The code "Zone 00 Dealer 500" holds special significance for Corvette devotees. It's the designation that, when found on a Vette's tank sticker, identifies the car as having been purpose-built for official corporate use and never delivered to a dealer. In some cases, the code denotes a Chevy Engineering Corvette that was supposed to be crushed before leaving the GM proving grounds.
Option code L71 is also of special import to the Corvette community. It identifies the highly sought-after 427/435 "Tri-power" big-block that was available from '67 through '69. Having a Vette with "Zone 00 Dealer 500" heritage or the L71 option is like gold in the pocket, but possessing one with both is a near impossibility.
NHRA racer Pat Musi, of Carteret, New Jersey, owns one of these ultra-rare Corvettes, and he agreed to tell VETTE what he knows about its provenance.
"[The car] was ordered on July 25, 1966, apparently built for test purposes, and invoiced to Chevy Engineering at the beginning of the '67 production year," he explained. "On the bottom of the tank sticker, it says 'Ship to GM Proving Grounds, Caswell,' which I believe references the GM Proving Grounds in Mesa, Arizona."
Musi first saw the car in 1985, when a good friend of his, Harry Delprete, bought it from a gentleman in Texas who claimed to have purchased it in a "back door" arrangement from GM. The seller informed Delprete that these Chevrolet Engineering Corvettes were never meant to leave the corporate fold.
Some 20 years later, Musi purchased the big-block beauty from Delprete and treated it to a concours restoration. His goal was to honor the men of Chevy Engineering who he believes tested this Vette in the early months of the '67 production year. He outsourced the body and paint work to Liberty Auto Body, of Stamford, Connecticut, whose technicians stripped the Sting Ray of its trim, accessories, and interior, then carefully removed the original paint.
"We didn't want to damage the body, [so we] sanded it all by hand," Liberty's owner, John Schroeder, told us. "To recreate the Corvette's factory appearance, we used DuPont 131S primer, and PPG Marlboro Maroon and Tuxedo Black paints in original-style lacquer. The National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) accepts acrylic enamel, but that wasn't what the factory did, and so it was not what Pat would accept on his car."
In the meantime, Musi performed all the mechanical work himself, duplicating the factory's assembly-line specifications on every component. He explained that although he could have enlisted a Corvette restorer to rebuild the Vette's mechanicals, in his opinion, no one else in the Corvette community knows big-blocks like he does. After hearing the depth of experience Musi has with Chevy's Rat motor, we're inclined to agree.
Musi's first car was a '69 427 L36 Corvette that he street raced before joining the NHRA. From 1974 to 1989, he ran in the Pro Stock class, ranking as high as Fourth in the world in 1981. In 1989, he built the World's Fastest Street Car, a '69 Camaro that topped 200 mph in the quarter and won eight world championships in the National Muscle Car Association's (NMCA) Pro Street division. "My expertise in Chevy big-blocks comes from 20 years of professional racing," Musi told us. "Back in the day, there were no aftermarket blocks. My race engines were Chevy 427s, [so] I know these engines inside and out."
The block in Musi's rare Ray features a 4.280/3.760-inch bore/stroke combination, 6.135-inch "dimple" rods, and TRW 0.030-over dome pistons. "Many guys sleeve the block and return the engine to a stock bore, but I was concerned it would weaken the block," he explained. The rectangular closed-chamber heads feature 106.8cc chambers, 2.190/1.720-inch valves, and GM 1.7-ratio stamped-steel rocker arms.
The original GM flat-tappet cam was not available, so Musi pursued an alternate plan. "I'm friends with Richard Iskenderian of Isky Cams, [so I] sent him the 427's original stick. Isky profiled it, determined it had 244/244-degrees duration, 0.520/0.520-inch lift, and a 114-degree LSA, and produced an exact replacement."
On top of the Rat motor, a date-coded set of Holley Tri-power carbs feeds 1,282 cfm of air and 100-octane fuel into a factory aluminum intake. Spark is sourced from a K66 transistor ignition system sending current down date-coded Delco 7mm wires to AC Delco R44XLS plugs. Gases are evacuated through factory cast-iron headers and original 2 1/2-inch side pipes. Power moves rearward from the crank to an 11-inch factory clutch and an M21 close-ratio four-speed transmission. From there, it's transferred through a stock driveshaft to a GM rearend optioned with a Posi unit and 3.70 gears.
Chevy 15x6-inch steel Rally wheels anchor the Sting Ray at all four corners, and are wrapped in Coker 775-15 reproduction Redline tires. The brute force of the big-block is tamed by GM front and rear discs featuring 11.75-inch rotors. Other options on this rare midyear include a radio delete, tinted glass, power steering, and power windows.
"I went to great lengths to make the 427/435 exactly the way it left the factory," Musi explained. "And more than that, the Vette was reassembled in the exact same order that GM would have built the original car, using GM N.O.S. parts whenever available. In fact, there are very few aftermarket parts on the car."
The NCRS agreed and awarded this stunning Sting Ray a Second Flight award in a recent judging. With minor corrections, Musi believes the car will receive the organization's coveted Top Flight status in the near future.
"The manner in which Chevrolet Engineering used this Corvette is still not completely known to me," Musi told us. "I'd like to learn exactly how my Corvette was used, by whom, and for how long. I've owned over 50 Corvettes in my lifetime, and this engineering car has a lot of mystery to it. We don't know how it got out of GM. I want this story to be read by someone who was involved with my Corvette's history so that I can learn its entire story."
If you have information on Pat Musi's "Zone 00 Dealer 500" Corvette, we would like to hear from you. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write us at VETTE magazine, 9036 Brittany Way, Tampa, FL 33619.