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Bids for Neil Armstrong's Corvette soar to $250K but collectors raise concerns

This 1967 Chevrolet Corvette has attracted bids on eBay nearing $250,000. Its seller says it was owned by Neil Armstrong. (eBay)
Update for May 6, 2012

— The eBay auction for a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette that the seller claimed was first owned by astronaut Neil Armstrong ended on Sunday (May 6) at 4:51 p.m. CDT (2151 GMT) with a final, sky-high hammer price of $250,090. But despite the astronomical bid, the seller may have not sold the first moonwalker's car.

The high bid for the sports car failed to exceed the seller's hidden reserve, the price above which he was obligated to sell. The seller could however, still choose to sell the car for the $250,090 offered.

May 5, 2012

— A beat-up 1967 Chevrolet Corvette, which astronaut Neil Armstrong purportedly was first to own, has attracted astronomical bids on eBay. But did the first man to walk on the moon ever drive it?

The sports car, which the seller described as the "ultimate Corvette 'barn find,'" had as of Saturday morning (May 5) — the day before the auction closes — more than 70 bids, raising the initial asking price of $100,000 to just under a quarter of a million. The high bid however, had not yet met the seller's hidden reserve, the price which he is obligated to sell and which he has revised twice.

The almost $250,000 in bids appear clearly focused on the seller's claim that Neil Armstrong had driven the car rather than its make, model or condition. Although described as stored in a climate-controlled environment, the Corvette Sting Ray had not been driven since 1981.

The eBay listing for Neil Armstrong's 1967 Corvette. (eBay)

"As can be seen in the pictures, the car has 30+ years of dust and has had fender flares crudely added by the owner during it's time in storage," the seller wrote on eBay. "The only thing that has been done to the car since I purchased it is to get the motor running where it can be moved about the garage."

To prove its pedigree, the seller presents the car's original General Motors "Protect-O-Plate," a factory issued metal tag that displays the name of the car's original owner. A carbon rubbing of the raised plate shown with the auction description reveals the name "N. A. Armstrong."

Dollar car

If indeed the N.A. Armstrong listed on the car's tag is the same as the Neil (Alden) Armstrong who commanded the Apollo 11 first lunar landing mission in July 1969, then he came to drive it through a special deal with a professional race car driver-turned-car dealer.

The seller displays the General Motors Protect-O-Plate as proof that Neil Armstrong was first to lease the Corvette. (eBay)

After General Motors gifted astronaut Alan Shepard with a white 1962 Corvette to congratulate him becoming the first American in space, Indianapolis 500 winner and Florida Chevrolet-Cadillac dealer Jim Rathmann came up with the idea to offer Shepard's fellow fliers with Corvettes of their own.

Rathmann negotiated a special lease arrangement to put the Mercury astronauts into the cars. For $1 per year, the spacemen could drive the latest model Corvette and then trade it in for a new one.

The lease program was popular with the astronauts and good exposure for Chevrolet, and so it continued into the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Armstrong joined the astronaut corps in 1962 with NASA's second group of astronauts. According to his authorized biography, his first leased Corvette was damaged when a fire destroyed his house.

"As can be seen in the pictures, the car has 30+ years of dust," the seller wrote about Armstrong's '67 Chevrolet Corvette. (eBay)

Several years and cars later, Armstrong traded in his 1967 blue Sting Ray for a new Vette.

"This Corvette was bought by a NASA employee when Mr. Armstrong turned it in and was retained by the owner until I purchased the Corvette from him in February of 2012," the eBay seller wrote in his auction's description.

The seller intended to restore the Corvette but due to "too many things going at this time" he decided to part with it instead.

"This Corvette is a true piece of history and belongs in a museum or private collection," the seller wrote.

Collectors' concerns

It's not uncommon for items associated with Armstrong to command a premium on the collector's market.

Armstrong's autograph, for example, can sell today for as much as 10 times more than his fellow Apollo astronauts, even though he signed freely for more than three decades (Armstrong stopped signing autographs in 1994, citing the commercialization of his signature).

But usually that premium relies heavily on provenance, or proof, that the item being sold did indeed originate with the first moonwalker.

Neither the seller, nor searches through archival imagery sources, have yet to show a photo of Armstrong with the 1967 Sting Ray offered in the auction. The closest footage seems to be an old German newsreel that includes film of Armstrong pulling up to work in a Corvette, but it was shot in 1965.

"If the paperwork is authentic as advertised then the buyer can take that as evidence of his ownership," one collector wrote on collectSPACE's forums, but added, "by the time you're done with the time and expense of restoring it, there won't be much left original to the Armstrong period."

Another collector agreed.

"This car will need a complete restoration to bring it back to life. To me that will take away from [the] 'survivor' fact and that Neil Armstrong owned it."

"I guess if you kept the 'worn' out original seat covers, then you can say that Mr. Armstrong sat in these seats." (eBay)

"Depending on how much [of a] restoration is required, say whole new interior, then the only original parts that Mr. Armstrong is associated with are the metal in the seat frame, steering column and wheel, dash, etc." the same collector added to the forum later. "I guess if you kept the 'worn' out original seat covers, then you can say that Mr. Armstrong sat in these seats."

"I would be running the history on the car's VIN [Vehicle Identification Number] tracking down all the documentation that proves Neil Armstrong owned / operated / leased this car," he said. "As a vintage car collector myself, that is what I would be doing to verify the car's history."

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