Old Red: The Beast, the Baddest of all Street Vettes in 1969!

Jonathan Herrick’s 1-of 390 1969 427 L89 Corvette

Dateline: 8.30-22: This story was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Vette Vues Magazine POSTSCRIPT: The Vette Vues story, “Old Red: THE BEAST!” about Jonathan Herrick’s 1969 427/435 L89 Big-Block Corvette was written in March of 2022. I just got the following update from Jonathan. Congrats, Corvette Brother!

“The car received the Survivor Gold award, Gold Certification award, and the Benchmark award at Bloomington in June. Headed to the Muscle Car Nationals in November to take it through NCRS Top Flight judging and the Pinnacle award judging!”

Back in the day when big-block muscle cars roamed America’s highways and byways, many of what we now call “classic performance cars” were literally pounded into the ground. So, when an example of one of the most advanced performance cars from those golden years comes to our attention; complete, and all-original; it is something to stop and admire; and ask, “how did this happen?”

What’s So Special About an L89 Big-Block 1969 Corvette?

When it comes to street performance cars from 1969, the L71 427/435 Corvette was among the Top Five performance cars for street use. The solid-lifter big-block was an absolute beast of a car and if ordered with 4.11:1 gears, it was nearly unbeatable.

High-end performance cars have always been premium cars, and the L71-equipped Corvette was no exception. RPO L71 alone was listed at $437 and buyers were seriously encouraged to order the F41 Special Front and Rear Suspension; a bargain at just $36. The M20 four-speed transmission went for $184, not sure if you meant to add the M21 instead of the M22 which was available on the L88 engine option. If a customer was serious, the M22 “Rock Crusher” four-speed cost $290.

Lots of Cool Options

The options list in 1969 had all kinds of nice features that could add a lot to the final tally. What I outlined above would get you a ton of Corvette performance for under $6,000.

But, if you had deep pockets, you could ding the window sticker way up. Ordering the L88 package cost $1,032, and was designed to be the basis of an all-out race car. To discourage well-healed customers from just ordering the engine with the biggest horsepower number, Duntov deliberately published 430-horsepower. The true figure was in excess of 550-horsepower.

Here’s What the Trick Setup Got You

So, if a customer had the money and had to have the ultimate trick setup for the street, the L89 option was what they wanted. RPO L89 engine was exactly the same as the L71; the three two-barrel carbs, and big triangle air cleaner. Thanks to the aluminum heads 70-pounds of weight was lobbed off the front of the car and the top of the engine. The configuration of the heads was the same as the L71, which for a street machine was mighty impressive.

Saving Weight Was Very Expensive

While Zora Arkus-Duntov loved the horsepower and torque of the big-block engines, he was not happy about the extra weight up front. If you had an extra $394 in your account to spend on top of the $437 for the L71, you could have the lightest big-block Corvette available. In today’s dollars, that is around $3,200 to save 70-pounds on your Corvette. Believe it or not, 390 customers said, “I’ll have one of those!” So, let’s have a look at Jonathan Herrick’s rare, 1969 L89 Corvette Coupe, 1-of-390 built.

The L98’s Unique Vette Vues Connection

Jonathan’s 1969 L89 Corvette has an interesting connection to Vette Vues Magazine. The car’s previous owner purchased the then eleven-year-old Corvette from an ad in Vette Vues Magazine. Of course, in 1980 no one ever imagined that Corvette values would explode into unimaginable high prices. The seller was asking for TWO L89 Corvettes; a Monza Red/red interior 427 L89 and 14,000 miles on the odometer and a Riverside Gold Coupe with 39,000 miles on the odometer and a gold interior.

Both cars had four-speed transmissions, AM/FM Radios, Heavy Duty Suspension, along with their original window stickers and paperwork. The Riverside Gold L89 had factory Side Pipes and a $32 Rear Window Defogger. The seller was asking $13,000 for each car and specified in the ad, “NO COLLECT CALLS”. I know, what’s a “collect call”?

Also, the car appeared in the March 1980 issue of Vette Vues along with what is now Roger Judski’s yellow 427 ZL-1. Then in 1984, the two cars were reunited at a Corvette show with Corvette Godfather, Zora Arkus-Duntov.

Jonathan Meets the original Owner

Jonathan met the previous owner, a fellow named Kevin, in 1993 after responding to an ad for a 1969 Coupe with an L89 and an automatic transmission in Hemmings Motor News. Kevin sent Jonathan photos of the Fathom Green L89 and in the background of one photo Jonathan noticed a Red/Red ’69 Coupe that got his attention. But the owner said that the car was not for sale.

Jonathan knew full well what a 427 L89 was, so he kept in touch with the owner, proving that persistence and patience sometimes can pay off in the long run. As sometimes happens, long-term Corvette owners sometimes become experts in their particular car. Jonathan’s son is also into Corvettes, so Kevin suggested that Jonathan and his son buy the car together.

As Kevin had owned and cared for the L89 for a long time, his main concern was that the car would go to good owners that would properly care for and maintain the car.

The L98 Gets A Good New Home

After some conversation and consideration with his son, the L89 got a new home in Jonathan’s garage. Jonathan assured Kevin that he would not sell the car, but pass it down to his oldest son someday. As often happens with old, well-cared for, and preserved Corvettes, the three men have become good friends. Really cool cars can do that, you know.

Kevin also gave Jonathan and his son all of the L89 material he had collected over the previous 43 years. Included were all of the car’s previous owners and their phone numbers! Also included is the original window sticker, sighed by Zora! The Protect-O-Plate, the original title, registration, original Owner’s Welcome Folder, Owner’s Card, and letter. Plus all of the original glove box items, as well as the original tank sticker, were verified by NCRS.

NCRS Bowtie Presentation Award

Jonathan’s L89 Corvette is an un-restored survivor car and still has its original Monza Red lacquer paint, red vinyl interior, and the engine compartment and chassis are original. To date, the car has received the NCRS Bowtie Presentation Award.

Since taking ownership of the car and Kevin’s historical documentation, everything has been digitally formatted. You can review their material at this website; https://www.1969corvettel89.com/

Old Corvette stories are typically all over the place; some cars are driven all over North America and others never go far from home. Jonathan’s L89 was delivered new on January 30, 1969, to Daley Chevrolet in Gillespie Illinois. Daley Chevrolet happens to be about 45-minutes from where Jonathan resides.

Jonathan and his son visited the old dealership and found two happy things. First, the building is still there and is a car restoration shop. Second, he was able to purchase an old Daley Chevrolet sign that now hangs in his garage with the L89!

Jonathan Talks Candidly About “Old Red”

We asked Jonathan a series of questions about the L89. Here are the questions and his responses.

What and who influenced your passion for cars? How did this occur?

My passion for cars came from my uncle Ray. He was a car nut since he was a little kid and when he got into high school, he would fix up old cars and sell them at his house. He always took great care of his cars and really wanted to get a red 63 split window.

Unfortunately, he never got to own his dream car but if he was here today, we would take the L89 out for a spin! My youngest son carries his name as his middle name and shares Ray’s passion for cars and my oldest son does too.”

What does this car represent to you?

The car is truly special to me and my son and a piece of corvette history. Being one of only 390 L89s built in ’69 and the only un-restored red/red coupe in the L89 registry. It would be an impossible car to replace. But the ’69s are still my favorite year and the L89s have a special place in corvette history. They are the only aluminum head tri-power cars built for street use.

1969 was the final year offered and the option price was an additional cost of $394.95 to the sticker price on top of the L71 engine option price of $437.10. Which is just crazy when you think about the price of an average car in 69.”

What engine was under the hood when you purchased the car?

The engine is the original motor that left the St Louis Corvette assembly plant in 1969 and has never been out of the car. Given the very high-performance nature of the L89, it’s amazing that the original engine is still with the car. Yes, it’s a numbers-matching Corvette.”

Can you think of any memorable stories; funny, sad, or exciting, associated with this car?

After Kevin agreed to sell the car to us, I didn’t sleep much the day after and night before I brought the car home. Once the car was loaded off the transport, I remember my sons were so excited. They completely checked out the car and couldn’t wait for their first ride.”

Is there anything you had to restore?

No, I have not needed to restore the car since it is so original and complete. I used Meguiars No. 7 Show Car Glaze to improve the original lacquer paint quite a bit. I also sourced some parts to dial in the car in certain areas that needed it. It’s all preparation for future judging events. Everything that needed to be done my son and I have done.”

What were the hardest parts to maintain?

I would say keeping the carburetors dialed in and the solid lifters adjusted. That’s nothing unusual with these kinds of period high-performance cars. But once you have the set-up right, the engine pulls strong, runs great, and delivers.”

Have you repainted it? What color? What was the original color?

The L89 has its original, “Monza Red” lacquer paint, which is pretty amazing considering what typically used to happen to lacquer-painted cars back then.”

Do you own or have you restored other collectible cars? If so, what were they?

I have been blessed to have owned several other rare Corvettes and Camaro’s. Also in the garage is a black 1999 corvette that my son owns. So, you can see, Corvette passion runs deep in my family.”

What do you intend to do with this car?

My plan is to keep it until I pass it down to my oldest son. This year we are taking it to Bloomington Gold for Benchmark Certification. Also, my family and I will be taking the L89 to the MCACN show in the fall for judging. Outside of that, we intend to enjoy the car by taking it out for cruises, preserving its originality, and sharing the car’s special history.”

In your opinion, how do you see the future for classic cars from the 1960s-1970s?

I often hear a lot of people say that these cars are dying out because there are no young people that want them. That may be true for some classic cars and muscle cars. But in my opinion, the early C3 solid-lifter cars; such as the LT1, L71, L89, and L88 will always be in demand, with the original documented cars at the top.”

When you sit behind the wheel of this car, what are your immediate thoughts?

My thoughts are that I can see what Zora Duntov intended for the driver to feel when he built these cars. Raw horsepower, ahead of its time design, and timeless body lines. I love shifting through the gears and hearing the secondary carburetors open up. I forget about anything else! And I realize it is a blessing to take my son cruising in such a special Corvette.”

And lastly, what is the car like to drive?

There is nothing to replace the smell of an original interior car and the smell of racing fuel out of the rear tailpipes! Old Red has a unique patina that only time can create and cannot be bought. The car rides as an L89 aluminum head tri-power with the heavy-duty F41 suspension should. The car is tight and handles like it is on rails.

This isn’t a car that you drive casually, you definitely have to DRIVE the car. The big-block engine is super responsive with the three two-barrel carburetors. Between the horsepower and torque of the L89 and the optional 4:11 gears, the car delivers amazing acceleration. Frightening, actually, if one isn’t used to that kind of raw acceleration.

This car was once featured in Wayne Ellwood’s “Shark Quarterly Magazine” back in the winter of 1997, along with the green L89 automatic coupe the previous owner had. Imagine that, owning TWO L89 Corvettes! The green car was nicknamed “Big Green” aka “The Beauty” and my car was nicknamed “Old Red” – The Beast!”

Jonathan, we love “beast” Corvettes here at Vette Vues and couldn’t agree more! – Scott

This story was originally published in the May 2022 issue
of Vette Vues Magazine