Next to the ZR1, the Z06 is the high-performance Corvette trim, and the C8 version is shaping up to be a full-blown supercar. Naturally, though, neither Corvette sprung up out of nowhere. The OG C4 ZR1 owes its existence to the original NSX and some brand-ownership serendipity. As for the Z06, its roots lie in racing. Specifically, in a very special C2 Corvette that’s about to hit the auction block: the 1963 Gulf One.
Without Gulf One, there wouldn’t be a Corvette Z06
The second-gen C2 Corvette has a significant place in the sports car’s history. For one, it introduced the ‘Sting Ray’ title, which returned with the C7 and continues with the C8. Secondly, there’s the 1963 ‘split window’ coupe, the one-year wonder that launched the C2. And thirdly, it used racing to introduce the Z06 into the Corvette lexicon.
Specifically, it introduced it through the Gulf One, Mecum explains. And much like the later COPO Camaros and Yenko cars, it involved some back-door dealing. Also, Don Yenko himself, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Let’s back up a bit. When Chevrolet introduced the C2 Corvette in 1963, GM was six years into its AMA pact against racing. That public letter hadn’t stopped Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov from regularly sneaking people racing parts, though. But when the C2 came out, he saw an opportunity to prove to his superiors that Corvette racing was a good idea. So, he went behind their backs in a different way: loopholes.
To this day, GM organizes its options using codes referred to as Regular Production Options, or RPOs. In late 1962, Arkus-Duntov introduced a new code for the C2 Corvette: RPO Z06. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Owing to the Z06’s expensive and racetrack-focused features, which we’ll discuss shortly, Chevrolet only built 199 examples. But these cars’ successes paved the way for the original Corvette Grand Sports and subsequent factory race cars. And the RPO became so historic that Chevrolet brought it back on the C5 Corvette.
So, where does the Gulf One Corvette come in? Well, to maximize the C2 Corvette Z06’s publicity and racing potential, Arkus-Duntov earmarked 14 cars to specific high-profile teams. But Gulf One isn’t just one of those 14. It’s the first one, the first purpose-built Corvette race car built since 1957, Mecum notes. It’s also one of two Z06s Arkus-Duntov sent to Don Yenko.
And we haven’t even gotten to its racing history yet.
Thanks to original Z06 parts, Gulf One is the most successful C2 Corvette race car ever
Simply put, Gulf One is the most successful factory-supported C2 Corvette racer. It won its class at the one-and-only Puerto Rico Grand Prix, which was this car’s very first race. The Gulf One Corvette later won its class again at Daytona in 1963, coming in third overall behind two Ferrari 250 GTOs. And it subsequently took first place at the SCCA President’s Cup and A/P SCCA races at Danville, Virginia, and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin’s Road America.
Unfortunately, the nascent Shelby Cobra and GM’s withdrawal from racing pumped the brakes on Gulf One’s career. Then, after the 1964 Corvettes came in, the first Z06 retired from serious competition. After that, it went through a succession of owners, some of whom raced it, and underwent a total restoration in 1991. Since then, it’s won a plethora of classic car awards. And today, the Gulf One Corvette is “the most highly original of all the original racing Z06 Sting Rays,” Mecum says.
That “original” part refers to its 1963 12 Hours of Sebring configuration. Firstly, under Gulf One’s hood is the fuel-injected 327-cubic-inch (5.4-liter) ‘L84’ V8, originally rated at 360 hp. It’s joined to a four-speed manual and a Positraction limited-slip differential. Compared to the upcoming Corvette Z06’s brakes, Gulf One’s aluminum drum brakes don’t seem like much. But they feature internal cooling fans, external fins, and vented backplates for heat management as well as sintered metal linings. For 1963, this was impressive stuff.
In addition, the Gulf One Corvette has heavy-duty shocks, stiffer springs, and a larger front sway bar. It also rides on finned aluminum knock-off wheels—the predecessors to modern center-lock wheels. And it has a 36-gallon fuel tank, the so-called ‘big tank’ option.
How much will this special Z06 prequel cost?
If you want to own a significant piece of Corvette history, you’re in luck. The Gulf One Corvette is hitting Mecum’s auction block on January 14, 2022. But prepare your budget accordingly, because this C2 won’t be cheap.
Today, a pristine 1963 C2 Corvette Z06 ‘Big Tank’ Coupe costs $705K, Hagerty says. But in 2009, the last time Gulf One went under the hammer, it sold for $1.05 million, MotorTrend reports. And Mecum estimates a final price of $3,000,000-$3,5000,000 this time around.
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