Unleashing the Legend: a Look into the Rich History and Track-ready Features of the Iconic Corvette ZO6
As we look at the ZO6 Corvette history we are reminded that the ZO6 dates back to 1963. It was the first option package specifically designed for Corvettes that were meant to be used on the track. Since then, the ZO6 has become an iconic symbol of performance, with five generations of the ZO6s being offered throughout the Corvette’s eight generations of production. This blog post will explore the rich ZO6 history and the track-ready features that have made it such a beloved model.
CORVETTE Z06 GENERATIONS
|C2 (1963)||L84 5.4L OHV V-8||360||4-speed manual|
|C5 (2001-04)||LS6 5.7L OHV V-8||385 (2001); 405 (2002-04)||6-speed manual|
|C6 (2006-13)||LS7 7.0L OHV V-8||505||6-speed manual|
|C7 (2015-19)||LT4 6.2L OHV V-8 supercharged||650||7-speed manual or 8-speed automatic|
|C8 (2023)||LT6 5.5L DOHC V-8||670||8-speed DCT|
The First Generation of the ZO6 – The C2s (1963 – 1967)
The Z06 package made its debut in the Corvette in 1963, and it was aimed at serious racers. The Z06 option included heavy-duty brakes, stiffer springs, larger anti-roll bars, a more robust cooling system, and a more aerodynamic front end. The Z06 package was the most expensive Corvette option offered to that date, costing $1,818 in addition to the Corvette. With the Corvette Z06, there were certain requirements; such as the L84 Fuel-Injected 327, the close-ratio 4-speed transmission, and the positraction rear axle. All these additions came to an extra $661, adding to the original $4,252 price for a total of $6,731. And with further extras, taxes, registration, and so on, customers would have had to around $7,000 for their 1963 Corvette!
The Z06 was designed with performance in mind, and it did not disappoint on the track. In fact, the Z06 was so impressive that it quickly earned the nickname “Big Tank” due to the large fuel tank required to keep up with its fuel consumption during races.
The first generation of the Z06 Corvettes was a rarity, with only 199 produced in total. Today, they are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike, and their racing pedigree has only grown in legend over time.
The question that is often asked, is what are these first ZO6s worth today? The 1963 ZO6 Corvette Gulf One with a 327/360 engine, much like most racecars, was sold and purchased numerous times, including a failed attempt at the Mecum Kissimmee auction in January of 2022, where it reached a high bid of $2.4 million. You can read more about it in this blog post.
The first generation Z06s may have been rare, but they set the standard for what would become one of the most iconic track-ready cars in automotive history. Read on to learn more.
1963 Z06: Duntov’s legacy
The first Z06 was an option package on the iconic 1963 “split-window” Corvette, developed by Corvette’s legendary engineer and racing advocate Zora Arkus-Duntov. He successfully lobbied for the 1963 Corvette to offer a package for customers who intended to race the new car.
For those in the know, checking the RPO Z06 box on the Corvette’s order sheet added a thicker, 24mm (0.94-inch) front stabilizer bar, larger-diameter shock absorbers, and springs that were nearly twice as stiff as standard parts. The Z06 package also featured:
- upgraded brake components, including sintered-metal brake linings, which stood up to heat and resisted wear better than conventional material
- a dual-circuit master cylinder and vacuum brake booster to enhance safety and reduce braking effort
These components would become industry standards but were still rare in regular-production vehicles of the era.
Possibly most significant for racing, the Z06 option could be combined with a larger, 36.5-gallon fiberglass fuel tank that allowed racers to stay on the track longer. Z06-equipped models quickly became known as “big tank” or “tanker” Corvettes and were originally limited to coupe models because the larger tank wouldn’t fit convertibles. Later, Chevrolet revised the package, making the regular 20-gallon fuel tank standard and the big tank an option. The change allowed the Z06 package to be ordered on a convertible. Only one is believed to have been built. The package originally added more than 40 percent to the Corvette’s base price. Aluminum knock-off wheels were also offered.
There was one engine available with the Z06 package – the 360-horsepower L84-code 327-cubic-inch small block, which featured an advanced mechanical fuel injection system. Corvette was a pioneer in fuel injection, having introduced it in 1957. A four-speed manual transmission and Positraction rear axle were also standard equipment.
In that pre-Internet era, few Corvette customers – even those with racing intentions – knew of the Z06 package. It wasn’t advertised, making word of mouth the primary source of information. Because most were purchased and used for racing, the attrition rate was comparatively high. The remaining, documented examples – especially the big-tank cars – are highly collectible.
The Second Generation of the ZO6 – The C5s (2001 – 2004)
After a long hiatus, the Z06 returned in 2001. The C5 Corvette was completely redesigned, with a new aluminum frame that was stiffer and lighter than the previous generation. The new Z06 was powered by the LS6 version of the Gen III small block engine, which was a significant upgrade from the base model.
One of the most notable features of the second-generation Z06 was its unique styling of the rear-brake cooling ducts integrated into the rear fenders
Overall, the second-generation of the Z06s was a remarkable car that continued to solidify the Z06’s reputation as a track-ready machine. It was a bold and exciting redesign that built upon the legacy of the original Z06 while pushing the Corvette to new heights of performance and technology.
In 2001 they sold 5,773 ZO6s, in 2002 they sold 8,297, in 2003 they sold 8,635 and in 2004 they sold 5,683.
2001-2004 Z06: Breaking the 8-minute Nürburgring lap
During the Corvette’s fifth generation, the Z06 name was reintroduced as a special 2001 model that took Corvette performance farther than it had ever been. Engineers started with the Corvette’s unique, limited-production hardtop body, which featured a fixed-roof design that was stiffer and lighter than the hatchback coupe. The car was further lightened with a titanium exhaust system, thinner glass, lighter wheels, conventional tires – in place of the standard run-flat tires – less sound-deadening material, a fixed radio antenna instead of a power antenna, and even a smaller, lighter battery.
The results shaved about 100 pounds off the weight of a conventional coupe model. The car also introduced rear-brake cooling ducts integrated into the rear fenders, which would become a signature styling cue.
On the other side of the power-to-weight equation is horsepower and to that end, the 2001 Z06 used an exclusive LS6 version of the Gen III small block engine. It featured unique internal parts, including a “hotter” camshaft and higher-compression pistons, and an enhanced cylinder block design for greater bay-to-bay breathing, helping it produce 385 horsepower. Further enhancements contributed to an increase to 405 horsepower in 2002. The engine was backed by a six-speed manual transmission with Z06-specific gear ratios.
Like the original 1963 Z06, the fifth-generation ZO6 Corvette included chassis and suspension components optimized for the track. Its exclusive FE4 suspension package featured larger-diameter, hollow stabilizer bars that also had thicker walls for greater stiffness; larger-diameter shock absorbers compared to standard models, quicker steering – 2.46 turns lock to lock vs. 2.66 on other models – and a larger wheel-and-tire package, featuring Goodyear Eagle F1 SC tires mounted on lighter, stiffer forged aluminum wheels.
By the end of its production run, the fifth-generation-based Corvette Z06 was already benefitting from technology used in the successful Corvette Racing program, including lightweight carbon fiber. A special 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans Commemorative Edition – acknowledging Corvette Racing’s historic 1-2 class finish at the famous 24-hour endurance race – used a carbon fiber hood to shave 10 pounds off the nose of the car, enhancing its balance.
The 2004 Corvette Z06 proved its capability on the global stage when it became one of the first production cars at the time to run Germany’s famous Nürburgring road course in less than 8 minutes (7:56).
The Third Generation of the ZO6 Corvette’s History – The C6s (2006 – 2013)
After a brief hiatus, the Z06 returned in 2006 as a high-performance model in the Corvette’s third-generation ZO6.
The third-generation of the Corvette Z06 could go from 0 to 60 in just 3.7 seconds and had a top speed of 198 mph. Its impressive performance earned it a spot on Car and Driver’s “10 Best” list for 2006, 2007, and 2008. It also set several track records, including a lap time of 7 minutes and 42 seconds at the Nürburgring, making it the fastest production car to ever lap the track at the time.
In 2011, Chevrolet introduced the Z07 package, which added even more performance upgrades such as carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, and Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension.
Overall, the third generation of the Z06s was an impressive track-ready sports car that continued the Z06 legacy with its speed, handling, and advanced engineering. Its performance and accolades made it a beloved model for Corvette enthusiasts and a top choice for track days and weekend driving adventures.
Below are the production numbers of the 2006 – 2013 Corvette ZO6s. Note: Some of the years had more than one model of ZO6.
- 2006 – 6,272
- 2007 – 7,760
- 2008 – 7,731
- 2009 – 3,461
- 2010 – 518
- 2011 – 1,156
- 2012 – 478
- 2013 – 471
2006-2013 Z06: A foundation for success
The groundbreaking sixth-generation Corvette Z06 elevated Corvette to compete with the world’s most capable supercars. A power-to-weight ratio of 6.2:1 was one of the best in the world, helping it run from 0 to 60 mph in about 3.7 seconds, through the quarter-mile in the low-11-second range, and achieve a top speed of more than 190 mph.
The foundation of the Z06 was its own, dedicated aluminum chassis – the first unique frame for a special model Corvette.
The Z06’s aluminum frame was 136 pounds lighter than the comparable steel frame used in standard models and even incorporated a magnesium engine cradle, contributing to a curb weight of only 3,130 pounds. Mounted on that cradle was another leap in technology: The LS7 small block engine. Displacing 7.0L (427 cubic inches), it was the largest engine offered in the Corvette in more than 30 years – and the most powerful engine in Corvette’s history until the introduction of the Corvette ZR1.
The LS7 used airflow and lightweight technology, including titanium connecting rods and a dry-sump oiling system, derived from the Corvette Racing program to produce 505 horsepower.
Along with its unique frame and LS7 engine, the sixth-generation Corvette Z06 also featured:
- More rigid fixed-roof body style
- Wider front and rear fenders – including carbon fiber front fenders
- Unique rear spoiler and front splitter
- Front and rear brake-cooling ducts – including signature integrated rear-fender inlets
- Specific, lightweight 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels, with 275/35ZR18 front tires and 325/30ZR19 rear tires
- Large 14-inch (355 mm) front brake rotors with six-piston calipers and 13.4-inch (340 mm) rear rotors with four-piston calipers
- Unique stabilizer bars, spring rates, and shocks.
The ultimate Corvette Z06 with the Z07 Performance Package incorporated a number of components used on the 205-mph Corvette ZR1, including carbon ceramic-matrix brake rotors, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, additional carbon fiber exterior components, and Magnetic Selective Ride Control. In 2012, a Z07-equipped Corvette lapped the Nürburgring n 7:22.68.
The Fourth Generation of the ZO6 – The C7s (2015 – 2019)
After a six-year hiatus, the Z06 returned to the Corvette lineup in 2015. It boasted a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that produced a whopping 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. This power plant was mated to either a seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission.
While the fourth-generation Z06 was only produced for five model years, it quickly established itself as a favorite among Corvette enthusiasts and a force to be reckoned with on the track.
Below are the production numbers of the 2015 – 2019 ZO6s.
- 2015 – 8,653
- 2016 – 13,275
- 2017 – 7,273
- 2018 – 2,802
- 2019 – 2,953
2015 Z06: The most capable ever
The 2015 Corvette Z06 is the first Z06 to offer a supercharged engine, an automatic transmission, and, thanks to a stiffer aluminum frame, a removable roof panel. It is also the most track-capable Corvette, ever.
It was developed in conjunction with the Corvette C7.R race car with technology proven through Corvette Racing, the most successful program in the Tudor United Sports Car Challenge series, formerly the American Le Mans Series.
A supercharged 6.2L engine, rated at an estimated 625 horsepower (466 kW), powers the Z06. It is also one of the industry’s only supercars to offer the choice of two transmissions – a seven-speed manual and an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission. Developed by General Motors, the paddle-shift eight-speed offers full manual control, delivering quick, seamless shifts that rival the world’s best dual-clutch/semi-automatic transmissions.
An available, carbon fiber aero package adds a carbon fiber front splitter with aviation-style winglets, carbon fiber rocker panels, and a larger rear spoiler with a fixed wickerbill – a small, vertical tab at the edge of the spoiler that significantly increases downforce.
The available Z07 package adds larger winglets, an adjustable, see-through center section on the rear spoiler, Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires, and carbon ceramic-matrix brakes. With this package, the Corvette Z06 will deliver the most aerodynamic downforce of any GM production car.
The Fifth Generation of the ZO6 – The C8s (2023 -)
Unveiled for 2023, the all-new Chevy Corvette Z06 boasts an impressive powerplant situated in the back known as the mid-engined. With its widened silhouette and jutting air intakes, this model looks different than any ZO6 before it. A flat-plane crankshaft animates the 5.5-liter V-8, creating a sound that’s exclusive to the Z06. During testing, the car charged from 0-60 in a mere 2.6 seconds.
Next up, Chevrolet is proud to introduce Corvette Z06 GT3.R, the first race car they offer to professional and amateur teams alike. Built for the 2024 GT3 racing season, this powerful car promises to join its long list of predecessors in its illustrious history of victory on the track.
The Corvette Z06 has a rich history that dates back to its introduction in 1963. This track-ready Corvette was designed for those who wanted to push their Corvettes to the limit on the track. It has since been offered in five generations. From the early days of the C2s to the modern technology of the C8s, the Z06 has always been an impressive machine on the track. With each generation bringing new innovations and improvements, it’s clear that the Corvette Z06 will continue to be a fan favorite for years to come.
Whether you’re a long-time Corvette enthusiast or a newcomer to the world of performance cars, the Z06 is a model worth considering for anyone looking for a thrilling driving experience on the track.
If you are in the search for a used ZO6 check out Vette Vues’ Corvettes for Sale Classified Ads.
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