Shelby’s Cobra Brings the ‘63 Z06 to a Screeching Halt!
When we left off, the chassis from Duntov’s ugly duckling mule SS Corvette racer had risen from the ashes to become Bill Mitchell’s classic Stingray Racer. The Mitchell/Duntov team was truly a symbiotic relationship, in that had Bill Mitchell not asserted himself in acquiring the SS Corvette mule chassis and reskinning the car with his roadster version of the aborted Q-Corvette concept car, the mule chassis surely would have been sent to the crusher. The topic of this mule Corvette story didn’t have such a happy ending.
While there was respect between Mitchell and Duntov, there wasn’t much love. By 1959, Bill Mitchell had been at GM since 1935 – 24 years! Duntov arrived at GM in ‘53 and was a new comer – a startup, as far as Mitchell was concerned. Mitchell was incensed that a lowly engineer with a thick accent, working on a low volume car line would DARE to question his designs. This lead to some sparky exchanges between to two strong-willed men. At one point, Mitchell called Duntov, “Zorro” (a Walt Disney TV show character) and Duntov called Mitchell a red-faced baboon. According to Larry Shinoda, these exchanges lead to Duntov being branded “personal non-grata” in Mitchell’s design department. Other more “colorful” exchanges were noted that we won’t go into.
Since Zora was barred from the design studio, when he was developing his Z06 racer kit for the new ‘63 Sting Ray, he made sure that Mitchell wasn’t invited to have a test drive his new racer. So, Mitchell build his own Sting Ray-based hot rod that was known as the Mako Shark I.
Then there was that pesky AMA ban on racing that GM had enthusiastically embraced. Like a martial artist, Duntov was always flexible to circumstances. His solution to the factory racing ban was to build the parts and let the customers do the racing. For the remainder of the C1 production run, Duntov made sure that his racer-kit options were up to the task.
In mid-1962 work began on a race package for the new ‘63 Sting Ray. It was called the Z06 and consisted of suspension and brake upgrades, a 36-gallon fuel tank, the L84 fuel-injected engine, and other racing parts. The mule car used a ‘63 Z06 frame, suspension, Posi rear, and running gear, and was draped with a one-of-a-kind body that was part ‘62 and part ‘63 Corvette. The car made one appearance at Daytona with Duntov behind the wheel.
Special thanks to Jerry Burton and his book “Zora Arkus-Duntov – The Legend Behind Corvette.” The book has two obscure photos of Duntov’s ‘62/’63 Z06 mule on pages 279 and 282. In all of the Corvette books and magazines in my large collection of reference material, I had never seen this car or even read anything about it. Duntov knew the value of developing parts for racing – it takes time and lots of testing. The Z06 racer kit was supposed to enable the new Sting Ray to carry the flag to continued racing success for the Corvette. The C1 Fuelie had become a dominant force in SCCA road racing, so the Sting ray’s new four-wheel independent suspension and new low center of gravity chassis should have taken the Sting Ray to new heights in racing. Had it not been for the 1,100-pound lighter Shelby Cobra, the Z06 would have carried the day for Corvette fans. In retrospect, the two cars should have never been in the same class.
But Duntov was unstoppable. How’s a heavy production sports car supposed to compete with a tube frame lightweight competitor? Simple – become a lightweight tube frame car. Thus, the Grand Sport was born – which is, of course, a whole other story.
So, even with the Z06’s racer parts, the new Sting Ray spent the next several years watching the Cobra’s taillights – waiting for one to break something so the Vette could get a default win. It wasn’t until the arrival of the big-blocks in ‘65 – ‘66 that Corvettes got their edge back.
And what happened to Duntov’s ‘62/’63 Z06 test mule? There would be no show car life for this beast of burden. After an evaluation, Duntov outlined a weight-saving strategy in a memo to Chevy chief engineer, Harry Barr that included aluminum versions of the Corvette’s cylinder heads, flywheel, exhaust manifolds, rear differential, and brake drums that would remove 124-pounds from the Corvette. Obviously, these measures were not acted upon. The ‘62-’63 Z06 mule car must have gone straight to the crusher shortly after its very brief debut at Daytona in ‘62.
Coming up next, with awesome big-block power, Duntov builds a quasi-A/Production racer to demonstrate the effectiveness of the ZL-1!
This article was written by K. Scott Teeters, an editor for Alex Schult of www.SmokinVette.com and a freelance columnist and artist with VETTE Magazine. His monthly column, “The Illustrated Corvette Series” has been running consecutively in VETTE since 1997 and can be found on the very last page of every issue. You can find reproductions of his Corvette art at: www.IllustratedCorvetteSeries.com