There are rare Corvettes, and then there are rare Corvettes. While owning one of the only 289 '77 Stingrays equipped with the factory-installed ZN1 trailer package could be considered rare, it's not, in all honesty, considered a really desirable Vette. Big-block, LS6-wielding C3s and 427-equipped midyears draw in the crowds as much as the first-generation, fuel-injected roadsters, but when it comes to collectors climbing over each other to get their hands on a Corvette, nothing surpasses the performance zeitgeist of the race-prepped, number-coded, Z06-optioned, '63 split-window Sting Ray.
Not only were these cars the first year of the wickedly attractive second-generation redesign, they were the only year for the style-over-function split rear window, and they were the first year the Z06 option was ever attached to a Corvette.
It would be nearly 40 years later that the moniker would be resurrected. Named after the striking lineup of blue-and-white louvered and gilled race cars that stormed Daytona and Sebring in 1963, the civilian version of the Z06 included the best handling and braking equipment GM had to offer, while requiring one of the fiercest powertrains the Corvette would have at its disposal.
Take into account that 21,513 '63 Corvettes were produced that year-10,594 of them brandishing the signature split-window roofline-and considering that only 14,531 Vettes were sold the previous year, that makes for one outstanding sales leap. Yet, of those 21,000-plus Corvettes built, only a miserly 199 came loaded with the Z06 RPO package- less than one percent (.925) of the total production count. Created to market a turnkey race car to the public, the Z06 option required the purchase of the 360hp, fuel-injected L84 327 engine, four-speed transmission, and the posi-traction rearend.
Once properly equipped, checking the box for the Z06 option included a unique dual-circuit, power-brakes system with sintered metallic linings (far larger than the standard metallic linings), vented backing plates, scoops to cool the front brakes, larger finned brake drums that featured cooling fans, and self adjusters that functioned going forward rather than reversing. The suspension modifications read nearly the same way, using a heavy-duty rear transverse spring (seven leaves rather than the stock nine), heavy-duty front springs, a heavy-duty front stabilizer, and specially calibrated shock absorbers.
Interestingly, the Z06 abounds with conflicting data. While it is commonly observed that the Z06 option included the installation of a 36-gallon fuel tank that consumed most of the area behind the seats, of the 199 built, only 63 are reported to have received the larger tank. The remaining 136 Z06's were ushered off the assembly line with the stock reservoir. In addition, it was once considered an unalterable fact that only coupes were allowed the option, but that was only towards the beginning of the production year. Convertibles would be offered the option, though final numbers of exactly how many droptop Z06s are hard to come by.
It would be the General's resuscitation of the Z06 badge that would throw the originals back into the spotlight, launching their desirability and, ultimately, final asking price into the exosphere.
Corvette enthusiast and proprietor of John's Motor & Transmission Shop, John Bergey, watched as these cars became the darling of the performance-collecting crowd, and his chances of ever owning one slip away. That would be until eight years ago when a friend, George Burgasser, would put John on the trail of a fabled split-window coupe with an odd brake option sitting in a garage in the Lockport, New York, area.
"But by brake option, did that mean it was a J65 option or could it be a Z06?" John wondered. Unfortunately, neither John nor George could pinpoint the exact location of the absent C2-only an approximate area down to a rather lengthy country road along the Erie Canal. It would be nine months later when another friend walked into John's shop talking about a silver Corvette sitting on a lawn with a For Sale sign in the window.
Driving from Lockport to North Tonawanda, the friend had noticed the corvette looked very rough, wielding header side pipes and Kelsey Hayes wheels. Further (frantic) questioning revealed the silver Vette was parked off the same road that he and George had combed earlier that same year. Now with the address in hand, they sped off to the location. Arriving on site, the Corvette was nowhere to be seen, so the pair knocked on the door. The owner answered the door and greeted them saying, "yes, the Corvette is for sale, and it's in the garage.
When the garage door creaked open, the two nearly lost their poker faces. George is a master judge with NCRS and had been judging for Bloomington Gold for ten years, so he knew exactly what to look for. Though faded, the paint checked out; the interior was surprisingly quite nice with only the carpets faded over the years. The headers were rusty, and the side pipes needed attention. But when they unlatched the hood to reveal the twin-line, dual-master cylinder with the copper cover they really celebrated.
"Looking under the Corvette, we could see the vented backing plates and the internal fins. Two of the drums were finned, and the other two were replacements. Obviously, our hearts were pounding, and we tried to contain our excitement that it appeared to be a real Z06," John says. "The frame had some rust and it would need a full restoration, but [it still had] its original brake parts and motor."
The Corvette had sat for several years despite being involved in SCCA events. Firm in his pricing, John and George paid the owner's fee and took the Corvette home to dissect it.
Buried inside the coupe were the original owner's manual and some various dealer paperwork. Though faded, the name of the dealership and the original owner was still legible, revealing that Carl Mollnow had purchased the Z06 new from Yingling Chevrolet in Topeka, Kansas. George spent the best part of a year tracking Carl down, where he was living quietly in Washington State. Carl, a retired Colonel who had flown nuclear bombers during the Cuban missile crisis era, had his brother-in-law Richard Lannen arrange for delivery of the Z06 to him while he was stationed in Wichita, Kansas. (Interestingly enough, Richard was one of the originators of "Mr. Goodwrench," while serving as Executive Director of GM's Service Technology group for General Motors.)
Carl explained that, originally, he had ordered the car with knock-off wheels, but Richard advised him that the wheels carried some defects and that there was a silver Z06 with a small tank he could have delivered to Yingling Chevrolet without the troublesome wheels. While Carl owned it, he drove the entire Route 66, raced at SCCA events, and drove it on runs up Mount Lemmon in Tucson, Arizona. But within two short years, after purchasing a new Shelby Cobra, he would sell it to the second owner, who worked at the Tonawanda engine plant for GM in 1965.
John and George were old hands at restoring cars and motorcycles, having tackled several projects before. But it was on this particular restoration that both of the partners' skills were put to their full use. Utilizing George's vast understanding of the intricacies of these historic cars and John's three facilities (an engine and transmission shop, a restoration shop, and a body and collision shop), the split-window was shortly taken down to bags of nuts and bolts and bins of segregated parts and pieces. during the frame-off, John would discover "Z06" written on the transmission hump in green crayon.
While John and George undertook the rebuilding of the running gear, the body was sent to John's operations manager, Gary Prange, who did all the bodywork, paint, and reassembly. Steve Marino, another of John's team, completed all the fine detailing, the installation of the interior, and all the brightwork.
Newly reborn, the first time the Corvette was in public view was at the '06 Corvettes of Carlisle. Amazingly, the first time the Corvette was driven (except on and off the trailer) was to the photo shoot with camera-for-hire Jerry Heasley. During the shoot, John sighed, "I'm a nervous wreck, but pleased that everything's functioning so well."