October 12, 1962In the eight years after the Chevy small-block V-8 became available in '55 Corvettes, the two-place sports car had established a strong reputation in competition. While Chevrolet was busy denying its racing involvement to the Automobile Manufacturers Association, which in 1957 had banned all forms of factory-backed competition, Zora Arkus-Duntov was busy preparing four of the first-to-be-built, all-new '63 Sting Rays for road racing. On the weekend of October 12, 1962, the world was suddenly made aware of the new Corvette and a never-before-offered "Special Performance Equipment" option package, as the four new racers made their debut in the three-hour, 250-mile Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside International Raceway. When the dust had settled, three of the four new Vettes had been sidelined due to mechanical failures, but the fourth--driven by Doug Hooper--took the checkered flag. On its initial outing, the '63 Z06, based on an entirely new platform and hurriedly prepped for racing, beat out Europe's finest (and the new Shelby Cobra) and forever establish America's Sports Car as a powerful force to be reckoned with on the track.
The 1963 Z06 Although Chevrolet observed the AMA's ban on competition, there was no way to pull the racer out of Zora's blood. RPO Z06, the Special Performance Equipment Package, assembled a collection of goodies to put the production Sting Ray at the top of the racing food chain. As the Godfather himself put it, "Suitably equipped and set up, the new Corvette promises a potential that is hard to equal or surpass by even the world's costliest cars."
At $1,818.45 the Z06 package alone cost nearly half the base price of a split-window coupe, but for die-hard performance enthusiasts, there was no way to put a price tag on a factory showroom-stock race car--especially one sporting the brutish power of America's finest V-8 for the time. The fuel-injected L84 solid-lifter 327 with 11.25:1 compression and 360 horsepower was ordered in over 2,400 "normal" Corvettes in '63, but it was only one of the numerous mandatory options (How's that for an oxymoron?) tied into the Z06 package, along with some special, heavy-duty Z06-specific items. In lieu of the standard, smooth-shifting Borg-Warner T10 four-speed transmission, all Z06s were equipped with a beefier Muncie four-speed. A heavy-duty 1-inch front anti-sway bar replaced the standard 7/8-inch one, and much-stiffer-than-normal springs and shocks were factory installed at all four corners. An extremely stiff seven-leaf rear spring replaced the standard nine-leaf model in the new independent rear suspension, which also featured Posi-traction limited slip as part of RPO Z06.
Perhaps the most unusual component of the Z06 package, however, were the "Competition Brakes." Since four wheel discs would not be available on a Corvette until 1965, the Z06 exhibited the best Duntov could do to make a drum-braked car ready for sports car competition, especially when disc brakes were already prevalent in Europe. Larger and stronger-than-standard Al-Fin power drum brakes with sintered metallic linings maximized the stopping power of the less-than-cutting-edge technology. The heavy-duty finned cast-iron brake drums measured 1 1/2-inches wide with a diameter of 11 13/64-inches (standard drums were 11 inches), creating 334.3 square inches of total sweep compared to 328 square inches for conventional drums. A unique Kelsey-Hays master cylinder and a Morraine power booster controlled these big drums. Special brake self-adjusters worked while rolling forward because race cars spend very little time in reverse. In addition, the Z06s received ventilated front and rear backing plates and a unique 24-blade cooling fan for both front and rear drums. For extra cooling, external air scoops for the front brakes were left in the cars as they left the assembly line, to be installed by the dealers later.
All Z06s were originally slated to receive fiberglass enduro-style, 36.5 gallon fuel tanks, but only 63 ended up with them. Likewise, cast aluminum knock-off wheels were intended to be standard, but also became a victim of "production complexities." Knock-off wheels were available through dealer parts departments. Even though the Z06 package was expensive and ill-suited for street use, the majority of the 199 street-legal race cars produced were ultimately sold for exactly that.
July 1, 2000After years of waiting and rumors, Chevrolet introduced a remarkable new ultra-performance Corvette that paid homage to two different legendary designations of Corvette's past: A new model called Z06, powered by a new Gen III small-block named LS6. Chevrolet no longer had to hide its racing involvement like it did in the early days of the Vette, and the factory-backed C5-Rs were beginning their winning ways. The return of the celebrated marque to racing, and Z06 and LS6 designations to production, were Chevrolet's way of honoring the efforts of the late, great Mr. Duntov and the racing legacy he began--and the new Corvette Z06 couldn't have been more perfect. Quite simply, the '01 Z06 was the quickest and best handling production Corvette ever.
The 2001 Z06As good as the C5 was, engineers found plenty of room for improvement. On the surface the Z06 didn't look radically different, but there was hardly a piece in the drivetrain or suspension that has not been tweaked, massaged, or replaced. The Z06 was offered only in the lighter and more rigid hardtop body, and the engineers went to great lengths to reduce weight to make the most of the Z06's extra horsepower and more refined suspension.
The LS6 cranked out a very drivable 385hp and 385 ft-lbs of torque, with a 6,500 rpm redline. The '01 Z06 could run four-second 0-60s and 12.6 in the quarter-mile at 113mph, and the engine borrows its designation from the powerful LS6 454/425hp big-blocks found in less than 200 '71 Sharks. The '01 LS6 was mated to a Z06-specific M12 six-speed transmission with more aggressive gearing.
The '01 Z06 was the first mass-production car to receive a titanium exhaust system, previously found only on supercars like the McLaren F1, and weighing 19 pounds less than the standard stainless steel exhausts.
As standard equipment, the Z06 got features like second-generation Active Handling and four-wheel ABS brakes, plus upgrades like a new FE4 suspension system that included a larger, hollow front stabilizer bar, stiffer rear spring, revised camber and shock settings for better high-speed control, and 1-inch wider-than-standard forged aluminum wheels, wrapped in P265/40ZR-17 and P295/35ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 SCs. All of this added up to 1.0g capability on a skidpad. The Z06's most distinguishable exterior feature from the preceding C5 hardtops were the functional front air inlets and rear brake cooling ducts.
Tom's TreasuresIn the fall of 1962, with rumors of the wonderful new Corvette floating about, Tom Atchison decided he needed to have one. But why settle for an "average" Corvette?If Tom was going to buy a brand-new Sting Ray, he was determined to get the very best one available. So he ordered himself a Z06. A couple weeks before Easter of 1963, Tom took delivery of his new toy from Jack Schwirtz Chevrolet of Elizabeth, Illinois.
If only our story were so simple, because the Fates stepped in and dealt Tom a more complicated hand. You see, that was Tom's first '63 Z06. Late in the night of Good Friday, after a mere two weeks of ownership, Tom dozed off briefly at the wheel of his Z06 while making a long drive home, and went straight while the road curved to the right. Tom didn't suffer any major injuries, but the poor Vette was destroyed.
That could have been the end of Tom's Z06 saga. By all reasonable odds, it should have been, since fewer than 1 percent of '63 Corvettes were built as Z06s. The Fates were not through with Tom yet, however. By today's standards, it is next to impossible to imagine getting your hands on not only one, let alone two out of 200 ultra-performance '63 Vettes from the factory. But that's what happened. Tom wrote a letter to GM detailing his misfortune, and it apparently struck a cord with the appropriate person in the corporate hierarchy. "In July, I received a call from Jack Schwirtz saying that General Motors wanted to know if I would like to have another Corvette, and of course I said yes!" Not just another Corvette, however...a replacement Z06.
Tom's luck was destined to be better on his second chance. His second Z06, a Riverside Red split-window with black interior, was built on July 23, 1963--Tom's birthday! It came off the St. Louis line with an AM/FM radio, clock, and heater for niceties, but it is nonetheless essentially a race car, with a super-stiff suspension that can rattle one's fillings out on a long drive. The Z06 was built with a 4.86:1 Posi rear, but Tom quickly downgraded to 3.70:1 gears for some drivability on the street. Within a few days of delivery, Tom added white competition stripes and nickel-plated steel wheels. The OE hubcaps that came with the Z06 instead of aluminum knock-offs are still in a box at Tom's house in Lewisville, Texas--they have never been on the car.
After nearly 40 years Tom still is not tired of the old Z06. It is completely original, unrestored, and in immaculate condition. Because the old Z06s were not very pleasant road cars, Tom's mid-year has collected less than a thousand miles per-year on average.
It has also been well pampered over the decades. The '63 has never been repainted, the interior is all original ("People at shows can't believe that is the original steering wheel because it looks brand new," Tom says.), it still has the original spare tire and windshield wipers!
In February 2000, Tom was asked to put his '63 Z06 on display in the National Corvette Museum. That July, after attending the NCRS national convention in Bowling Green, Tom's '63 took its place of honor in the Museum, where it would reside for the following year.
In the meantime, Chevrolet had just announced the brand-new '01 Z06. After a motivating BS session with a fellow Lone Star Corvette Club member, where they jokingly agreed, "I'll buy one if you buy one," Tom immediately ran out and ordered one. Just as in 1962, his decision was based primarily on rumors of what this super Corvette would be. The salesman who took his order on July 3, 2000 had not even heard of the Z06 option yet, nor did he have any literature, stats, a picture, or anything. He had to take Tom's word that there was such a car to order. It was a calculated gamble for Tom, but one that certainly paid off!
His '01 Z06, ordered to match the '63 in Torch Red with a Torch Red and black interior, was built a few weeks later on August 7. Thanks to the fantastic technological advances of the past four decades, the '01 Z06 substantially outperforms the '63 version, and feels like a luxury car by comparison. In the name of all-out performance some compromises in comfort are always required, but far less than before. Tom had his '01 equipped with electronic monochromatic mirrors, AM/FM stereo with CD player and the Bose high-output sound system, a power six-way driver seat, and red floor and cargo area mats with the Z06 logo. Naturally, Tom ordered the R8C Museum delivery option.
The NCM delivery allowed Tom a very special opportunity on September 9, 2000. "When I took delivery of this Corvette at the National Corvette Museum, it was displayed along with my 1963 Corvette Z06." For that one morning, Tom (and the entire world) got a preview of that ultimate pair of siblings, one that would then remain separated for the following year. But then, the '01 filled the gap in Tom's weekend toy category nicely in the split-window's absence.
For years, ever since the enormous market value of the '63 Z06 sank in for Tom, it has been reassigned mostly to show car status. It always has, and still gets, its share of autocrosses, gymkhanas, and the like. But while it is a wonderfully fun car, it has never been very comfortable to drive. The '01 Z06 is a lot more practical and comfortable. Thus it sees plenty of street use, giving Tom a welcome break from driving his Suburban. Tom has bragging rights to not only being the original owner of a flawless and unrestored '63 Z06, but also of having bought two other Z06s from Chevrolet. With perfect examples of both generations of Z06s, Tom Atchison's pair of Vettes truly give him a full house!