In 1969, the horsepower wars were at full throttle with manufacturers building every car with the most horsepower they could back with a factory warranty. The Corvette factory race car joined the market in 1967 with the L88 option, and for the next two years the L88 continued the horsepower tradition.
Priced at $3,000 with the ultra-rare ZL1 option, this all-aluminum engine became the rarest and most expensive engine option in GM history. According to Chevrolet production records, only two Corvettes were built with the ZL1 option in 1969. While several owners have claimed to own a ZL1, only one has been able to prove it-until now. This is the true story of the second documented ZL1 Corvette.
John Maher of Leechburg, Pennsylvania, is a life-long racing enthusiast. His first new car was a '62 Lightweight 409 Biscayne from local dealer West Penn Garage. He paid for the car by match racing in the street.
Years later, through friend Don Yenko, John heard of Chevrolet's plans to support back-door racing efforts. Now a Pennsylvania State Trooper, John decided to jump in with both feet. He ordered a big tank HD 427 (a factory-disguised L88) Corvette in late 1966. John raced on the local quarter-mile dragstrip, autocrossed, and hill-climbed a few times, but mostly drove the Corvette on the street. He later sold the big-tank Vette to a friend.
In 1968, John ordered a new International Blue L88 roadster, again through West Penn Garage. After racing locally for several months, he traded the L88 in for a new ZL1. Most people had no idea L88 Corvettes existed, let alone the ZL1. John's friendship with Yenko was proving advantageous and his car order included the ZL1 engine, an automatic transmission, and the required optional equipment. John wanted this car specifically for racing.
After several months, John learned production was delayed due to the automatic transmission request. Eventually the car's sponsor, Gulf Oil, wrote to GM explaining why an automatic was necessary, and GM finally released the order. The car was produced December 1968.
John replaced the original ZL1 motor with an L88 engine (one of several) provided by Gulf Research and raced the car over the next several seasons. At the end of the 1972 season, the car was parked with the original engine installed.
In 1988, a racing friend of John's called and asked if he still had the orange ZL1. Tony Faulk of Corvette World in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, suggested John take the car, which had been parked since 1972, to the Corvettes at Carlisle show.
Finally, in 1989, John pulled the car out of his garage-but the engine wouldn't turn over. Upon removal and disassembly, the cause became clear. While parked, a mouse had built a home in a block cylinder. Luckily, John had other engines. He installed a fresh L88 and continued to race and show the car until 2002 when the head of a valve broke, locking up the engine.
Still wanting to race, John decided to have a fresh ZL1 engine built. An old friend, Jim Evanuak, built the ZL1 residing in the car today. The original ZL1 engine was also rebuilt and placed in storage.
John changed the lettering when the car was displayed at the National Corvette Museum since most of the old sponsors have long-since closed. The new lettering pays homage to the businesses associated with its restoration: Corvette World, Evanuak Performance Engines, Keddie Chevrolet, Kiski Valley Upholstery, Bill Andreko Resorations, and InSignOut.
Today the car appears much as it did when John was racing; he still drag races, autocrosses and exhibits.
John has held onto a copy of the original invoice and the original tank sticker that shows the ZL1 engine option and the M40 automatic transmission. With this original documentation, there is little doubt this Corvette is the real deal.