By Jeff Peek / Hagerty.com
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue … which, when it comes to the famous Corvettes of NASA’s Apollo 15 crew, might as will be red, white, and gold.
The customized 1971 Chevrolet Corvette that was once leased by Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden—painted white with red and blue stripes—is ready to take flight again. The rare and treasured “AstroVette” is being restored by Will Penczak, Worden’s grandson, and Max Kaiserman, owner of Luna Replicas, a space collectibles company licensed to reproduce the late astronaut’s flight jacket. The two have titled the Corvette restoration “Project AstroVette Endeavour.”
“It’s a unique preservation of what we deem as a very important part of American history,” Penczak told CollectSpace.com. “It is a symbol for a very important chapter in aerospace history, as well as my own family’s history.”
According to CollectSpace, Penczak and Kasierman bought Worden’s Corvette after it was rediscovered by a collector. It had been sitting in a field.
“In its current condition, it will continue to deteriorate,” Kaiserman explained. “It is not only the consumables—the rubber goods, seals, and gaskets—that need to be replaced, but we are also looking at some fiberglass and paint damage because it sat outside for so long. There is a certain level of invasive preservation … that need to happen. It cannot just be preserved.”
In 1969, the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were part of the first mission to land a man on the moon. Although NASA prohibited astronauts from endorsing a product or company, Jim Rathmann found a loophole. Rathmann, winner of the 1960 Indianapolis 500, owned a Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Melbourne, Florida, not far from the Kennedy Space Center, and he convinced GM president Ed Cole to agree to a special program that allowed astronauts to lease up to two Chevys per year for $1 each. Most picked a wagon and a Corvette.
The only Corvettes that carried special paint schemes were the gold and black 1969 coupes driven by the crew of Apollo 12 (Charles “Pete” Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean) and the red, white, and blue 1971 coupes driven by the crew of Apollo 15 (Worden, Dave Scott, and Jim Irwin).
Worden and his team were members of the fourth mission to the moon—the first to use a lunar roving vehicle and take a deep-space EVA (spacewalk), which was performed by Worden—and they also served as the backup crew for Apollo 11. So they were all-too familiar with Conrad, Gordon, and Bean’s gold and black Corvettes.
“Our crew saw those Corvettes not only as a deliberate challenge, but also a little tacky,” Worden wrote in his 2011 biography, Falling to Earth. “So we did something a little different (and went with a patriotic color scheme).”
Worden’s AstroVette was white, Scott’s blue, and Irwin’s red. Worden selected a 454-cubic-inch V-8 engine with a Muncie four-speed manual transmission.
The three astronauts returned the cars at the end of their lease, and they were sold into private ownership. Three of the six custom Corvettes, including Worden’s, eventually ended up with Corvette collector Danny Reed, and two years ago, Penczak convinced Reed to sell the one his grandfather drove. Sadly, Worden died on March 18, 2020, before he could be reunited with the car.
Foxnews.com reports that the 80,000-mile Corvette currently runs and is mostly-rust free, but it’s had some minor repairs and a few parts replaced over the years. Penczak and Kaiserman are doing the initial restoration work themselves, and they hope to raise money to have it completed in time for the 53rd anniversary of Apollo 15 in two years. Kaiserman told Foxnews.com that a refresh could run over $100,000, while an extensive rotisserie show car-quality restoration might cost $250K or more.
Eventually, Penczak and Kaiserman plan to take the AstroVette on a 250,000-mile nationwide road trip so as many people can see it as possible. “We want to drive it as many miles as it takes to get to the moon,” Penczak said.
We’re pretty sure Worden would approve.