Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gulf One 1963 Z06 Corvette, Part 2

Bloomington Gold photo by Walter Thurn

Mecum Performance Auctions made big news at their January, 2009 Kissimmee, FL event when the 1963 Gulf One Z06 Corvette sold for a record price of $1.05 million. There was a great deal of promotional work in the months prior to the sale, involving extensive research, writing, and photography. Noted Z06 expert Eric Gill contributed his expertise, writing the forward for a book I wrote about the car’s history, “Gulf One 1963 Z06 Corvette”, published by Mecum as part of the marketing campaign. That book has since become somewhat of a collector’s item and is difficult to find. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed that its contents have been the source, shall we say, of several subsequent articles both in print and on the web, so I have decided to publish the original text here at Musclecar Classics.

Gulf One 1963 Z06 Corvette
Part 2: Grady Davis, Dr. Dick Thompson and Gulf One Today

Grady Davis approached racing with the same zeal for which he was famous in every other aspect of his career. Like the great Alfred Neubauer, whose management of the fabled Mercedes-Benz racing teams established the modern standard, Davis had run his first Gulf Corvette efforts with military precision, and he applied the lessons learned to the new operation right from the start.

Chassis number 2227 was delivered to Gulf personnel at the St. Louis plant in early October 1962, driven to Gulf’s Pittsburgh corporate headquarters, dismantled and rebuilt to Davis’ specifications and rushed to Puerto Rico for the first and only Puerto Rico Grand Prix. With famed Corvette specialist Dr. Dick Thompson at the wheel, the new racer, famously designated by Davis as “Gulf One”, scored the first class win of its career. After an A-Production victory at Marlboro, Maryland’s “Refrigerator Bowl” in January 1963, Gulf One was then prepared to FIA rules for Florida’s Daytona Continental and Sebring 12 Hours races. In February, Dick Thompson scored a huge third place overall and first in GT3 at Daytona behind two Ferrari GTOs, following up in March with a disappointing gearbox failure at Sebring after another impressive drive.

But the Sebring results were rendered irrelevant by GM’s devastating post-race announcement: the factory had decided to withdraw its support; dedicated racers who had staked their fortunes on the newly-minted Z06 were suddenly on their own. Worse, at two thirds the weight of the Corvette and equipped with disc brakes, the rapidly-improving Cobras had signaled their potential against all comers, prompting Duntov’s famous observation that the handwriting was “on the wall.”

Davis, his drivers and the entire Gulf team resolved to continue campaigning at the national level despite these withering blows. Even as the Cobras gained steam, Thompson barnstormed Gulf One across the country, winning 1st place overall at the SCCA President’s Cup at Marlboro, Maryland and the A/Production class at Danville, Virginia and Road America, and finished the season as the most successful of all the factory Z06 racers.

The intervening years have shown the 1963 season to be one of the most important in the history of motor sports; it was certainly that for the Corvette, especially the Z06. Even within the context of the Cobra challenge and the European marques’ arrival on the American racing scene, the Z06 Sting Ray represented an epochal moment in the Corvette’s development and its bedrock establishment, some would even say its consecration, as America’s Sports Car. The Gulf team’s 1963 campaign was the very definition of the mythical Hero’s Journey, running fifteen events in twelve months and prevailing against insurmountable odds.

After the end of the 1963 season Grady Davis sold Gulf One to Doc Blatchley, who continued to race the car in SCCA events, as did its subsequent owner Don Pulver. Collector and racer Rich Mason purchased the car, still complete and virtually unchanged, from Pulver in 1991. Mason then undertook an extensive and thoroughly documented restoration which was executed by talented Carson City, NV specialist Chet Bunch. Gulf One was then bought by Harry Yeaggy, who maintained it through several years in race-ready condition, as it remains today under private ownership.

Gulf One’s racing career represents one of the noblest campaigns in Corvette racing history, a dramatic last stand against a confluence of forces that eventually spelled the demise of the Z06 concept until its recent and widely celebrated resurrection. What’s old is new again, and as the most accomplished Z06 in Corvette history, Gulf One is still at the top of every knowledgeable Corvette collector’s list of must-haves, the most significant, well-documented and thoroughly authenticated of the 1963 Z06 Sting Rays purpose-built for racing. It was the first car prepared with advanced race technology developed specifically for the Z06 and later adapted for use on the prototype Grand Sports. During its career it was the most widely campaigned of all the works cars; indeed, it was the only one to compete entirely at the national level, racing in more venues than any other. No other Z06 received more corporate support from Chevrolet. It remains the most highly original of all the racing Z06 Sting Rays and a monument to one of American racing’s greatest eras.

No comments:

Post a Comment