A Category of One

Also from Issue 67

  • 2007 Z06
  • ZR1's Future
  • Sub-$50K Collectors
  • Corvette Tire Technology
  • 1972 Restomod
  • 1973 Big-Block Coupe
  • Power Steering Rebuild
  • Racing: Tommy Milner
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With that in mind, RJ and his brother Gary contacted people they knew at Chevrolet and at the Bowling Green Assembly Plant to ask if Chevy would agree to produce a special-edition Corvette in their father’s honor, a model which would be sold only through Malcolm Konner Chevrolet. No division of GM had ever created a special-edition option to honor a specific dealer, so the Konners were pleasantly surprised when Chevrolet agreed to do it. Chevy General Manager Bob Berger was apparently a “dealer guy,” and was therefore receptive to the idea of building a car to honor the dealer that sold more Corvettes than any other.

Corvette engineer Don Runkle also thought it was a worthy idea. He went to the dealership to discuss the project, and brought color samples to work out what colors the cars would be painted. Because of its low production volume, the model could not receive its own unique paint color. Instead, it was decided that the car would combine two existing Corvette exterior colors—Silver Beige and Black. In addition, the car would feature “Malcolm Konner Commemorative Edition” badges. On the inside, all 50 cars would come with graphite leather upholstery. The cockpit would be completely stock with the exception of a brass Malcolm Konner plaque on the center console.

The Konner family wanted the cars to come with BBS wheels, but GM wouldn’t install these at the factory unless they successfully went through the company’s lengthy, costly and somewhat complex wheel-validation procedures. The Konners ended up offering the attractive wheels as a dealer-installed option.

Once the $500 option was announced there was a bit of griping from some other Chevy dealers. Bob Berger put an end to that before it went anywhere by telling anyone who complained that, when they sold as many Corvettes as Konner did, they too could get a special edition.

Of the 50 Malcolm Konner Special Edition coupes Bowling Green assembled, 20 came with manual transmissions; the other 30 had automatics. Ten of the cars with manuals and an equal number of the automatics were built with the optional Z51 Performance Package, while the 30 remaining Malcolm Konner Special Edition Corvettes came with standard suspension.

When it came to delivering the cars, the Konner family’s idea was to re-create what Malcolm Konner had done some 27 years prior. “In 1959, my father dreamed up the idea of organizing a rally with new Corvettes being driven from the St. Louis factory to the GM training facility on Route 22 in Union, New Jersey,” says RJ Konner. “Dad rented a plane and flew customers to St. Louis, where they took delivery of their new Corvettes. It was really a fantastic event, with Pat Boone at the GM training center in Union flagging the Corvettes across the finish line. So we thought, why not try to do something like this again?”

While Gary Konner attended to all of the details involved with getting the cars built and sold, RJ Konner ironed out all of the logistical details necessary for a mass caravan from the assembly plant in Kentucky to the dealership in New Jersey. After all needed approvals from Chevy were obtained, the Konner family waged an ad campaign in various enthusiast publications to drum up interest. With most of the 50 cars sold, they chartered a jet to fly the buyers to Bowling Green to pick up the cars, and together they all drove back to New Jersey.

Like most C4 Corvettes, the majority of the 50 Malcolm Konner Special Edition Corvettes were driven frequently and many eventually ended up in a sad state of disrepair. Some have undoubtedly been repainted a different color, and without the unique Black/Silver Beige finish and badging they look like any other ’86, so it’s entirely possible that a few of the survivors are in the hands of people who don’t realize what they have. The cars were not built in sequence and don’t have special serial numbers, but they can still be identified by the unique Malcolm Konner Special Edition option code 4001ZA, which is on the window sticker and build sheet. (Copies of these for any C4 can be purchased from the National Corvette Museum.) The option codes, as well as the paint and interior codes, for C4s are also normally found on stickers affixed to the inside of the center-compartment door. All of the Malcolm Konner Special Edition Corvettes list “spec” (short for special) for the paint code.

When well-known Corvette collector Bill Hermanek discovered our feature car only one block away from his house, it was still wearing its original paint, so it was apparent that this was one of the 50 Malcolm Konner cars. At the time, Hermanek wasn’t looking for another Corvette, but the rarity of the car intrigued him. After some intense negotiations, he added it to his collection. “The odometer showed 90,000 miles,” Hermanek tells us, “and it needed a variety of things, but it ran and drove great, so I went ahead and bought it.”

Hermanek is currently president of the Long Island NCRS chapter, so it’s no surprise that he’s taking pains to bring the car back to “as new” condition. The paint on the hood was significantly deteriorated, so had got it refinished. The interior is all original, and a good cleaning brought that back to near-new condition. The car’s special brass console plaque was missing, and Hermanek assumed he’d have to find someone capable of making a reproduction for him, but a phone call to RJ Konner solved that dilemma. “I mentioned that the plaque was missing and he said he happened to have one that he was kind enough to send me!” says Hermanek.

Hermanek had the car judged at a local National Corvette Restorers Society meet soon after he bought it in August 2010 and scored a 93.3, which yielded a Second Flight ribbon. After correcting a few more items he had it judged again in early May, and this time around landed a Top Flight award. Moving forward, Hermanek plans to continue improving the car and, as with all of the Corvettes in his collection, he fully intends to drive and enjoy it at every opportunity.