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The 1963 Chevrolet Corvette that Made Corvette a True Contender

Manifold Destiny: Charting the course of what’s probably the most raced Z06 in the world: Washburn Chevrolet’s tanker

Chris Shelton Jul 12, 2017
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You don’t have to be an old-timer to know the Corvette Z06 designation. It’s basically an engine, suspension and, in some cases, chassis package that Chevrolet introduced in 2001.

But to know the true origins of Regular Production Option Z06 requires a bit of a history lesson. The 2001 iteration actually invoked the spirit of a package introduced some 28 years prior. Rather than a marketing ploy, RPO Z06 was a means to circumvent participation in motorsports due to General Motors signing, in 1957, the AMA (Automobile Manufacturer’s Association) letter banning such activities. RPO Z06 consisted of the L84 fuel-injected 327, a four-speed transmission, larger drum brakes, vented backing plates, sintered-metallic linings, internal cooling fans, a dual-circuit master cylinder, stiffer springs, a bigger front antiroll bar, heavy-duty dampers and a limited-slip gear carrier. And in 63 cases—all early examples, in fact—RPO Z06 also included a 36 1/2-gallon fiberglass tank that inspired the tanker nickname.

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Essentially, RPO Z06 was an endurance race car that anyone could buy, provided they knew about it. And provided they had an extra $1,818.45 ($13,432.76 in today’s funds) on top of the car’s base price of $4,252 (roughly $33,500 today).

But not all Corvettes with the Z06 option package were created equal. You see, the package that we mere mortals could buy was the consequence of a handful of cars prepared personally by Corvette’s godfather, Zora Arkus-Duntov. These early production units went to high-profile racing teams like Mickey Thompson and Chevrolet dealers Don Steves, Alan Green and, in this particular car’s case, Shelly Washburn.

The reason for these cars’ existence was an equally high-profile event, an endurance exposition the weekend of the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix in Riverside, California, on October 13, 1962. Bear in mind that production didn’t start until the summer of 1962 and the car didn’t officially debut until September 28. In fact, so rushed was this program that Duntov created it on the floor of the St. Louis plant and the recipients had to arrange their own deliveries.

Washburn sent his hot-shoe driver, an up-and-comer named Bob Bondurant, to drive the car back. The transportation probably warrants a story itself (among other things, Bondurant got popped for speeding in Hollywood).

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But the thing to take away from the transport (and probably the ticket) was the compressed time frame. Taking delivery of the car so close to the event gave preparer Bob Joehnck only a week to prep the car. “There wasn’t much that we could do,” he admitted in Tom Madigan’s book, Edelbrock: Made in the USA. He built a ’cage, mounted belts, tuned the engine and made headers. But disaffected by the compressed time frame, Joehnck didn’t go to the meet.

Bondurant started 9th in the 14-car field. Competition was formidable, with four more Sting Ray contenders: Dave MacDonald driving for dealer Don Steves, Jerry Grant for SS Research and Development, Doug Hooper for Mickey Thompson, and Dick Guldstrand driving for Hay Baher.

Also present that day was something nobody anticipated … literally. Shelby American showed up basically unannounced with Bill Krause at the helm of its new Cobra.

Now, this is usually the point where we herald the Washburn entry for stomping Shelby America in the first of many hotly contested battles that defined an epic motorsport battle of the ’60s. Though bigger than stock, the drums were still inadequate and required early braking. The steel wheels were heavy and impaired acceleration. But, ultimately, it was engine troubles that sidelined the entry.

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The Cobra didn’t finish either. But despite the 1,000-pound disparity, it was an almost even battle according to Bondurant, who said the Sting Ray could out-corner the Cobra. A Sting Ray did win that exhibition event, though: Mickey Thompson’s entry driven by Doug Hooper.

Joehnck later worked the car over to a greater extent and fitted it with American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels. It’s unknown how 614 finished at Riverside on February 3, 1963, but the following month Bondurant placed Third at the SCCA Regional event at Dodger Stadium.

The car got better as the season progressed. At Pomona on April 21, 1963, Bondurant placed Second behind Dick Guldstrand in another Sting Ray. On the April 26, he won the SCCA Regional event at Santa Barbara. On June 23, Bondurant beat Dick Guldstrand, Bill Sherwood and Danny Stephens in Sting Rays. On July 14, a fuel leak denied Bondurant a finish at the SCCA Regional Pomona meet.

As the season progressed, Joehnck employed increasingly drastic methods to make 614 more competitive. At one point he took a hole saw to the chassis, a modification that lopped off another 17 pounds.

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Sting Ray 614 remained competitive among other production cars, but purpose-built race cars chipped away at its success. At the September 1 meet in Santa Barbara, Bondurant came Fourth. At Santa Barbara again on the 15th, Bondurant placed Second. Washburn entered the Sting Ray at the 1963 Riverside 200 with Bondurant as the driver of record but Bondurant ended up driving for Shelby American (the start of a very successful series of events for the company).

Number 614 returned to Santa Barbara on May 31, 1964, with longtime Corvette racer Tony Settember at the helm. He placed Third. On September 6, he returned and placed Second.

In 1965, attorney, historian and land-speed racer Mark Dees bought out Washburn and campaigned 614 with Bill Davis. On May 30, Settember placed Second in C-Modified and Third overall at Santa Barbara. Presumably this was Settember’s last time in the car as race records indicate Bill Davis as driver of record at Pomona on June 20. However, the lack of results there and Laguna Seca in May 1966, suggest interest in the car as a road racer had petered out.

But 614 wasn’t finished. Dees reconfigured the car to pursue a dream: entry into the 200-mph club. He had Joehnck prepare the car and went to Bonneville in 1967. They came close to joining.

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According to Joehnck in Edelbrock: Made in the USA, when Dees asked the factory engineers what he could do to improve his chances, they told him the car had no business at the speeds he was pursuing. So he cut off the top. With further streamlining, Dees set the record at 205.89 mph at the 1968 meet, thereby achieving that dream.

This is where the history of 614 gets real murky. Nearly 20 years later, Bob Joehnck stumbled upon a derelict Vette with familiar modifications. He bought and began rebuilding the car.

Coincidental to this, Vic Edelbrock Jr., whose father had issued Joehnck one of the first Edelbrock distributorships decades earlier, saw the car under reconstruction. Joehnck explained that he intended to go vintage racing, an activity that he probably undersold by likening it to parade-lapping road courses. With a gentleman’s agreement that he’d finish restoring it, Vic bought the car.

Vic pressed new hire Mike Eddy into the car’s restoration. “Initially, we just kind of cleaned it up,” he says. “Vic had the body and paint done and we did minimal prep work to make it legal.” The car debuted at the 1987 Monterey Historics.

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The Historics revealed very significant issues. For one, “Vintage car racing was not just a matter of parading in rank and file,” Vic admitted in Edelbrock: Made in the USA. For another, “We realized that it needed more than minimal prep,” Eddy says. So the following year Dick Guldstrand—one of the first Sting Ray racers himself—tuned the suspension.

But it wasn’t enough. In 1988, after reuniting with the car at his Sears Point driving school, Bob Bondurant appraised the car’s handling as a -3 on a scale of 1-10 according to his account in the Edelbrock book. “The car was not real predictable to drive,” Eddy remembers. “It was like winding up a rubber band when you stood on the gas.”

Fate made the decision at a meet in downtown Palm Springs, California. The ball joint pulled out of the right-lower control arm, causing the car to collide with water barrels and pirouette as it shed parts. “After that crash I put my foot down,” Eddy remembers. They gave 614 the true restoration it needed from the start, replacing every drilled structural member, frame included.

For the most part the restored car resembles its heyday configuration. It still has the 327, albeit with a Holley on a dual-plane manifold (an Edelbrock, naturally). But it’s hardly a shortcoming: rather than the 360-odd horsepower it originally made, 614 makes closer to 460 at 7,000 rpm. That feeds a Muncie M22 that spins any number of gear ratios fitted to limited-slip carriers on hand. An electric pump and a rear-mounted cooler keep gear temps in check. Probably the most significant change is a full set of disc brakes from a later-model car.

Doug Holmberg, the fabricator who made the 1 3/4-inch headers, also bent up a rollbar for the car. The suspension still bears the Guldstrand coils and tuning. Typical for the period, the car uses Koni dampers. Naturally, the interior is barren with only the essentials: aluminum buckets, Stewart-Warner gauges in the console and a Jones-made Moroso tachometer on the column.

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It was largely in this form that Vic raced 614. He took the car pretty much everywhere: Seattle, Portland, Monterey, Sears Point, Steamboat Springs and even Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen. In fact, the car got to run the last race at Riverside, the place where it started its journey.

Chevrolet built nearly 200 Z06 cars in 1963, 63 of them with the 36.5-gallon fiberglass tank. So by default they’re all special. But of those, the four that made history that day at Riverside are another level of special. And one could make the case that of them all, 614 is the most special. Rather than elaborately restored, it was probably the most extensively raced of the bunch—it’s spent decades on the track.

Without a doubt Chevrolet will inevitably reissue the RPO Z06 designation. But make no mistake; it’s impossible that it could be as special as this one.

Photography by Jorge Nunez


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Here’s Bob Bondurant overtaking Emilo Valsecchi in his Triumph TR4 at the 3-hour endurance run at Riverside. The car is probably most identifiable at this race simply for the steel wheels. Lighter American Racing Torq-Thrusts replaced them for subsequent events.

1962 Corvette Z06 “Myth or Fact”
By Franz Estereicher

We have known for some time around the Vette offices that while the Z06 option is buried deep within the DNA of the 1963 Corvette, the fact remains that nothing at GM was reactionary, but rather evolutionary. It took time for things to happen … and the Z06 option, although not called that, clearly has its roots starting with the 1962 Corvette. And it appears there’s substantial evidence pointing this way. (It should be noted that we believe we have come upon one of these Corvettes but that’s a story for a later date.) To get to the bottom of this very interesting story we went to the “keeper of knowledge” on all things Corvette, our very own contributor par excellence Franz Estereicher and tapped into his wealth of knowledge and file cabinet full of documents.

No doubt 1962 was a transitional year for Chevrolet’s Corvette. Two new sleek body styles were to be introduced in 1962. However, Chevrolet engineering and manufacturing were experiencing technical problems resulting in a one-year delay. The public eagerly awaited for the new Corvette’s introduction. Finally, in the summer of 1962 Chevrolet made the announcement, with regular production beginning in September that year.

However, by year’s end Chevrolet marketing realized the Corvette was competing successfully and the “trifecta” of motor racing was just around the corner: Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. On November 28, 1961, Duntov, chassis engineering staff engineer, was instructed by “upper management” to make available additional heavy-duty equipment for the 1962 Corvette. Now the problem; the Corvette wasn’t homologated by the FIA for the 1962 racing season.

Things were beginning to happen and the pressure was on. In late December 1961, Vince Piggins, Chevrolet’s Product Performance manager, hastily gathered the necessary documentation and submitted it to the FIA, registration number 54, subsequently Chevrolet’s Corvette received its OK to go racing in FIA sanctioned events, by February 1962. There’s nothing out of the ordinary until you review the homologation registration documentation, then everything becomes very complex. For example:

Standard wheels – Magnesium 15x5.5, method of attachment “wing nut”
Brakes front and rear brake diameter 11.20 (C1 Heavy Duty 10.995 to 11.005)
Suspension front & rear dual stabilizer bars
Fuel tank capacity 36.984 gallons
Option equipment:
Steel wheels 15x5 & 15x5.5
Fuel tank capacity 24 gallons and 16 gallons

To begin understanding what’s happening by January 1962 you need to roll back the clock to December 11, 1961. Vince Piggins wrote the SCCA homologating “four heavy duty service parts” released by Chevrolet engineering for the ’62 racing season.
Heavy-Duty Suspension: Front PN 3748140 Rear PN 3748143
Stabilizer Bar: Front Auxiliary PN 3823052
Brake Unit: Heavy Duty (Special) PN 3823053 (Brake assembly drawing PN 5462805, forward automatic adjuster)
Wheel Unit: Knock Off PN 3823050

In 1954, the SCCA adapted the FIA’s rules and classifications for competitive sports car racing and subsequent amendments. By 1962, rules were modified to include the Corvette’s new 327 powerplant and competition heavy-duty components. However, the FIA states “I (General Motor’s Chevrolet Division) certify that in excess of 100 cars identical with the basic specification stated in this application were completed on December 1961. Production commenced on Aug. 21, 1961. Cars conforming to this specification may be identified by chassis No’s. 20867S100001 (Located on the left front hinge pillar). Engines No’s. RF (Indicates 360 HP Fuel Injection Engines)”.

NOTE: 1962 VIN tags are located on the steering column.

Rolling back the clock again to mid-1961, there’s a flurry of activity in Chevrolet’s engineering department to release the “heavy-duty components” as “service packages.” However, to reiterate the FIA rules states 100 identical production cars to be produced. Engineering ordered sufficient components to build 10 cars at GM’s tech center’s “Experimental Shop” for field testing. By November 28, the tests were completed and the parts were released as described earlier. By January 1962, Chevrolet had: 1) the car “Corvette,” 2) heavy-duty components, 3) submission to the FIA and the stage was set. Every time GM’s upper management wanted to win the top brass depended on engineering to get the job done and each time they stepped up to the challenge. Winning on the racetrack translated into vehicle sales. After all that’s GM’s goal, bottom line … to turn a profit.

Z06 as a “Regular Production Option” didn’t occur until 1963. However, the key components were released for production in 1962 and a limited number of heavy-duty competition 1962 Corvettes were built. Based on Chevrolet engineering correspondence, FIA and SCCA documents there were 6 to 10 cars assembled. The same methodology applies to the 1965 and 1966 L88 program; there wasn’t an official RPO designation for L88 until 1967. However, the components began showing up on the racetracks in 1965. The four primary performance options for 1962 were: 1) RPO 488 24-gallon fuel tank, 2) RPO 276 15x5.5 wheels, 3) RPO 687 heavy-duty brakes and steering, 4) RPO 441 off-road exhaust. The remaining options, such as FI, tires, etc., were owner specific.

And therein rests the “rest of the story” as the expression goes.

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The SCCA promoted a race at Dodger Stadium on March 3, 1963. The only one of its kind, the event drew eight cars, five of those Corvettes. Bondurant came in behind Ken Miles (298, at right) and Dave MacDonald (not shown) but beat Guldstrand (56) and Ronnie Buckman (00).

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Tony Settember ran 614 twice at Santa Barbara in 1964. It’s not known which event is shown here but he placed Third at the May 31 meet and Second at the September 6 meet. Note the bright spokes on the front wheel; they were machined flat in the weight-reduction program that also saw countless holes drilled in the car.

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Edelbrock in the Laguna Seca corkscrew. It’s not clear if this was before or after the big crash in Palm Springs that saw the car’s complete reconstruction, including the replacement of the drilled frame and control arms.

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In June 1963, at Riverside Raceway the Washburn Sting Ray is seen once again competing.


The Passing of the Captain
He was called the Captain of the Edelbrock Fun Team
By Chris Shelton

So you probably heard the news by now. Vic Edelbrock Jr., the Scion of Speed, died on June 9, 2017. Though we produced the feature on his Washburn Chevrolet Z06 prior to his death, he wasn’t available to talk about it. And that absence in the story is glaring to anyone who knew him.

This was not just some fancy car owned by a rich guy. This was, and still is, a legitimate racecar that a truly passionate individual caretaker used as a means to connect with people.

If you look closely you’ll see in the upper fender gill, “The Edelbrock Fun Team.” Edelbrock president Wayne Murray explains. “Vic used to call everyone around here, The Fun Team,’ he says. He and fellow Edelbrock employees like engine testing manager Curt Hooker and race-shop manager Mike Eddy paint a picture of Edelbrock as a kind of Eden. “Yeah, this was your job but it was a place to go work on your hobby,” as he put it.

“To a lot of us he was like a second dad,” Mike Eddy intimates. “He could’ve separated family from business but he didn’t—he treated everyone like family.” And a staggering number of his employees repaid their debt by loyalty: Mike joined 30 years ago; Wayne and Curt, just shy of 50. What would it take to keep you at a job for half a century? Vic knew. “He made it an enjoyable place to work,” Curt says.

Vic’s absence in this is glaring to those who knew him because they remember him as a deeply sincere man who pretty much lived to mingle. “He loved going to events just to sign hats,” Curt reveals. “Out in the public, he’d listen. He wanted to know about your project,” Wayne adds. “Not what parts of his that someone would use; he really took an interest in what people were doing.”

As much as he wanted to talk about the times he and his Fun Team had with this car, illness forbade him. It was obvious last year that Vic had slowed down from his characteristic animated pace. And the regression was dramatic. Ultimately it was complications from a cold that did him in, a true life case of a literal giant knocked over by a metaphorical feather.

The Washburn Z06 was a special car by birthright. But it was made more special on a log scale by the person who used it as a means to connect with the people so special to him. Not to diminish them, but those first few very significant years of this car’s accomplishments sort of pale to the experiences and stories it won during its presence in the Edelbrock stables.

It’s quite possible that we’ll never see an era quite like the one that produced the original Stingray. But there’s no doubt we’ll see another man like Vic Edelbrock Jr. He was, by stature and presence, a true giant among men.

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