PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
S7 E1 “Just Tell Him You’re the President”
For the inaugural episode for season 7 of Comedians in Cars getting Coffee, Dream Car Restorations NY and Chris Mazzilli are proud to provide President Barack Obama and our loved, Jerry Seinfeld, with a fully restored 1963 Corvette splitback to drive around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
This car is one of the few 1963 Corvettes ever made, and less than a handful to be found now, which is a shame as this is a car that exudes cool. Like Bond cool.
To view the episode, visit: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
A Set of ‘Vettes, Off to Rehab
Peter Max Corvette Collection Headed to Auction
HICKSVILLE, N.Y. — Chris Mazzilli was at the Old Westbury Gardens car show one Sunday in June, displaying his 1971 Corvette, when a stranger approached with questions about restoration work involving dozens of cars.
Mr. Mazzilli, 49, founder and co-owner of the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan — and a serious student of Chevrolet’s sports car who has judged dozens of events — was happy to offer guidance. But the questions kept coming: What about a ’53 Corvette? What about a ’55? What about a ’57?
“Are you talking about the Peter Max Corvettes?” Mr. Mazzilli asked, playing a hunch.
His questioner, Peter Heller, fell silent. After a moment, he answered: “Yes. How did you know?”
Mr. Heller had not yet realized that the cars — a set of 36 Corvettes, one from each year starting with the model’s 1953 debut and continuing through 1989 — were famous among Corvette followers. Not only because they were owned by Mr. Max, the Pop Art star who gained fame in the ’60s for his preternatural ability to capture (and market) the zeitgeist, but also because Mr. Max stored the cars for years in publicly accessible parking garages without much thought for their upkeep.
Members of Corvette forums seethed every time a new photo emerged showing the dust-caked cars in a dim garage. Some wanted Mr. Max to sell the cars or donate the set to a museum. Others didn’t much care who owned the cars: They only wanted to see them — the 1953 example, in particular, one of 300 built that year — restored to their former beauty.
Those people are getting their wish.
Mr. Heller and his cousin Scott Heller, along with Scott’s sons, Adam and Mike, bought the cars from Mr. Max over the summer. They plan to clean, and restore as needed, all 36 before taking them to auction next year. (The Hellers are partners in the venture with Gary Spindler, a New York parking management executive.)
After the decades of neglect, how did the Corvettes’ reversal of fortune come about?
The tale of the set begins in 1989, when the collection came together as the grand prize in a contest sponsored by the VH1 cable music channel. A call to a 900 number, for a $2 fee, was required to enter; more than a million people made the call.
The winner was Dennis Amodeo, a carpenter from Long Island, who flew to California to accept his prize. But before he could bring the cars home to New York, he got a call from Mr. Max, who was interested in using the cars to pursue his vision of a grand art project fusing his bright hippie imagery with the distinctly American iconography of the Corvette. (Imagine, say, a hot-dogs-and-apple-pie Chevy commercial mashed up with the psychedelic interludes from “Laugh-In.”)
Once the cars were delivered to New York, Mr. Max did some preliminary work, taping color test strips in place on several. But he was busy with other projects as well as a legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service that led to a guilty plea for tax fraud.
After a few years of inattention, Mr. Max’s ambitious Corvette project was consigned, like so many others, to the garage. Not just any garage, however; in a city where a single parking space can now fetch up to $1 million, finding room for 36 cars was tough.
And that is where the Hellers came in.
In 2001, Mr. Max needed to move the collection out of a garage on West 40th Street that was being sold. The owner called Scott Heller, who had worked closely with garage operators across the city for years. Mr. Heller found a new home for the cars quickly, in the Flatiron district, and helped supervise the move. They were moved again a few years later, to a garage in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Finally, in 2010, they made it to Upper Manhattan, where many of the cars now reside in a former Packard dealership.
Scott Heller said that earlier this year he had offered to work with Mr. Max, restoring the cars for sale and splitting the proceeds. Mr. Max rejected the offer, he said. But Mr. Heller said that not long after, he was asked whether he wanted to buy the cars outright.
Not being Corvette experts, the Hellers engaged Mr. Mazzilli to help evaluate the collection and prepare it for sale. Negotiations were swift, and they took possession of the cars in July.
The Hellers declined to say how much they paid.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Max declined to comment on the cars or the sale.
To walk among the ‘Vettes, even in their fallen state, is to experience how a singular American car has evolved over the years.
Dirt encases the cars, suggesting the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. But through the grime you can easily identify their distinctive periods: the ’80s Faceman cars; the louche, hip-heavy ’70s Stingrays; the sharply creased mid-60s cadets; and a handful of varsity lettermen from the ’50s.
Opening the doors is what it must have been like to unearth a house in Pompeii; the interiors are largely intact. Some, though, were stored with the windows down, and their insides are coated with dust.
There are missing elements, like decorative trim, and badges have disappeared. And some have significant damage to the fiberglass bodies: holes in quarter panels, smashed bumpers, shoddy repairs from years ago.
Thirty miles east of the Manhattan storage site, at a shop in Hicksville, work is proceeding on several cars at once. The 1953 model, No. 291 of 300, is undergoing a full restoration, its body separated from the frame. The handmade fiberglass panels are rounder than expected, a bit of baby fat that didn’t really melt away until the 1956 model arrived.
That kind of restoration can take two years, said Dave Weber, 55, the shop’s owner, but the hope is to get it done in time for auction sales next spring.
Cleaning off the grime alone can take two weeks. Each car gets washed five or six times; carpets and seats are shampooed over and over.
“You feel like you’re getting black lung,” Mr. Weber said.
The 1955 model, one of 700 made that year, will also get an extensive restoration, according to Mr. Mazzilli. The remainder of the cars will be thoroughly cleaned and restored to running condition. About half the cars have matching chassis and engine numbers, he said, a factor that attests to the cars’ originality and increases values.
The group doesn’t have a specific plan for the auction yet, Mr. Mazzilli said, but would like to find someone interested in buying the whole set. (And with a spacious garage. Or two.)
But if a buyer with such deep pockets doesn’t emerge, the cars will be sold individually.
“We expect that people might pay a premium to own a car from the collection,” Adam Heller said.
Mr. Mazzilli said, “The biggest thing for us was rescuing the cars.”
“It was a good thing these guys came along,” he added, referring to the Hellers. “And they’re going to do the right thing.”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Amodeo, who sold the cars to Mr. Max nearly 25 years ago, said he was pleased that they would be fixed up. “I would like to see them out there when they’re done,” he said. “That would be nice.”
As for Peter Heller, whose chatting up of Mr. Mazzilli in June fortuitously brought the group together, he said he didn’t bother going to car shows anymore.
“I’ve got my own car show right here,” he said.
Peter Max Corvette Collection Exhumed from Parking-Garage Purgatory
October 27, 2014 at 11:51 am by Andrew Wendler | Photography by Richard Prince
The long and twisted tale of the so-called VH1 MAX Corvette collection, after sitting for nearly twenty-five years in a series of New York parking garages, has finally come to a close. According to a report in the New York Times, the thirty-six-car collection, which began as a grand prize in a television contest before finding its way into the hands of psychedelic graphic designer Peter Max, was recently purchased by a group of investors with the intent of returning the cars to their pre-infamy status.
As it turns out, the tale of how thirty-six Chevrolet Corvettes can go instantaneously from making TV headlines to disappearing in plain sight for a quarter-century isn’t as nefarious as one might suspect. Back in 1988, long before VH1 dumped actual music for reality-based programming, the network figured it could tap into its then baby-boomer demographic and snag some ratings with a mega promotion based on the iconic Corvette. So the network enlisted a producer to gather 36 Vettes, one from each production year from 1953 to 1989 (the 1983 model year was skipped when production was halted to prepare for the launch of the ’84 C4). The giveaway was a call-in affair that required contestants to enter by dialing a 900 number at the cost of $2.00 per call. By the time VH1 had milked this promotion for all it was worth, more than a million people had entered.
In the end, it was Dennis Amodeo, a carpenter from Long Island, who came out on top and flew to California to accept his prize. But before he even hatched a plan to get all the cars back to N.Y., Mr. Max intervened, purchasing the collection from Amodeo for a reported $250,000 in cash, $250,000 in artwork, and a portion of future sales of the Corvettes up to $1 million. Apparently, Max had grand visions of using the Corvettes as an integral part of an art project. Although Max did retrieve the cars to NYC, the art project never came to fruition; paper color-test strips affixed to some of the cars remain the only clue of the artist’s original plans. For the better part of the last twenty-five years the Corvettes remained interned in a series of garages until the Heller and Spindler families finally convinced Max to sell, although they won’t disclose the price.
Now they have possession of the entire collection, restoration work under the watchful eye of Corvette aficionado and occasional concours judge Chris Mazzilli has begun, starting with the 1953 Corvette, which is number 291 of the 300 Corvettes produced in its inaugural year. The remainder of the cars will be either restored or simply reconditioned, as determined on a car-to-car basis. C/D spoke to one of the new owners, Adam Heller, who confirmed that although the plan loosely involves selling the cars at auction within a year or so, the owners are still “open to ideas and not really certain what the endgame is.” When asked if any of the involved parties has interest in keeping a car or two for their own use, Heller said they hadn’t really thought about it.
Interestingly, there’s one non-Corvette in the car collection, a fully customized Volkswagen Beetle clad in Max’s unmistakable patterns and color play. It may have the greatest appeal to the art world. It’s cool, but it’s the Corvettes and their story that are of interest to the car-enthusiast community.
Check out our full gallery of the collection, photographed by Richard Prince and provided courtesy of the Heller family.
VISIT: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee to see the original episode air on the VH1 Max Corvette Collection.
Peter Max collection Corvette to star in this week’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Kurt Ernst on Dec 18th, 2014
The 1956 Corvette, prior to rescue. Photo by Richard Prince, courtesy of Richard Prince Photography.
Jerry Seinfeld knows a thing or two about making people laugh. His latest series, the web-onlyComedians in Cars Getting Coffee, has developed a huge following, and with good reason: It’s funny stuff. This week’s installment (teaser here) goes live at noon today and features Jimmy Fallon as a guest star; more importantly, it also features the Cascade Green 1956 Corvette from the Peter Max collection, made roadworthy by Dave Weber and Vintage Automotive Restoration.
More precisely we should say, “nearly roadworthy,” since there’s a bit of a backstory to this week’s episode. As Corvette collector and Dream Cars Consulting owner Chris Mazzilli related to us, the shoot (which he arranged as a friend of Jerry Seinfeld) didn’t exactly go as planned, and breakdowns figure heavily in the story. The week before the shoot, Dave found a crack in the Corvette’s engine block, necessitating a hasty replacement of the car’s small-block V-8. Knowing that the car’s wiring harness was living on borrowed time, Dave kept his fingers crossed that the car would continue to run long enough for the filming to take place, even after the engine swap.
The car post clean-up. Photo by Chris Mazzilli.
In the days leading up to the shoot, it did. On the morning that the car was to be picked up at Dave’s shop in Hicksville, Long Island, it didn’t. No matter what Dave and his mechanic tried, it either didn’t work, or it didn’t work for long. Chris recalls the day as a blur of trips to the auto parts store, interspersed with calls to producers saying that the car’s trip to the Hamptons would be delayed.
By mid-day, Chris began to think about other alternatives. Finding another first-generation Corvette wouldn’t be a challenge, but finding one in the distinctive shade of aqua known as Cascade Green was impossible. It wasn’t really a Corvette that the producers wanted; it was a Cascade Green Corvette.
As night fell, it seemed as if the production would go on without the Peter Max-collection Corvette. Then, around 8:00, the car fired up and ran well enough for Dave’s crew to load it on a flatbed and truck it to the Hamptons for filming. Chris and Dave spent the next day trailing Jerry and Jimmy and attending to the not-infrequent breakdowns, which the stars took in good humor. Ultimately, however, the Corvette (which Fallon says, “doesn’t even look like a real car,” likely referring to its bright livery) managed to make it through filming and into a bit of comedy history.
Will it make for entertaining video? We’ll know for sure after the video drops at noon. VisitComediansInCarsGettingCoffee.com to view the episode.
UPDATE (18.December): Go here to watch the episode, now live.