Corvettes have been associated with America’s manned space program from Alan Shepard’s first sub-orbital Mercury flight in the Freedom 7 capsule on May 5, 1961 to the final flight of Apollo 17 landing astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt on the moon on December 11, 1972. It stands to reason that anyone adventurous enough to become an astronaut would prefer similarly exciting earth-bound transportation. Ed Cole, President of General Motors with Jim Rathmann Chevrolet of Melbourne Florida offered the astronauts 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. It comes as no surprise that for many astronauts, Corvette was their car of choice.
Unfortunately for Corvette collectors, the astronaut’s Corvettes were turned in at the end of the one-year period and were sold to the general public. Once assimilated into the general Corvette population, the astronaut’s Vettes disappeared from public view. Only a few devoted Corvette detectives were aware of the VINs or the special characteristics of the astronaut’s Corvettes and they were always on the lookout for one coming on the market. Danny Reed was one such Corvette detective.
Danny Reed: the Sherlock Holmes of Astronaut Corvettes
Like all good detectives, Corvette expert Danny Reed of Austin Texas has a good memory. One day in 1971 as he was driving past a local General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) used car lot, he spotted a unique Corvette that triggered his memory banks—he remembered it was in a Life Magazine photo from December of 1969 showing Apollo 12 crew members Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Dick Gordon in their identical 1969 Corvettes. He immediately pulled into the lot and found out that the car was being sold via a closed bid auction. Reed could tell from the special Riverside Gold and black custom paint that the car was one of the three Apollo 12 Corvettes and this was his chance to own it.
Danny gave the matter careful consideration before placing his bid, realizing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as the other two Apollo 12 cars were among the missing. He added a modest amount to the book value of a standard 1969 Corvette and mailed in his bid. The hands of time seemed to stand still as he waited for the auction results. After the mail finally arrived, his excitement was quickly crushed when he found out his bid was only the second highest. The Apollo 12 Corvette would belong to someone else.
Or would it? Six weeks later, Reed received another letter from GMAC indicating that the high bidder was unable to come up with the money and that he, Danny Reed, was now declared the auction winner! Danny later discovered that the modest amount of money he added to the book value of a ’69 Corvette, $30, was the difference between his bid and the next highest bid. Danny was now the owner of Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean’s Corvette. Reed’s pride and joy is fully restored to original standards and is the only Corvette to receive the NCRS Duntov Award of Excellence and the NCRS American Heritage Award.
Apollo 15 Astronaut Alfred Worden’s 1971 Corvette
When you collect rare artifacts, such as astronaut’s Corvettes, you need a network of friends to keep their eyes and ears open to get leads for you. Carl Sanger is one of Danny Reed’s network of Corvette friends. In 2017 Danny was at a large Corvette event at the Circuit of the Americas race track when he received an email from Carl forwarding him a Craigslist ad for a 1971 Corvette that was “once owned by an astronaut.” Danny immediately looked up the location of the seller and discovered it was a used car lot only three houses past the turnoff to the race track!
Danny quickly arranged for an inspection of the car, which confirmed his suspicion that it was one of the cars for the crew of Apollo 15. The ’71 Corvette coupe was Classic White with red and blue stripes corresponding to the patriotic red-white-and-blue paint schemes of the Apollo 15 Corvettes—Commander Dave Scott’s Corvette was Bridgehampton Blue with red and white stripes, and Lunar Module Pilot Jim Irwin’s Corvette was Mille Miglia Red with blue and white strips, meaning Reed’s car once belonged to Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden.
This time there was no need to go through the stress of an auction—Danny put down a deposit and closed on the purchase of the car on July 20, 2017, the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Worden car sat out in an open field for many years and still wears its weathered patina. When asked about restoring the car, Danny says, “For now, I guess I’ll show it as a barn find and decide down the road. After all, I’m blessed to have one of each! Trust me -It doesn’t get any better than that.”
NCM NASA Exhibit: From Gas Station to Space Station
The Apollo 12 and Apollo 15 cars of Danny Reed are on display at the National Corvette Museum exhibit “From Gas Station to Space Station” that opened in February and runs through July celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The exhibit also includes a 1968 Corvette convertible that belonged to astronaut Alan Shepard, one of the first seven astronauts selected for the Mercury program. Alan was the only original Mercury 7 astronaut to later walk on the moon.
A red 1965 Corvette convertible that once belonged to Betty Skelton is also part of the exhibit. One could write several books about Ms. Skelton’s accomplishments in aviation and in the automotive world. She is in the NCM Corvette Hall of Fame and in 1959 she was the first woman to successfully undergo NASA’s rigorous psychological and physical tests given to the Mercury 7 astronauts. Betty Skelton is honored for paving the way for all of the women astronauts who’ve crossed the final frontier into space.
Article written for America’s Sports Car Magazine by Bruce Troxell.
About the Author: Bruce Troxell is a professional freelance writer who has been contributing articles on aviation and automotive topics to a variety of sites since 2009. Following careers as an engineer with a major automobile manufacturer and as a lawyer in private practice, Mr. Troxell discovered the joys of writing and has never looked back. He brings a unique perspective and an engaging conversational style to all his writings.
Born and raised in New Jersey, he and his wife Cindy now live in bucolic central Virginia with Max, a prescient stray cat who wandered into their lives several years ago and decided to stay.