Tuesday, September 28, 2021

1969 Corvette "AstroVette" Stingray Apollo-Themed

 

1969 Corvette AstroVette



This Corvette you're looking at was built specifically for the Astronaut Alan L. Bean. There were only two others made just like this for two other Astronauts, Richard Gordan Jr. and Charles "Pete" Gordan Jr. All three men were shipped into orbit on the Apollo 12 Mission in the second Lunar Module to land on the Moon.


NASA and General Motors

In the '60s and early '70s, NASA astronauts were like rock stars in America. Reaching the Moon before Russia was something America did that helped bring a divided country together after the controversial Vietnam War.

GM president, Ed Cole, saw the potential of linking the NASA program to the GM brand for product growth. GM already gave astronaut Alan Shepard, the very first man to break his way into space, a new white 1962 Corvette with a custom space-age interior, and had also done business with astronaut legends like Niel Armstrong, and high-performance enthusiast, Gus Grissom.

1962 Corvette White "Alan Shaperd"



Of course, it's hard to imagine GM giving away Corvettes, but Cole's decision to do so, according to his widow, Dollie (Chairman of the National Corvette Museum and Vice Chairman of the National Air & Space Museum), made sense to Cole. "The astronauts were incredibly visible," she says. "And good publicity is good publicity." But putting astronauts in Corvettes wasn't just for publicity. "Who more worthy than guys who represent our country?" says Dollie. "They were literally risking their lives. Space travel today isn't 'ho hum', but people perceive it that way. There were so many unknowns then. The cars were a way of saying 'Thank you.'"

Executive GM Lease Program For NASA 
Eventually, GM would see big benefits from being affiliated with NASA, so they went ahead and started an executive lease program for NASA employees. If you qualified for the lease program, you could lease a GM vehicle for $1 for one year. According to astronaut Alan Bean, most qualifying employees chose Corvettes, making it an interesting sight to see when you drove past the Space Center and looked in the parking lot. 

1969 Astrovette


Those Who Fly Together, Drive Together
All three astronauts that boarded the Lunar Module for the Apollo 12 Mission were very close and all were car guys in their own respect. They became good friends with Jim Rathman, a Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership owner who was also known for winning the 1960 Indy 500. 


Jim's dealership was located in Melbourne, FL, and its close proximity to the Space Center is what made the friendship to the three astronauts and others in NASA like Niel Armstrong possible. With "Pete" Conrad Jr., Gordan Jr., and Bean successfully completing the Apollo 12 mission, they all decided they should get matching Corvettes with some special visual upgrades to distinctively separate them from the rest of the Corvette owners and lessees.


Rare Riverside Gold Corvette Color
It just so happened, in 1969, Corvette was offering a one-time-only Riverside gold exterior color for the Stingray. The three astronauts joined forces with friend and dealership owner, Jim Rathman, who helped aid in getting all three gold Corvettes to his dealership.

No one really knows where the black "Wings" were painted on the Riverside gold base paint, but it wasn't at the factory and it wasn't at Ratham's dealership. As the story goes, the three astronauts took a lot of time to decide on what design they wanted to go with before settling on the black "Wings." 


Astro-Corvette Riverside Gold

Black Wing 1969 "Astrovette"


Ratham decided to get his friend involved, Alex Tremulis. Tremulis was an industrial designer who held automotive design positions at Cord Automobile, Duesenberg, General Motors, Tucker Car Corporation, and Ford Motor Company before later establishing a consulting firm.

Tremulis and Ratham both did have a hands-on part in the design. Ratham placed the white stripe that separates the black and the gold colors, and Tremulis designed and painted the special red, white, and blue logos on the fender. 

Corvette "Astrovette" Emblem


The Special Red, White, and Blue Emblems and The Meaning
The red, white, and blue emblem represent what you would think - America, the American flag, and NASA. Each emblem had a different set of initials drew out on a certain color of the emblem representing the Corvette owner's rank during the Apollo 12 Mission. Bean’s LMP initials were placed on the blue tag signifying him as the Lunar Module Pilot. Pete’s initials of CDR were on the red tag of the emblem, which stood for Commander, and Dick’s initials of CMP, for Command Module Pilot was drawn on the white tag of the emblem. 

The colors the initials were painted on also represented the color each astronaut used to label their belongings during the Apollo 12 Mission.

427 cu.-in. Corvette engine


Corvette "AstroVette" Spec.

  • 427 CU.-IN. Big Block L36 

  • 4-Speed Manual Transmission

  • 490 Horsepower - 460 lb.-ft. of Torque

  • Four-Barrel Rochester Carbrator

  • Hydraulic Four-Wheel Disc Brakes

  • Fully Independent Suspension

  • Optional Side Exhaust Selected But Not Installed

  • Performance: 0-60 mph 6.0 Seconds; Quarter-Mile 14.3 at 93 MPH

  • One-Year-Only Riverside Gold

  • Special Steel Wheel Covers

  • Curb Weight: 3450 lbs.




Astrovette Interior



Where Are The Iconic "AstroVette" Stingrays Now?

Out of the three 1969 Stingray "AstroVette" Corvettes that were delivered to the Ratham dealership for the crew of the Appollo 12 Mission, only one is known to exist. 

Alan Bean's Corvette is the last AstroVette that is known to exist. It was turned in after the $1, 1-year lease was up. In 1971, it showed up in Austin, TX on a GMAC car lot. It went up for auction, where a space enthusiast by the name of Danny Reed put his bid in. He initially lost the auction, but the original winner could not come up with the money, and Danny eventually won the "AstroVette."

Making the "AstroVette" Perfect
The Stingray "AstroVette" was put on track to be restored to its original state to save its integrity, which meant no full restoration. Danny Reed worked with many Corvette experts throughout the process to get it back to its original look - the way it would have looked when it came right off the assembly line with overspray in the correct spots and everything. 


The National Corvette Restoration Society (NCRS) has given it many awards at some of the most prestigious Corvette car shows in the world. 

It has been on display at NASA events, the National Corvette Museum, the Kansas Cosmosphere, Flordia Space Center, Johnson Space Center, Houston Space Center, in Washinton, and many other worthy places. 

Alan Bean has since been reunited many times with his now-famous "AstroVette." Bean has become a painter since his days of walking on the Moon. A lot of his painting work has to do with space and his moonwalking, as he writes, “Our time on the Moon ended much too quickly and, in the years since then, I have created paintings to try to capture the feeling of our Apollo 12 mission, as well as all the other Apollo missions, too. It’s my hope that these paintings will help other people share in the great adventure." 

Alan Bean Astronaut and Painter


How to Tell If You Found One of The Lost "AstroVette" Stingrays?
Along with all cars that are rare, there are some imposters out there, but there is a way to tell if you found a real "AstroVette." Only these three Corvette's in the lease program were special ordered and registered in the lessee's name. This featured Corvette has a tank sticker that says, “Courtesy car delivered to Alan L. Bean.” The other two if found would have a similar tank stick with the corresponding astronaut's name - Richard Gordan Jr or Charles "Pete" Gordan Jr. All other Corvettes for the NASA executive lease program were put in the military's name.

Apollo 12 Mission Corvette "AstroVette

 

There is nothing like a little Corvette and NASA history! The $1, 1-year executive lease program for the astronauts ended in 1971. Whether or not it was because the Space Program became less popular and the executive lease program was less worth it from an advertising standpoint, I'm not sure. But there was a time there for a while where being an astronaut was better than being a Hollywood star or a pro-athlete.