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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 128- 1963 Z06 Corvette
"The Original Z06"
Corvette racers never had a better friend than Zora Arkus-Duntov. For the most part, Zora was good at sidestepping GM’s “we don’t race” edict. For those who knew what to look for, there were always plenty of “heavy-duty” and “off-road” options for Corvettes. As the new Sting Ray was being prepared for the ’63 launch, Duntov assembled the most advanced Corvette box racer to that date - the Z06.
By the late ‘50s, the solid-axle Corvettes had established themselves as competitive race cars. Underneath the all-new Sting Ray body was the real breakthrough: a four-wheel, independent suspension. The fuel-injected small-block engine had been opened up to 327-cid in ’62 and now packed 360-horsepower. The all-new suspension of the Sting Ray was essential to better use the extra power on the race track.
Racing packages have never been cheap. The Z06 package was the most expensive Corvette offered to that date. Costing $1,818, the Z06 option was very pricey. But there were other options that were mandatory for the Z06. Those options included the L84 Fuel-Injected 327, the close-ratio 4-speed transmission, and the positraction rear axle. These goodies added an extra $661, for a complete price of $2,479, on top of the $4,252 base price of the car. Then, with a few other extras, tax, tags, registration, etc,. buyers were looking at a $7,000 Corvette in 1963! You could buy a loaded ‘63 SS Impala for just over $3,000.
The hardware included in the Z06 package was amazing advanced for its time. With plenty of power on tap, most of the Z06 extras were designed to enhance the suspension and brakes - critical elements for racing. The front suspension had stiffer shocks, beefier springs, and a thicker, .94-inch stabilized bar. The rear suspension had a 7-leaf transverse spring - two more than the stock setup. To fit the larger 7.75 x 15 racing tires, the rear inner wheelwells were wider. The knock-off alloy wheels were an on, and off, and on again part of the Z06 package. Not all Z06 cars had the knockoff wheels. To reduce the number of pit stops, a 36.5-gallon fiberglass gas tank was included. Interestingly, this part of the Z06 would remain an option through to ’67.
But the real advancement could be found in the car’s race-designed braking system. Many of the older Corvette race cars had less than inadequate brakes. The system was completely new, from its vacuum-assisted, dual-circuit master cylinder to its finned brake drums. Each brake had a cooling fan built onto the hub, and the front units were further cooled by external air scoops. To complete the new cooling system, each drum featured five vent holes. The cerametallix brake pads were not for street use and almost useless until heated up. While the ’63 Z06 was theoretically streetable, it was noisy, hard-riding car away from the race track.
For a mass-produced sports car, this was an impressive package that should have propelled the new Sting Ray into the winner’s circle with considerable frequency. Unfortunately, there was another race machine being built at the time by a Texas chicken farmer/racer named Carroll Shelby. Shelby’s little Cobra had as much power as the Corvette and weighed 1,000 pounds less. But because they were both considered “production cars,” the Vette and the Cobra competed in the same class. Mickey Thompson raced one of the first six Z06 cars and won the L.A. Times Three Hour International in October, 1963. It was a default win, however, as the leading Shelby Cobra broke.
The Z06 package had no external markings, so it never developed the kind of performance mystique enjoyed by the L88. Until the arrival of the ’01 Z06, the ‘63 Z06 Vettes were mostly forgotten. But the Cobra problem aside, Z06 equipped Corvettes did rack up wins. The official Z06 production count was 199 units, making the Z06 one of the rarest Vettes ever offered.
Meanwhile, back in his private skunkworks, Duntov was working on a Cobra-killer. It was called the “Grand Sport.” - K. Scott Teeters
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 112 - 2001 Corvette
"In the Shadow of the Z06"
A funny thing happened to the ‘01 Corvette on the way to the showroom. It got lost in the shadow of its own offspring - the new Z06. The base ‘01 Vette could smoke almost any machine from the glory days of the ’60s and early ‘70 and still get 30 mpg on the highway. But because the Z06 took Corvette performance to the level of quasi-racer, with street manners intact, car magazines hardly noticed the standard model.
Corvette product planners have an interesting way of rolling out new options and features. The first three years of the C5 saw a splashy introduction in ’97, followed by the convertible in ’98 and the hardtop in ‘99. To kick off the new millennium, all Corvettes got revised five-spoke alloy wheels and a host of small improvements. They were just catching their breath in ’00.
The '01 Z06 Corvette debut was so big that hardly anyone noticed the next round of incremental improvements. Early Corvettes drew fire from reviewers over the fact that the car cost as much as a Cadillac but had the fit and finish of a Chevette. By 2001, those days were over. Chevy officials had long since realized that while the Corvette could get by on the strength of its performance, there was no reason it couldn’t exhibit excellent quality as well.
Aside from a few color changes and the addition of chrome exhaust tips, the ‘01 Corvette was identical to the ’00 model. Under the hood, engineers were able to squeeze an extra 5 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque from the LS1 by revising the intake manifold with a larger plenum and smoothing out the intake runners. The base engine now packed 350 hp and 375 lb-ft when paired with a manual transmission.
To handle the extra power, a stronger clutch was installed, yet the pedal effort was reduced. Unlike the clutch on the old L-71 of the ‘60s, one could actually live with this new system. Another subtle improvement was the use of a lightweight, absorbent glass-mat battery. This new battery was more heat resistant and could be recharged more often, important features in a car with luxury-car-type electrical amenities.
All Corvettes now had the active suspension as standard equipment, and small improvements were made to both the manual and automatic transmissions. Automatic cars had smoother shifting, thanks to a new alternator clutch pulley, while manual cars had their synchronizers upgraded. Reflecting advancements in both engine build quality and synthetic-oil technology, Chevrolet now recommended oil changes every 15,000 miles, up from the previous 10,000-mile recommendation.
The convertible tops were improved with new weather stripping to reduce interior noise and improved insulation for a smoother exterior look. Auto writers were impressed with the car’s seat comfort, instrument layout, and cabin-noise level and gave the car’s interior rave reviews.
Sales saw an increase of 1,945 units, for a total of 35,627 for the year. That’s the highest number since ‘85! Of those, 5,773 units were hardtop Z06s. Ironically, the hardtop Corvette had gone from being the least expensive to the most expensive model, now listing for $47,000. The base price for the Vette was up $1,000 for the coupe (to $40,475) and $1,200 for the convertible ($47,000). MY ’01 sales included 14,173 convertibles and 15,681 coupes, the most even distribution between the two configurations in the car’s history. A fully loaded ‘01 Corvette convertible with the optional paint went for close to $57,000.
Performance figures for the ‘01 Corvette would have been the stuff of wild day dreams of the past. The car ran 0 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds in the manual form and 5.0 seconds for an automatic. Quarter-mile times were in the low 13’s.
In the early days the base Corvette was pretty tame. No one would have imagined a day when all Corvettes would be thoroughbred runners. - K. Scott Teeters
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 124 - 2006 Z06 Corvette
Unless you were into road racing in 1963, you probably overlooked the original Z06-optioned Corvette. Back then, Zora Arkus-Duntov became a hero for providing Corvette racing parts that could be ordered from any Chevy dealer. But compared with today’s 400-horsepower base Vette, the 250hp ’63 entry model was pretty tame. And the further up the performance ladder you went, the less streetable the cars became. The solid-lifter big-blocks were tricky to live with, and hot performance options such as the L88 were ill-suited to street use. If you wanted a really fast Vette with eye-popping braking performance, you had to endure harsh, race-car driving characteristics. No one ever imagined that one day in the distant future, a production Corvette would perform like the ‘06 Z06.
Dave Hill and his team took the ’01-‘04 Z06 Corvette as far as they could on the C5 platform. The C6 Z06 catapulted all aspects of the Corvette’s performance into supercar territory. Vette followers hadn’t seen a technologically advanced performance leap of this magnitude since the arrival of the ‘90 ZR-1. Sixteen years later, the Z06 could outperform the ZR-1 in every respect, for almost the same price.
If ever there was an example of a performance car receiving the fruits of racing, it was the ‘06 Z06. Many of the lessons learned in the C5-R program were poured directly into the new Z. But perhaps the most significant difference between this high-performance Corvette and the muscle Vettes of old was the livability factor. Even with 505 hp on tap, a new Z06 is a car you can drive and be happy with every day.
Not only did the C6 Z have 105 more hp than the stock ’06 Vette, it weighed 50 pounds less as well. Adding bigger wheels, tires, brakes, and other heavy-duty parts is relatively easy, but it adds weight to the car. To counter the additional poundage these parts brought, many advanced weight-saving parts were created, including an aluminum body substructure, a magnesium engine cradle, carbon-fiber front fenders and wheelhouses, and hydroformed aluminum frame rails. Exotic, racing-inspired features included a dry-sump oiling system; a hand-built engine; power-steering, transmission, and differential coolers; and a rear-mounted battery.
The new LS7 427 engine was a racer’s dream. The all-aluminum small-block made 505 hp at 7,000 rpm and 475 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. Trick parts included titanium connecting rods, pushrods, and valve springs; forged aluminum pistons with 11:1 compression; a forged steel crankshaft; a low-restriction air-intake system; and hydroformed exhaust headers.
The car’s revised bodywork included a new front fascia with a larger grille opening, a cold-air scoop in the hood, a pair of side vents, aggressive rear-wheel flares with built-in brake scoops, 10-spoke aluminum wheels, a larger third brake light, and stainless steel exhaust tips. The interior came with every comfort item imaginable, except for an automatic transmission.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the C6 Z06 was a quantum leap for Corvette. It was also a great platform for even more performance. - K. Scott Teeters