A ‘Talmud’ for the 1963 Corvette Z06
The National Corvette Restorers Society is known as a nitpicky bunch. When its judges evaluate Corvettes, the cars’ owners take stock to see which hairs are out of place, so to speak. Perfect scores are rare, because every nut and bolt must be the correct size and type, with every body panel perfectly aligned, and every option corresponding to a particular vehicle identification number.
In the case of 1963–64 Corvettes, the sixth-edition NCRS judging manual is 317 pages long. That’s a lot of technical information. But a book published this year focusing only on the 1963 Z06 option is even longer.
“It’s 413 pages on one option—not even one year, one option,” says Tony Avedisian, one of three authors of the book and the proprietor of Tony’s Corvette Shop, a restoration facility in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. “There’s a ridiculous amount of information in this book. Even things like bags, hardware, and scoops are accounted for.”
Avedisian’s co-conspirators on the Z06 tome were Marty Fowler, a veteran Corvette restorer and Bloomington Gold judge, and Greg Keith, an NCRS member and longtime Z06 owner. The trio had a lot of help from the GM Heritage Center, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, which maintains an extensive archive of General Motors technical documentation.
“The ’63 Z06 is one of those iconic Corvettes that people will be talking about forever,” says Christo Datini, the center’s lead archivist. “The original Z06 was a factory-prepared race car, for all intents and purposes, and was available with a number of options that would make it track ready. Up to that time, this was the most significant performance package.”
To begin with, each of the book’s three authors possessed vast amounts of knowledge on the ’63 Z06. Keith had owned his for more than three decades; Fowler had been restoring them for just as long; and Avedisian, who had restored a few himself, had amassed more than 2,500 photos he used to identify Z06 details.
“We all went in with totally open minds,” Avedisian says. “We all had preconceived notions, but we didn’t hang on to them.”
Once they got started with the real work of taking their individual knowledge and applying it to research, and toward reaching a comprehensive understanding of a model that saw fewer than 200 cars reach production, they realized something. They didn’t know much at all.
“We’ve had 30 years of old wives’ tales and people saying this and that about how ’63 Z06s were supposed to be,” Fowler says. “We just wanted to set the record straight with facts instead of guessing at it over pizza and beers.”
Aside from the late nights spent digging through old pictures and notes, plus several days researching technical details at the Heritage Center, the trio looked at original Z06 cars. Only 199 were built, and of those, fewer than 30 still exist that weren’t destroyed or restored.
“After you restore a car, you lose all the little clues and facts,” Fowler says. “Some of the cars we looked at we could use lots of information from. On others, it was only a couple of parts. I’d drive 200 miles just to look at one or two little parts.”
Ask any of the three authors why they published the book and you’ll get the same answer: it’s a matter of record. With ’63 Z06s selling at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s important for potential buyers and sellers to know what they have.
“A lot of people think these were cookie-cutter cars, and they weren’t,” Keith says. “They each have their own personalities and idiosyncrasies—they’re all different.”
Looking more closely at the cars’ idiosyncrasies was illuminating, and it highlighted the reality that factory assembly doesn’t necessarily translate into uniformity. For example, the cars had large, finned brake drums for improved brake cooling. They didn’t fit beneath the original steel wheels without modification, so engineers needed to fix the problem.
“Every week, it seemed that there was something they needed to do better,” Fowler says. “There are probably more than 100 running changes on the ’63 Corvette alone.”
The high-capacity fuel tank option has been a sticking point for many restorers. If a 37-gallon tank didn’t fit correctly, one might assume it wasn’t original. But Avedisian, Fowler, and Keith found out that the tanks, which were handmade, had to be “massaged,” and none fit exactly like the other.
“The Z06 had its own problems and adjustments, and the changes have always been kind of a mystery,” Fowler says. “That’s what we were chasing down in the book.”
An important thing to remember when looking at a Corvette is that even though it is probably one of the finest cars GM built, it was still subject to the same production problems that plagued other cars on the line. It was still a Chevrolet. It was still a mainstream car. Sifting through engineering orders brought that facet of the car’s history sharply into focus.
“I gained an appreciation for just how imprecise the manufacturing process was,” Keith says. “These were not handbuilt supercars, they were made by ordinary guys.”
A big part of the book project was mythbusting, too. It involved taking pre-conceived notions and upending them with GM documentation.
“A lot of people have opinions that this is this and that is that, but when you see page after page of documents from Zora Arkus-Duntov, you see the facts for yourself,” Keith says. “The documentation we published is really what sets this book apart from others.”
In his forward for the book, Bloomington Gold founder David Burroughs says it contains “Talmudic attention to detail.” His assessment certainly applies to the ’63 Z06 option, but as Keith pointed out, the book may also appeal to someone interested in a forensic analysis of the manufacturing process.
At the bottom of it all, though, is the desire three Z06 aficionados had to set the record straight.
“Some folks may be upset with us because we gave all this information away, but if I die and take it all with me, that doesn’t do anyone any good,” Avedisian says. “People need to have all the facts.”