American racing legend Mickey Thompson was a man in a hurry. He competed in numerous types of motorsport during his career and was always at the leading edge. Among his many accomplishments, he was credited with inventing the “slingshot” dragster that put the driver behind the rear wheels for better traction; he was also the first driver to hit 120 MPH in the quarter mile and the first man on Earth to surpass 400 MPH, a feat he accomplished in the Challenger I, a four-engine Pontiac-powered land speed-record car of his own design and construction.
In the late 1950s, Thompson was more closely associated with Pontiac performance than any other racer on the American scene, so when Pontiac Division General Manager Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen was appointed to manage Chevrolet in 1961, it was almost inevitable that he would choose Thompson as an early recipient of Chevrolet’s new 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Z06, Zora Arkus-Duntov’s factory-weaponized racing Corvette.
Thompson eventually came to possess not one Z06 but a total of five, a circumstance that has led to some confusion over the years as to their individual histories. The most persistent mystery has surrounded the car Thompson used as his personal driver and to promote his new line of high-performance wheels in partnership with Rader Wheels. Before delving into that story, however, it is necessary to revisit the histories of the other four Z06 coupes raced by Thompson.
Two Z06 coupes, a Daytona Blue car wearing No. 3 and a silver No. 4, were prepared with their factory 327/360 HP fuel-injected engines for the Daytona Continental Three Hours race on February 17, 1963. The other two, a silver No. 3 and a white No. 4, were modified with Chevrolet’s secret new 427 CI “Mystery Motors” for the Daytona American Challenge race the previous day, February 16.
In addition to the 427 engines, these two Z06 coupes received numerous other modifications that were consistent with the methods used during that period by Holman and Moody in preparing cars for NASCAR competition. These included four extra shock absorbers, flat aluminum floors, frame reinforcement welds, a large adjustable front sway bar on a welded bracket and large exhaust exits through the frame rails in front of the rear wheels. Additionally, a reinforcing brace extended from behind the driver through the floor to the right front frame rail to counteract the G-force loads caused by the steep banking at Daytona. Along with these chassis modifications, one of the most unique characteristics was the oversized six-lug rear spindles and front hubs, in contrast to the standard five on production cars.
The fifth Mickey Thompson Z06, also white and bearing Serial No. 6844, remained in virtually stock configuration. For years, it was claimed that Thompson used this car in the 1964 Bonneville Speed Trials to test and promote Sears Allstate tires. The tests were highly publicized; photographs showing Thompson in a white Corvette Z06 coupe at speed on the salt were published throughout the automotive press.
When collector Mike Pillsbury discovered 6844 in Southern California in the early 1980s, he believed it to be the Sears/Allstate Tire Test Car, or the “Bonneville car” as it later came to be called. It was presented in Noland Adams’ “Corvette Restoration Guide,” and was also listed in the Big Tank Survey and the Registry of Corvette Race Cars. It was accepted into the Bloomington Gold Special Collection in 1995 and the Chicago Chevy VetteFest Ultimate Showcase in 1996. It received the NCRS Special Interest Award at Cypress Gardens Florida in 1997. It was then put on display at the National Corvette Museum for 18 months, during which it was shown at the NCRS National Meet in Collinsville, Illinois, in July 1998, where it again won the Special Interest Award. The car also appeared in over a dozen feature magazine articles.