Bunkie & Florence Knudsen Had Some NICE Corvettes!

Dateline: 3.25.12

Former Chevrolet General Manager and all-around car guy, Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen’s “Executive Perks.”

Semon Knudsen was the son of former GM president “Big Bill” Knudsen. Although technically a “rich kid” Semon didn’t just have everything handed to him – he had to work his way up through the ranks and pay his dues. For those that are able to climb the corporate ladder into the rarified upper atmosphere of the corporate world, there are perks. And when you work for a car company, there are sometimes special “car perks.”

GM executives were able to have special custom-build versions of production cars, built to their specifications. Not all GM VIPs were offered custom cars, but those that were, got some awesome machines. Bunkie had at least three custom Corvettes built – a ‘63 Roadster and a ‘64 Coupe for himself, and a Mary Kay-like, pink ‘64 Coupe for his wife, Florence. Sweet! For my Illustrated Corvette Series column in the May 2012 issue of VETTE Magazine, I covered Bunkie & Florence’s custom rides. Below is the story copy and the art. it all makes me wonder what kind of custom cars today’s GM VIPs get. – Scott

The Knudsen’s Corvettes – “Bunkie & Florence Had NICE Vettes!”

Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen was one of the lesser known Corvette angels working inside GM and was a true friend to the Corvette. Semon was the son of former GM president, “Big Bill” Knudsen, but that didn’t put his career on the fast track. A a teenager, Semon asked for a car, so his Dad gave him a brand new car… in pieces for him to put together. While attending M.I.T. Semon worked summers on GM assembly lines and upon graduation, got a job in a Detroit machine shop as a gofer. It wasn’t until ‘39 that Semon got hired at Pontiac and from there, it only took 17 years to become general manager of Pontiac, which in ‘56 was the weakest of GM’s lines.

From ‘56 to ‘61 Knudsen introduced models including Bonneville, Wide Track, Super Duty, Tri-Power, the OHC engine, the Grand Prix, Tempest, and went NASCAR racing to spice up Pontiac’s image. The turnaround was so dramatic, he was given GM’s flagship division  to manage – Chevrolet. Without missing a beat, Knudsen started offering the Z11 Impala, the Super Sport, the Mark IV big-block, and approved the Grand Sport, the ‘63 Z06 and ‘65 factory side exhausts. Yes, Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen was a Corvette angel.

A hard working, car guy executive has to get a few toys, right? And Bunkie got some NICE custom Corvettes! Chevrolet Styling often designed and produced “special cars” for executives. When the ‘63 Sting Ray came out, a special medium blue roadster with a white stripe was built for the father of the Corvette, Harley Earl and was festooned with every possible feature. Plus, what may well be the most exotic street car header side pipes ever made. Knudsen was so taken with the car, he had one made for himself.

Semon’s car was painted Rose Pearl with a white stripe, unique front fender openings for the chrome header side pipes and custom side rocker panels. The stock L76 340-horsepower had extra chrome trim, air conditioning, and a manual 4-speed. To clear the headers, the engine bay was modified and the battery moved to the back of the car. Wheels were the then new, finned aluminum knock-offs. The interior that was especially sweet with seats were shaped like the ‘64 seats and covered in white leather with a maroon stripe. The door panels were white naugahyde with a stainless steel and red trim, and Corvette cross flags emblems. The dash was was red with ‘64 white-on-black gauges and the steering wheel was a custom 2-spoke design with a teak rim. The console insert was red, the carpeting was cranberry red with stainless steel floor grates. This was a very rich-looking car, with plenty of grunt, and a nice bark from the side pipes.

The following year, Knudsen got a custom Corvette coupe. The Cadillac Fire Frost Blue ‘64 Sting Ray Coupe is now part of Mike Yeager’s MY Garage collection. Powered by a 327/365-horsepower L76 engine with air conditioning, and a 4-speed transmission, the Sting Ray barks loud and clear thanks to another set of unique side pipes that are closer to the production ‘65 – ‘67 units, but with a unique cover design. Up front the car was wearing a ‘65 egg crate-style grille, custom bumpers, and a custom hood. Production knockoffs have 2-point spinners, body-colored paint between the ribs, and are mounted on special blue striped Goodyear tires. The interior is trimmed in blue and white with white leather covered high-back seats, white door panels with stainless steel trim, and a white leather covered console. The blue carpeting is Cadillac deep pile with stainless steel floor grates. A teak wood steering wheel and power windows and wing vents round out the interior.

Mrs Knudsen must have asked, “Bunkie, where’s my Corvette?” Florence Knudsen’s ‘64 Corvette was painted Pearl PINK! But this was no Mary Kay car, as this Vette was powered by a preproduction 396 big-block engine with a 2-speed Powerglide. Custom body parts included ‘65 front fender vents, a ‘65-’66 big-block hood, and the six tail light treatment. The interior featured pink leather covered seats, pink door panels with stainless steel trim, and cranberry red carpeting on the lower edge that matched the deep pile floor carpet. The center console, dash and steering wheel rim were painted cranberry red and the gauge surround and glove box door were painted Pearl Pink. Also included was air conditioning, power windows and manual wing vents. Cranberry red seat belts with engraved “FMK” initials on the belt buckles finished off the interior. Mrs Knudsen’s custom Corvette is arguably one of the most unique of all of the factory customized Corvettes.

Although Knudsen did a first class job running Chevrolet, in ‘67 he was passed over for president of GM, with the position going to Ed Cole. Semon left GM in ‘68 to become president of Ford, but 19 months later, Henry Ford II replaced Knudsen with Lee Iacocca. Knudsen went on to become chairman of White Motor Corporation, but his high-performance days were behind him. At least while at the helm of Chevrolet, he got to enjoy some amazing Corvettes. – KST

The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.

The above 11×17 Parchment Paper Print is available for just $24.95 + $6.95 S&H. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.

The above 11×17 Laser-Etched Print is available for just $49.95 + $8.00 S&H. You can order your with the secure PayPal button below, or by calling 1-800-858-6670, Monday through Saturday 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time.

Here’s the BEST way to keep up with K. Scott Teeters’ Corvette blog!

Enter your email address: