Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alan L. Bean’s 1969 Chevrolet ‘Astrovette’



Alan L. Bean’s
1969 Chevrolet ‘Astrovette’ 


By Bonnie Wolf
Photographer: Danny Reed



Alan L. Bean, Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 12 mission, starts down the  ladder of the Lunar Module (LM)  "Intrepid" to join  astronaut Charles Conrad, Jr., mission Commander, on the lunar surface.  19 November 1969.  By NASA Charles Pete Conrad 




Portrait of the prime crew of the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission. From left to right they are: Commander, Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr. Command Module pilot, Richard F. Gordon Jr. and Lunar Module pilot, Alan L.Bean. The Apollo 12 mission was the second lunar landing mission in which the third and fourth American astronauts set foot upon the Moon. This mission was highlighted by the Lunar Module nicknamed "Intrepid" landing within a few hundred yards of a Surveyor probe which was sent to the Moon in April of 1967 on a mapping mission as a precursor to landing.  22 September 1969. Photo courtesy of NASA


The first thing you notice about this Corvette is the unusual paint scheme. Although the cover of the 1969 Corvette sales brochure featured a Riverside Gold Stingray, it did not exactly look like this Corvette.
This uniquely historic Corvette has some remarkable stories. So let us start out at the beginning.
The Vietnam War had divided our country, but the space program helped unite it.

The men and women who entered the dangerous profession of outer space were American heroes.  Many of them returned from war as military aviators and test pilots.  Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Missions were in every Americans' thoughts.

President John F. Kennedy began an extensive expansion of the U.S. space program in 1961.  President Kennedy understood the need to restore America's confidence.
He proclaimed, "This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."
In a GM press release, we read:

"On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American to travel into outer space. When he returned to terra firma, Shepard got behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Corvette."
"Shortly after Shepard’s historic flight, then General Motors Executive Edward N. Cole presented the astronaut with a new, white, 1962 Corvette. The car had been outfitted by GM designers with a customized space-age interior."

Jim Rathmann was an American racecar driver who perhaps is the most remembered for winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1960.  When Rathmann retired, he owned and operated a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Melbourne, Florida.



Image of the winning car of the 1960 Indianapolis 500 (Jim Rathmann). Photo was taken at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

For those not familiar with Florida, Melbourne is less than 20 miles south of Cocoa Beach.  I am sure you remember Coca Beach, home of the American sitcom I Dream of Jeannie that starred Barbara Eden, the 2,000-year-old genie, and her master/astronaut Larry Hagman.  Although the story is factious, Cocoa Beach is where many of the people lived that worked at the John F. Kennedy Space Center and launch site for NASA.

No doubt, because of the proximity to the Space Center, Rathmann became friends with many of the astronauts, including Alan Shepard, Gus Grisson, and Gordon Cooper.  He negotiated a special lease arrangement with Chevrolet to put them into Chevrolet cars. Under the loan, the astronauts could choose any Chevrolet they wanted. No big surprise, six of the first group of astronauts chose Corvettes.  The program was set up and the astronauts could lease a car for $1-a-year.  The lease program ended in 1971.
This is where our feature Corvette comes in. 

Alan Bean once owned this 1969 Chevrolet Corvette, referred to as the "Astrovette". It was one of the special leased program cars.  

To refresh your history, Alan Bean was part of Apollo 12 and in November 1969, Alan Bean became the fourth man to walk on the Moon.  Bean resigned from NASA in 1981 to become a painter.


Above: Left is Danny Reed showing Alan Bean, in his art studio, the Franklin Mint 1:24 1969 Corvette Apollo 12 Coupe model.   Speaking about his artistic talent, Alan 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. The Gallery will make the sharing easier than ever before." To see some of his incredible artwork go his website: http://www.alanbeangallery.com/

He was 37 at the time he received his car from the special program.  His typical day consisted of training to fly to the moon and at night, he enjoyed driving his Corvette around the little barrier island town of Cocoa Beach, nestled between the great Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River Lagoon.

However, his Corvette was not the only one like it.  Three duplicate Stingray Corvettes were actually delivered to the Rathmann dealership, all of them coupes, with the same paint scheme.

From what I have learned, it was Bean's idea to have all three cars painted the same color scheme.  The crew of the Apollo 12 was close; consequently, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon agreed with Bean to order the cars alike.  Bean ordered the three 1969 Corvettes in Riverside Gold.

There is more to the history of the unusual paint scheme.

Alex Tremulis was an industrial designer who held automotive design positions at Cord Automobile, Duesenberg, General Motors, Tucker Car Corporation and Ford Motor Company and later establishing a consulting firm.  The astronauts commissioned Tremulis to draw up some designs for them to choose from to go with the gold paint.  He drew up three designs. On the side of the third proposal was a red/white/blue logo that identity of each of the crewmembers. He also devised the black wings to go with the gold paint.
When Alex Tremulis made his designs, he made them to look like the 1964 Triumph Gyronaut that captured the absolute Land Speed Record for motorcycles in 1966.  Oddly enough, the Gyronaut was first painted to look like the 2-wheeled Summers Brothers' Goldenrod streamliner that held the wheel-driven land speed record from 1965 to 1991.  Anyway, the idea was to have both the world's fastest car and world's fastest motorcycle with matching colors. 


When Alex Tremulis made his designs, he made them to look like the 1964 Triumph Gyronaut that captured the absolute Land Speed Record for motorcycles in 1966.

In a letter to Alex Tremulis, dated October 29, 1968, Allan Bean writes, "Each day I had looked at my mail hoping to receive your sketches for Pete's, Dick's, and my Corvettes, so I was happy to get your letter.  The only thing that concerns me is that we expect to get our cars within the next week to ten days at the Cape and we plan to get them painted as soon as they come in because we will drive them back to Houston.  This means that for us to be able to use your designs, we need them in hand as soon as possible."



Well, the proposals came; the cars were delivered on time, and Jim Rathmann got them painted with Alex Tremulis design(s).  Rathmann also added, for the astronauts, a quarter-inch white stripe between the black and the gold. Danny Reed writes, "There are still some question about whether Ratmann put the black on, or if they were delivered gold & black.  Rathmann did add the stripe and R, W & B Tags.  We will probably never know."


The astronauts commissioned Tremulis to draw up some designs for them to choose from to go with the gold paint.  He drew up three designs. On the side of the third proposal was a red/white/blue logo that identity of each of the crewmembers. 


Alan Bean actually chose a combination of the three Tremulis proposals, including the red, white, and blue logos for each of the drivers.  Bean's logo was blue with the initials LMP that signified him as the Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 12 mission.  Pete's car had the red with CDR in it, which stood for Commander. Dick's white tag had CMP, for Command Module Pilot.

You might also find it interesting, that only these three Corvettes in Chevy's special lease program were special ordered and registered in the lessee's name.  Our feature Corvette has the original tank sticker on it that says: "Courtesy car delivered to Alan L. Bean."

This is where Danny Reed comes in. 

Himself being a space enthusiast as well as a Corvette enthusiast, he saw photos of the car in an issue of Life magazine in 1969.  However, much to his surprise, he spotted it in a GMAC lot in his hometown of Austin, Texas in 1971.  It had the familiar black wings on a gold Corvette.  The car was for sale, and they were taking closed-bids, so naturally, Danny put his bid in, but unfortunate lost. 

Here is a photo of the car Danny took in 1971.



Several weeks later, GMAC called and asked if he still wanted the car, as the winning bidder had not come up with the cash. Danny quickly mustered up $3230 and was able to get the car.


You will notice on the order form that they ordered the exhaust system, side mounted...but as you can see from the photos, it did not come that way.

In the late 1990s, Danny started restoring the car.  He chose not to do a frame-off, but rather recondition it. His goal was to maintain its originality.  Ray Repczynski, owner of Corvettes by Ray in Houston, was hired to do the work.  Danny had total confidence in Ray, who was one of the earliest members of the NCRS. 

Danny has commented, "No one in the country knows more about Corvettes than Ray." 

Danny has owned this car for over the 42 years. He has done extensive research and gathered vast amounts of official documentation. 










His hard work has paid off.  The Astrovette has been awarded the Top Flight®, the Duntov Award of Excellence®, and the American Heritage Award®.  (The only Corvette to receive NCRS Duntov Award of Excellence® and the American Heritage Award®)


Alan Bean has since been reunited with his Astrovette on several occasions. We have some videos for you to enjoy of Alan being reunited with his cars along with some other interesting videos and links: 
http://vettevues.blogspot.com/



The car has been displayed at NASA events, the National Corvette Museum, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and Houston Space Center.




Danny usually starts the car every week, brings it up to temperature, and drives it for about four miles every third week.  The odometer shows the 35,000 original miles. 



Danny Reed believes he has the only surviving of three matching black-and-gold Corvettes specifically ordered for the Apollo 12 crew.   Based on documentation, appraisals and past offers, he estimates the car to be worth at least $1 million, although he has no plans to sell it.

Danny Reed will display astronaut Alan Bean's 1969 Corvette Sting Ray at the Corvette Chevy Expo, September 28-29 at the Dallas Market Hall, in Dallas, Texas. You won't want to miss it!

Photo © David Temple




Specifications: 1969 Chevrolet "Astrovette"

  • 
 427 CI/390HP Turbo-Jet V8 with the 4-bbl Rochester carburetor 
 
  • Power and torque (SAE gross): 390 hp @ 5400 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm 
  • Drivetrain: 4-speed manual, RWD 
  • Dimensions L: 182.5 in, W: 69.0 in,  H: 47.8 in
  • 
Wheelbase: 98 inches (2.489 m)
  • 
Weight: 3450 lb 
  • Frame: Full-length welded-steel ladder type with five cross members. Steel box sections, welded.
  • Front suspension: Independent, unequal-length A-arms, coil springs; tubular shocks and stabilizer bar
  • Rear suspension: Independent, trailing arms, toe links, transverse chromium-carbon steel leaf spring, tube shocks, and anti-roll bar
  • Steering: Saginaw recirculating ball, 17.6:1 ratio, 2.9 turns to lock, 39.0 turning circle
  • Rear axle type: Sprung differential, Hypoid gear
  • Brakes: Hydraulic, vented four wheel discs; 11.75-inch diameter, single calipers
  • Performance 0-60 mph 6.0 sec, quarter mile 14.3 sec @ 93 mph (est) (Speedometer goes to 160 mph)
  • Options:
  • 
 Restraints (RPO A82)
  • 
 4-Season Air Conditioning (RPO C60)
  • 
 Special Positraction Axel 308 Ratio
  • 
 Turbo-Jet V8
  • 
 4-Speed Transmission
  • 
 Wheel Covers (RPO PO2)
  • 
 AM/FM Pushbutton Radio (RPO U69)
  • 
 Riverside Gold
Apollo XII Astronaut Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette  VIN# 194379S704987
CORVETTE COUPE    427/390HP TURBO-JET V-8    POSITRACTION    4-SEASON AIR CONDITIONING

Documentation

  • Order Sheet / Build Sheet / Shipping Order / Protect-O-Plate / Owner’s Manual with Alan Bean notes.
  • Original Tank Sticker with Alan L. Bean’s name on the sticker.  Video:  dropping tank - finding sticker.
  • Letter from Alan Bean to Alex Tremulis, renowned automobile designer, referring to paint design options.
  • Letters from and photographs of Apollo XII Astrovettes by Dollie Cole, widow of Ed Cole, President of GM.
  • Alan Bean letter detailing special lease program founded by GM President, Ed Cole and Jim Rathmann.
  • Autographed picture of all three Astronauts in Space Suits and their matching Gold & Black Corvettes.
  • August 1969 running footage of Alan Bean driving to, parking and leaving T-38 training at the Florida Cape - including footage of the Apollo Crew in front of Alan Bean’s LMP Corvette - and Dick Gordon sitting on the hood!
  • Astrovette appraisal by Ray Repenczynski, one of the nation’s top Corvette restorers and founding member of NCRS - providing the guidance and expertise in preparing the Astrovette for judging - “original / as delivered”.

National Corvette Restorers Association Awards
Alan Bean’s 1969 Corvette was only entered into and judged at NCRS Regional and National Events, where  “Originality and Condition” are held to the Very Highest Standards by NCRS Master Judges.

Feb 2001    Regional    Baton Rouge, LA    Top Flight
Jul 2002      National    Houston, TX            Top Flight             
Nov 2002   Regional    Waco, TX                Performance Verification
Jul 2003      National    Hershey, PA            Top Flight
Jul 2003      National    Hershey, PA            Duntov Award of Excellence
Jul 2008      National    St. Charles, MO      American Heritage Award

Alan Bean’s 1969 LMP Astrovette is the ONLY Corvette in history to receive the NCRS Duntov Award of Excellence AND the most coveted NCRS American Heritage Award.

Magazine & Print


  • Dec 1969---Life Magazine / double-page color photograph Astronauts with matching Corvettes.   
  • 1989---Corvette Quarterly / “Rocket Men and Their Rocket ships”.
  • Spring 1993---Quest Magazine / “Rocket Men” Astronaut Corvettes.
  • 1994---1969 Stingray Guidebook by Rick Bizzoco’s / Article & full-page photograph.
  • Oct 1998---APOLLO” / an eyewitness account by Astronaut Alan Bean.
  • Apr 2000---CorvetteMagazine.Com / “When Astronauts Drove Corvettes” / Feature Car.
  • Aug 2001---Car Collector Magazine / “The Car with the Right Stuff” / Cover & Feature Car.
  • Nov 2001---Vette Magazine / “The Astrovette” / Feature Car
  • Nov 2007---Vette Vues Magazine / “The Astronaut Corvette” Feature Corvette.
  • Aug 30, 2008---Austin American Statesman / “Blast From the Past” / Photograph & front page story
  • Oct 2008---Bay Area Houston Magazine / “50 Years NASA” Apollo XII Astrovette Land in Texas.
  • Nov 2008---Car Collector Magazine / “More Astronaut Corvettes” / Feature Corvette.
  • Winter 2009 ---“Corvette Torque” / United Kingdom’s NCRS Magazine / Cover & Feature.
  • Spring 2013---Motor Trend Classic Magazine / “What you drive to a Saturn V” / Cover & Feature.
  • Oct 2013---Corvette Magazine / “To the Moon and Back” Feature C3 Corvette.
  • Sept 2013---Vette Vues Magazine / “Alan L. Bean’s 1969 Astrovette” / Cover & Feature Corvette.

Display / Television & Film / Special Interest

  • 1996-2001 & 2005---NASA Johnson Space Center / NASA Open House & Ballunar Fest.
  • 1998--- “From Earth to the Moon” / Tom Hanks HBO Miniseries / “That’s All There Is”. Flight of Apollo XII (featuring clones of the matching Corvettes). 
  • May-Sept 2001---Houston Space Center / “Need for Speed” / Exhibit.
  • July-Aug 2001---National Corvette Museum / 40th Anniversary of the “First Man in Space” / Photograph of the Apollo XII crew & their matching Corvettes remains on display in the museum today.
  • December 2002---Houston Space Center 30th Anniversary of Apollo 17 / Bean reunited with car after 32 years.
  • Mar 2005---Apollo XII Corvette invited for display and parade lap at the 12-hours of Sebring North America Race for the introduction of the new Corvette C-6R.
  • Sept 05-Jan 2006---Houston Space Center / “Need for Speed” / Exhibit.
  • Jan 2007---Franklin Mint Model / Apollo XII Corvette / Limited Edition of 427 models.
  • June-Sept 2007---Cosmosphere and Space Center, Hutchinson, KS / Display under the SR 71 Blackbird.
  • Feb 2009---BBC Television / Alan Bean Documentary / 40th Anniversary of the First Man on the Moon.
  • Mar 2009---South by Southwest Film Festival  / “For All Mankind”.  Red Carpet Delivery of Apollo Flight Director Gene Karnz to Premier in Astrovette  / Displayed at Premier & Premier Party.
  • July 2009---BBC Television / “James May on the Moon, 40th Anniversary” / Alan Drive’s his Corvette.
  • 2013---French PBS / “Alan Bean Documentary” Astrovette featured on “France 2” /       PBS.
  • Sept 2013---Corvette Chevy Expo / Dallas / “Feature Corvette”.

Special Thanks to NASA - Especially Thomas E. Diegelman, Project Manager & Mission Operations Directorate of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for his help and dedication along the way.