What's the rarest Corvette to ever roll off the assembly line? Or the baddest of the bad factory-available performers? An L88? Nah, there were 216 documented examples built and sold during 1967-69. A '63 Z06? Nope, not with 199 of them in that one glorious year. How about a big-tank Z06? Sorry, those are still relatively commonplace, with 63 being factory-documented. The factory-built Corvette Challenge race cars for 1988 and 1989 are almost dime-a-dozen, with 116 of them assembled at Bowling Green.
If you want really rare, look back to 1969 for the ultimate in rare and radical, factory-built Corvettes--the incredible ZL1. Two--that's right. Two Corvettes were ordered, built, and sold through Chevrolet dealerships with this ultimate rat motor--an all-aluminum (block and cylinder heads!) version of the already fearsome L88 big-block. There was also a handful (three dozen or so) '69 Camaros ordered and sold with the ZL1, primarily for NHRA drag racing. That was it, except for a couple hundred ZL1 engines that were sold to racing teams. ZL1-derived engines powered the incredibly dominant McLarens in the old Can Am series in the late '60s and early '70s, and they propelled nearly every Greenwood wide-body Corvette that competed in the IMSA series from '74 into the early '80s.
Then, a few years ago, Winters, the Ohio foundry that cast every one of the relative handful of ZL1 blocks, stumbled onto the original tooling amongst a batch of obsolete tools that were being cleared out. To make a long story short (after all, we did an article, "Born Again Big-Block," about this happy happenstance in the Sept. '01 issue), GM Performance Parts now sells brand-new ZL1 blocks, using the original tooling and incorporating some strategic upgrades to make them even stronger than the originals.
Around this same time, Kurt Sikora, an Elgin, Illinois, Corvette enthusiast, came across the sorry remains of what had once been a '69 coupe. Its owner had stripped it apart for restoration years before, then left it outdoors to the mercy of the elements. There was a bare frame, an unsupported body shell, and many five-gallon buckets filled with '69 Corvette parts that had been stored inside a leaky shed. To make matters worse, said buckets had been left open and every one of them was filled with water--rendering the precious parts into rusty junk. The condition of the derelict was such that, by rational standards, it couldn't even be considered a parts car. But...
Kurt really, really likes metal-bumper sharks. He'd already performed a full restoration on a '70 LT1 Stingray, so he had a good idea of what would be necessary to raise this hulk back from the nearly dead. Of the five model years of chrome-bumper sharks, his personal favorites were the '69s. The fact that the car was missing its engine and transmission simply meant that he could get innovative, rather than feeling limited to a numbers-matching restoration. And, with a total investment of $1,300, if the poor old Vette proved to be too far gone to save, he wouldn't be throwing away that much money.
With the pink slip in hand, Kurt towed the beastly beauty home and began a three-and-a-half-year restoration that would take him to swap meets far and wide, from Bloomington to Carlisle. "There wasn't anything particularly difficult to find, it was more a matter of finding the nicest quality parts available," Sikora said. Kurt did have some problems with the T-top gaskets, however. "I had some aftermarket gaskets, but they never fit right, so I had to pay a little extra to get the GM originals." But what's a little extra cash to assure your Vette doesn't turn into a fishbowl when it's caught out in the rain? With the last of GM's original stock produced installed, Kurt's tops were tight--a good thing since a bilge pump was not an available option on this version of a Corvette. With the insides protected, the interior was now something that could be worried about. But even that didn't take long to find as he discovered most of the carpet waiting for him in the bins of a swap meat, right next to some door panels, a dash, and some rather unique seats finished with velour inserts.
Moving onto the paint and body, some work was needed before the squirt job would be ready for the smear down. Farming out the work to someone more "able-bodied" gave Sikora a chance to contemplate the paint he wanted to slap on his baby. With Torch Red at the forefront, it was dumped for a custom mix of Jeep Grand Cherokee Sierra Pearl coat. When it came time to choose the engine, Kurt showed everyone that what he may not know about paint and body, he surely knows about engines. And what did our friend Kurt choose for his '69? Well the only thing he could choose if he wanted to make the same statement about high performance that Corvette did the same year his car was born was a ZL1. But Kurt wasn't happy with any old run-of-the-mill ZL1, so he had the block bored and stroked from a 427 to an incredible 496. Once the block was ready to race, the rest of the engine was made to follow. Callies crankshaft and rods were installed and connected to Wiseco 10.5:1 pistons before Comp pushrods were placed inside along with one of their cams rated at .652 lift and 262 degrees of duration. Topped off with JE rings and Federal-Mogul bearings residing under rectangular-port aluminum heads with 2.25-inch stainless steel valves on the intake and 1.88-inch on the exhaust, everything resides under GMPP valve covers and a Moroso breather.
After going as far as to match-port the heads, Sikora went a little further by modifying a Weiand tunnel ram intake manifold. With the unit cut down 1 1/2 inches to fit under the hood, 55-pound Siemens injectors and a 1,300-cfm throttle body from Arizona Speed and Marine were installed. Kurt's handiwork doesn't stop there! After custom-fabricating billet aluminum engine pulleys, Kurt now had the offset he needed to mount the alternator lower. And speaking of electrical, Kurt wouldn't be running this Shark anywhere without an MSD distributor, coil, and wire set. With the engine now taken care of, he had to find a place to send the spent gases to. With the help of Hooker, a set of their headers were matched up to a set of their side pipes.
Now that the checklist was almost complete, Sikora set his sights on a transmission. While rowing a standard set gears in this boat may seem the logical way to go, Kurt selected a Richmond six-speed without even giving the slushbox another look. As the proud owner told us, "I choose the six-speed because I was running 26-inch tires, and I didn't want the car revving out of its mind. In theory, the car is geared to go 212 mph at 6,600 rpm in Sixth gear, but I haven't verified that yet." While some may think that Kurt has his head in the clouds with talk of theory, we assure you his feet are firmly planted on the ground when he cruises comfortably at 60 mph while running at a low 2,000 rpm. But at a moments notice, he's ready to prove a point thanks to a Centerforce clutch and pressure plate that transfers all his Vette can give back to a stout 3.73-geared rearend. The suspension was kept stock; staying with the F41 suspension components seemed like the right thing to do, but Kurt did mount the rear suspension using offset trailing arms. With the increased backspacing this combination had to offer, Sikora was able to keep the 315/35R17s Kumhos wrapped around 17-inch Billet Specilities Streamline wheels tucked neatly in the fenderwells. But all this would be for naught if the frame tied itself into a knot thanks to all that torque. To keep this from happening, Kurt boxed in and encapsulated the side rails from the door to the rear wheel. With the get-up-and-go sorted out, it was time to figure out how to sit-down-and-stop. Using the stock system along with a set of GT rotors gave him all the stopping power he need to keep things from getting hairy.
And, even though Kurt isn't into collecting trophies, this three-and-a-half-year project won him a First in Class award at the 2001 Chicago World of Wheels. And, soon he'll be hitting the Chicago tracks hoping to get somewhere in the 10s. We figure with Kurt's ability to pick an engine, he should also be able to pick a number. So, if you're in the Chicago-land area and happen to hear a loud roar followed by a blur, Kurt Sikora probably just waved to you.