953 through 1989, courtesy of music television network VH1. Artist Peter Max soon acquired the cars for an ambitious art project that never materialized, and for 25 years the cars sat, largely ignored and only occasionally moved from one New York City storage location to another, until a New York Corvette fan and automotive consultant helped broker a deal to buy the cars. Now, thanks to their new owners, 36 pieces of Corvette history will soon be back on the road, and if all goes as planned, back on the market.
The story begins in 1989, when a television producer named Jim Cahill pitched an idea to the music network VH1 to boost its sagging ratings, particularly among baby boomers. A Corvette fan himself, Cahill suggested the network hold a contest to award one lucky winner 36 Chevrolet Corvettes, one from every year of manufacture up to the date of the contest.
The idea was given the green light, and as Sam Smith related in a 2010 Jalopnik article, Cahill spent $610,000 amassing the collection, which consisted largely of “driver” quality cars. Fourteen of the Corvettes were convertibles, and over 2/3 came equipped with automatic transmissions, yet that did little to diminish the appeal of the contest. To cover its costs, VH1 set up a 900 number, and entrants were charged $2.00 per call, of which the network received $1.49. In less than two weeks, it had recovered the full cost of staging the giveaway.
The paper taped to the side of the car was a color swatch test by Peter Max.
Amodeo, who’d placed just a single phone call, was the lucky winner, and the network spared no expense in making the presentation as theatrical as possible. Beach Boy Mike Love was on hand to pass Amodeo a big bag of keys, and ample video of the winner, his wife and their new baby was shot for promotional purposes. When the festivities were over, Amodeo returned to Long Island to await the delivery of his Corvettes.
Which is when Amodeo received a phone call from Peter Max, who requested a New York City meeting to discuss a deal to buy the cars. As Max explained to New York magazine in 2005, “I’m not a car guy. I never drive,” so his interest in the cars was solely from a self-promotional point of view. Max had first seen the collection at a 1990 auto show, and was struck with the vision of painting all the cars in bold, psychedelic colors.
The morning after the VH1 giveaway, Max was awakened by a phone call from a friend, advising him that the cars had been given to a carpenter from Long Island. After hanging up the phone, the artist drifted back to sleep, only to have a vivid dream of the Corvettes driving onto a football field, cheerleaders standing atop them, while a man behind Max ate a hot dog with yellow mustard. In the world of the artist, truth really is stranger than fiction.
For two and a half decades, that’s more or less where the story ended. From time to time, articles would crop up on the internet about the Peter Max Corvettes (particularly when they were moved from one location to another), but Max showed no interest in selling, restoring, or even maintaining the cars.
As late as 2010, he still seemed determined to do something with the cars, and even spoke of acquiring 14 more to bring the total number up to 50, making it complete through the 2003 model year. It never happened, and every year saw the Corvettes piled higher with dust.
While none of the cars sport a big-block engine or come with rare and desirable options, all have merit as pieces of Corvette history wrapped up in a bit of urban legend, tied to an artist that once captured the zeitgeist of an era.
Chris tells us that all of the Corvettes, regardless of their value, will be reconditioned to make them mechanically sound and as presentable as possible. As for long-term plans, the Hellers and the Spindlers would prefer to sell the cars in a single lot to an interested collector, though Chris recognizes this is a long shot. “We haven’t started talking to auctions just yet,” he said, “but it probably makes the most sense to offer the cars through a Mecum, Barrett-Jackson or Russo and Steele sale.” From a financial perspective, he’s right, but from an emotional perspective, who wouldn’t want to see these Corvettes stay together as a single lot?
To learn more about the VH1/Peter Max Corvettes, visit VH1MaxCorvette.com.