With Chevrolet readying a new Z06 version of the C7 Stingray for the 2015 model year, we thought this would be a good time to look back at the history of the legendary RPO number.
As with so many things associated with Corvette history, the Z06 was the brainchild of Zora Arkus-Duntov. It was a Special Performance Equipment package for the new-for-'63 Sting Ray—and a way to sidestep Chevrolet's "official" ban on racing while still getting hot parts into racers' hands. Costing $1,818.45 (when the Vette's base price hovered around $4,200), the Z06 package included higher-rate springs, bigger shocks, a thicker front sway bar, and (at least at first) a 36.5-gallon fuel tank and knock-off aluminum wheels. There were also several significant upgrades to the Vette's brakes, including a vacuum-assisted dual master cylinder, finned-and-vented brake drums, and ducts that routed cool air to the front brakes. The Z06 RPO brought with it mandatory options, including the fuel-injected, 360hp 327 V-8; close-ratio manual transmission; and Positraction differential.
A couple months after the Z06 parts group went on sale, Chevrolet removed the big gas tank and knock-off wheels from the package, lowering its price to just under $1,300. The big tank was still available as a stand-alone option, though the wheels apparently had trouble with air leaks and were discontinued early in the program.
Just 199 Z06 Vettes were built, and the first four received their baptism by fire by entering a three-hour sports-car race at the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside in October 1962. Duntov made sure these first cars went to top drivers and teams. Mickey Thompson fielded one, driven by Doug Hooper; and racers Bob Bondurant, Dave MacDonald, and Jerry Grant drove theirs from the St. Louis assembly plant to Southern California to shake them down before hitting the track.
Race officials established a new factory experimental (XP) class for these cars, and for another new sports car making its debut at Riverside: Carroll Shelby's Cobra. Yes, the Z06's first race was also the first-ever matchup between Corvette and Cobra.
An excellent retelling of the race may be found on the Dave MacDonald website (www.davemacdonald.net), accompanied by photography by Dave Friedman. The photos you see here, shot by Petersen's Pat Brollier, are outtakes from the race coverage that ran in the January 1963 issue of Sports Car Graphic magazine.
The race featured a Le Mans–type start, and MacDonald's Z06, white with double zeros on the door, was the first Vette away. Bill Krause, driving the Cobra for Shelby, was mid-pack when he left the starting line, but soon caught up to MacDonald. For much of the first hour, these two pulled ahead of the rest of the field and swapped leads, until a broken rear axle ended Krause's day. Just few laps later, MacDonald's car lost its left rear wheel, and he, too, posted a DNF (did not finish).
Not a very auspicious start for either icon. Except…at the end of the three-hour enduro, Thompson's black Z06, driven by Hooper, was the race's overall winner.
Potent as it was, the Z06 package was short-lived, soon overshadowed by Duntov's Grand Sport. And not all the Corvette/Cobra battles to come would end in Chevy's favor. But on this October day in 1962, the Z06 earned serious bragging rights.