Corvettes have been associated with America’s space program beginning with Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital Mercury flight in May of 1961 and continuing into the Apollo moon landing program. Astronauts were offered a special Chevrolet plan in which they were given the use of any Chevrolet automobile for a year at the very nominal cost of $1. Many chose Corvettes, but only the crew of Apollo XII elected to have their 1969 Corvettes customized with identical paint schemes.
A diamond in the rough
In 1971, Danny Reed of Austin, Texas spotted a 1969 Corvette sitting in a local GM Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) sale lot that he recognized as one of the three Corvettes used by the Apollo XII astronauts. The car was for sale via a closed bid auction and Reed, a long-time Corvette aficionado, gave the matter careful consideration before placing his bid. He realized that this purchase was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity as the other two Apollo XII cars had disappeared. He placed his bid and anxiously waited for the sale results. When the mail finally arrived, he found out he finished second – close, but no cigar.
Six weeks passed before a still disappointed Danny received more mail from GMAC. This time it was great news. The high bidder was unable to come up with the money and Danny was declared the new winner. He later discovered that he had outbid the next highest bidder by a mere $30. In August of 1971 he became the owner of a Corvette that he first saw the December 1969 issue of Life magazine.
Apollo XII Corvettes
The Life magazine photo was of the Apollo XII crew members, Navy Captains Charles “Pete” Conrad (lunar mission commander), Alan Bean (lunar module pilot) and Richard Gordon (command module pilot), posing with their identical Riverside Gold 1969 Corvettes with special black “wings” painted on the sides of the rear quarter panels and extending over the tops. Each car had a black interior and the following options;
- 390 horsepower, 427 cubic inch big block engine
- Four-speed manual transmission
- Air conditioning
- Positraction, 3.08 axle
- Turbine-style wheel covers
- AM/FM push-button radio
- Head restraints
- Three point seat belt and shoulder harness
The special paint scheme, designed by astronaut Alan Bean, was chosen by the crew to celebrate their camaraderie and build esprit de corps. In addition to the black “wings” it also included red, white and blue badges on the sides of the front fenders which bore the initials of the mission responsibility of each owner. For instance, Alan Bean’s car had “LMP” for lunar module pilot inscribed on the badge on his car, Pete Conrad’s car had “CDR” and Dick Gordon’s Corvette had “CMP”.
The Corvette for 1969 saw changes to the all new design introduced the previous year to address criticisms voiced by the media and customers. The interior included revised seats, interior door panels, center console and switches to improve available room and ergonomics, while overall build quality was also improved. The “Stingray” designation was reintroduced after being absent in 1968, but this time around it was a single word, not the “Sting Ray” of the 1963-1967 era.
The improvements continued under the hood with the small block now displacing 350 cubic inches and being available with 300 horsepower or an optional 350 horsepower. The big block 427 was carried over from 1968 and could be had with horsepower ratings ranging from 390 to 435.
Thanks to all of the upgrades, 38,762 1969 Corvettes were sold, with the coupe outselling the convertible by 22,129 to 16,633. The total sales were an increase of more than 10,000 units over the 1968 model.
Alan Bean was among the third group of astronauts selected in October 1963 and served as backup astronaut for Gemini X and Apollo IX missions. Apollo XII was his first foray into space and in November 1969 he was the fourth person to ever step onto the lunar surface following Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Pete Conrad.
From July 29 to September 25, 1973, Alan was the spacecraft commander of Skylab Mission III and set world records with a 59 day mission that covered 24,400,000 miles. Following his role of backup spacecraft commander for the joint American-Russian Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Alan Bean resigned from NASA in June 1981 to devote his full time to painting.
Alan Bean is the only artist to have walked on the moon and today in his studio in Houston, Texas he creates paintings and sculptures textured with lunar tools, sprinkled with bits of Apollo spacecraft and a touch of moon dust.
Danny Reed’s “Astrovette” is fully refurbished to original standards and is the only Corvette to receive the NCRS Duntov Award of Excellence and the NCRS American Heritage Award. It now has about 34,000 miles on the odometer and resides in Reed’s garage alongside his 1962 and 1964 Corvettes, both Duntov Award winners.
Alan Bean’s car is the only known survivor of the three. Once the astronauts’ lease agreements expired, the cars were returned to General Motors and cars driven by Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon drifted off into oblivion. According to Danny Reed, “To our knowledge, the other two cars have not been registered in any of the 50 states in over 25-30 years. With the publicity that Bean’s car has received, you’d think that if they still existed, they would have appeared.”
Reed has conducted an extensive search and receives several calls each year from individuals thinking they may have one of the cars, but so far none have been authenticated. The VINs of the missing cars are known by a select few, but the numbers will not be made public to avoid possible fraud. If you think that you may have one of the Apollo XII Corvettes, leave a comment below and we will forward it to Danny Reed. Who knows, you may be the owner of one of these historically significant Corvettes that are still among the missing.
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© September 2012 by Bruce Troxell