The real big-block pioneer

Yes, this is a racing Corvette. And appropriately, it was on the show field at Amelia Island last weekend. But there’s a big difference between this and the other famous Corvettes from the early 1960s. Look at the beefy steel wheels, because they’re a hint of what’s coming. In late 1962, Chevrolet sent six of its new Z06 split-window Corvette coupes to Mickey Thompson in California to be prepped for an upcoming road-course event at Riverside International Raceway. The only thing is, two of the coupes never made it to Riverside. Instead, both were prepped to run in what was apparently a NASCAR Grand National open-competition event on the 2.5 mile high-banked oval at Daytona International Speedway. That’s where things get interesting.

That’s where the wheel and tire combination comes in; it’s pure stock car stuff. This Z06 is unique in that it was prepped to run under Grand National rules in 1963, for which Chevrolet had a lethally potent powertrain weapon even though it wasn’t officially involved in motorsport. The Corvette’s chassis was modified so that the new Mk II big-block V-8, displacing 427 cubic inches, would fit. Junior Johnson, who would flog the same engine in regular NASCAR events that year, put this Z06 on the pole for the race, which was actually run in the rain. The lightened, chopped-chassis car, with Billy Krause as substitute driver, was beset by handling problems in the wet, allowing Paul Goldsmith to win in a Ray Nichels-built Pontiac Tempest stuffed with a 421 Super Duty race engine. It was the first public appearance for the new Chevy big-block, which would become a competition legend. This car was returned to small-block power and raced locally in California until Tom McIntyre of Burbank found it in 1976, began doing research and learned its unique, pivotal racing history. Officially, Chevrolet took back all the Mk II “Mystery Engine” examples after the program ended, but up the street here in Daytona Beach, Smokey Yunick kept one in his stash, and thanks to Tom’s entreaties, allowed it to be used in the restoration. This, part of the Chevy Thunder class at Amelia Island, is the result. A report of Amelia Island’s post-pandemic revival will be in the second issue of Crankshaft.

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