A 1954 Corvette with a Maine mystique goes on the auction block.
Photograph Courtesy Mecum Auctions
Fifty-four years ago Richard Sampson drove his nearly pristine 1954 Corvette convertible to his grocery store on Bath Road in Brunswick and ordered workmen to wall it up with brick. Its twenty-seven-year entombment — and subsequent ten-year stint in Sampson’s daughter’s living room — may well have made it the most famous Corvette in existence.
The sporty white roadster with the red leather seats was back in the news this winter when it went on the auction block in Kissimmee, Florida. The hundred thousand dollar high bid did not meet the reserve price set by the seller, says Meghan Gaines of Mecum Auctions, which had expected the car to fetch $175,000 to $225,000.
The car is believed to be the oldest, lowest mileage, unrestored Corvette in the world, but we like to think its eccentric Maine story contributed to its value, too. Whether increasing its allure was what Sampson intended when he entombed the auto is anyone’s guess, but clearly he was unusually prescient about its future collectability. The first Corvettes, after all, had rolled off Chevrolet’s assembly line in Flint, Michigan, just one year before Sampson’s car was built, and the Corvette, which he purchased from a Lewiston dealer, was one of the first delivered in Maine. (The asking price for a Corvette without options was $2,774 in 1954.) It had only 2,331 miles on the odometer when Sampson put it in his doorless basement vault, which was outfitted with two light bulbs and a square plate glass window so he could gaze upon his beloved vehicle whenever he liked.
Sampson, who died in 1969, had intended for the car to remain undisturbed until 2000, but the building changed hands, so in 1986 Sampson’s daughter, Cynthia, dismantled the vault and moved the car to her Daytona Beach home, where she displayed it in her living room. By then, the convertible had already acquired a mystique among collectors, thanks to an article titled “Buried Alive” in Special Interest Autos magazine. News stories have since accompanied every milestone, from the car’s exhumation to its sale to an Ohio collector to the recent auction. Sorry you missed it? Not to worry. The car is still on the block through Mecum’s online Bid Goes On program. Get your vault ready. — Virginia M. Wright