Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Epic Journey of C.J. Titterington and His 1963 Z06


The Epic Journey of C.J. Titterington and His 1963 Z06

By Rick Tavel© All rights reserved

 We all have heard numerous fascinating stories about the history, performance and build specifications of found then often restored Corvettes over the last several years.  “Barn find” cars of all types are always special and it seems that Terry Michaelis’ Pro Team Corvette has had more than his share of interesting barn-find Corvettes, finding two 1963 Z06’s with race histories within the same year.   After selling the first barn find, Michaelis began an impeccable restoration on his second race Z06 discovery, the car originally campaigned by Dick Lang in the early 60’s.   This 1963 Corvette Z06 was found in a barn less than twenty miles from Dick Lang’s original Chevrolet dealership, and today, following Michaelis’ impeccable restoration, at a cost of over $200,000, it is now being shown and winning concours throughout the country.  But perhaps an equally, if not more interesting story is the story of C.J. Titterington’s 1963 Z06 race car which will be displayed along side of Terry Michaelis’ Z06  at the upcoming Concours d’Elegance of America in Michigan. 

 The fact that Titterington’s Z06 is not a “barn find” in no way diminishes the interesting story of the car and its builder, a story that begins in February 1963 and continues with its extensive race history through Titterington’s purchase of the “used up” race car in 1976 and his long, often painstaking restoration of the car.  The other part of this story is the fact that CJ has ended up with a historically significant, concours quality 1963 race Z06 that he personally built and restored over the years, a piece at a time.  It is a story about the hundreds, if not thousands of hours Titterington, with some help from his three sons, CJ Jr., Jesse, and Justin, and some friends put in to the restoration.  It’s about the detailed fabrication of missing or unobtainable parts by CJ, an ironworker by trade, to exact GM design specs. It’s about the extensive research and contacts made along the way, unearthing the history and specifications of the car.  It’s about following the recommendations and guidance of one of the most knowledgeable experts on racing Z06’s in the world, Franz Estereicher. It’s a story about keeping your eye on the prize and a commitment to excellence.  It is the stuff dreams are made of and it refutes the belief that cars like CJ’s are out of reach for the common man.  What it is not is a story about having hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay someone else to do a world class restoration. Simply it’s a story about a man and his car, his vision, his plan, and his commitment to make the car live again.

CJ Titterington's 1963 Z06 As raced by Alvin Forsyth
 To begin the story we have no choice but to start when the car was born.  And in 1963 for Corvette it was the beginning of more than Titterington’s Z06.  It was the beginning of an entire new generation of Corvette and it was introduced to a more than enthusiastic audience. The new C2 was actually introduced in the fall of 1962 and racers throughout the country couldn’t wait to get their hands on the new faster C2, especially in light of the Shelby Cobra’s anticipated introduction.    Titterington’s car was built in late February of 1963 for Alvin Forsyth, shortly after the announcement of GM’s ban on racing, and was delivered to Clark Chevrolet, in Homestead, Pennsylvania.  Alvin Forsyth took over Clark Chevrolet, a dealership in which his father was the majority stockholder, a few months later and changed the name to Forsyth Chevrolet.  Al Forsyth had been racing Corvettes successfully throughout the east since the late 1950’s. 

 Along with the new Corvette came the hopes that Corvette would continue to be able to dominate the race tracks throughout the country even with the threat of the much publicized “new gun” in town, the now legendary Shelby Cobra.  The first showdown between the new C2 and the Cobra took place in Riverside, California, on October 13, 1962.  Chevrolet, also aware of the threat the Cobra posed, offered the first four Corvette Z06’s to well known racers, Dave MacDonald, Bob Bondurant, Jerry Grant and Doug Hooper in hopes of continuing their dominance on the track.   In September, Chevrolet delivered a preproduction pilotline Z06 via air freight to Mickey Thompson in California for initial testing before the October Riverside race.  This is the car that Doug Hooper drove during the race.  The other three drivers flew into St. Louis two weeks before the race and drove them back to California. The race was getting national attention especially due to the
Riverside October 1962 Race
showdown between the Corvette and Cobra and the engineers of the two heavyweight contenders were not going to miss the battle.  Zora Arkus-Duntov and Carrol Shelby were both on hand to offer their guidance to the teams.  The Corvette driven by Dave MacDonald and the Shelby Cobra driven by Billy Krause battled for the lead most of the race until the Cobra could no longer continue due to rear suspension problems.  This left the lead solely to MacDonald who was way out in front of the rest of the cars until he had to retire, shredding a tire on the rear and damaging the suspension too badly to continue.  Doug Hooper in the Mickey Thompson sponsored car went on to win the race. 

 The Corvette victory was great news for Chevrolet and the Corvette. Word of the victory spread quickly across the country and racers rushed to order their Z06’s.  But production problems in the fall of 1962 prevented all but the first specially assigned fifteen cars being delivered before January of 1963 even though several were ordered almost immediately after the Riverside race.   And so it was with the Z06 Alvin Forsyth ordered to race on the tracks in the east.  This car was built and delivered in late February.  It was ordered and delivered in Tuxedo Black with the black interior, a rare choice for the race equipped 1963 Z06.  It was the Z06 with the big 36 gallon gas tank and radio delete.  Weather conditions in the Northeast prevented Forsyth from ordering the car with the heater/defrost delete option. 

Al Forsyth on the Track 1963
 Alvin Forsyth raced the car until 1969 with some success.  He had several podium finishes in local races and in the top ten in most of the regional races he finished.  He finished third in the 1964 Watkins Glen 500.  His wife Laura was also involved in Alvin’s racing and she also raced a 1958 Corvette “fuelie”.  In 1969 the car was sold to Dan Farri who also continued to race the car until he sold it to Titterington in 1976. 

 CJ was only 19 years old when he scraped together enough money to buy the car.  He had a C1 Corvette that he had purchased from his sister and to help raise the money for the Z06 he sold the car back to her.  Keep in mind that in 1976 the car was considered to be nothing more than an old beat up Corvette, but CJ knew otherwise.  He was a “car guy” and knew a lot about performance cars.  He worked at a gas station while he was in high school and worked on cars, including his 1957 Chevy that was eventually sold and exported to Europe.  He had been reading automobile magazines since childhood and knew what the Z06 was.  Other than that, he knew very little about his car.   But when he purchased the car from Farri, CJ had no intention of racing the car and wanted to restore the car to be street legal.  At that point it was a lofty goal.
#81 Al Forsyth Z06 in 1963

When he got the car it had only a stripped down race interior.  There were tie downs welded on the frame and no bumpers on the car. So to get the car “streetable” CJ began restoring the car which required him finding and installing a complete interior and bumpers.  He searched locally to find the needed parts from a wrecked car and found an interior from a wrecked 1963 for a couple hundred dollars.  In addition, he removed the roll bar and then removed the tie downs from the frame, which required him to do some frame restoration. Of course all of this was done in stages as the money for the parts became available.  But after almost four years he had gotten the car “streetable” and restored to the point he was invited to show the car at a judged Corvette show in 1980.

 Even though the National Corvette Restorers Society was formed in the mid 1970’s still very few enthusiasts knew much about the specifications of the early race Corvettes from that period.  Even the “experts” knew very little of the history, importance and exact build details of the early Z06’s.  Used Corvette racecars had little value or significance except to a very small group of enthusiasts.  CJ relates a story of his experience at the Corvette show in 1980.  There were well known judges at the show and when they began crawling all around CJ’s Z06 they seemed more and more perplexed.  CJ wondered what was bothering them.  Finally one of the “expert judges” asked Titterington “what that big thing behind the seats” was.  CJ realized the so called “experts” had no idea that it was the “big tank”, the “tanker” option for which collectors pay a huge premium today.  

 About a year after that show, in 1981 something else happened that offers some insight into just how perceptive C.J. Titterington was from a car enthusiast’s perspective, he bought a second project car, an original 289 Shelby Cobra.  The car was apart and in pieces but it was all there.  Titterington realized that the prices on these cars were continuing to escalate and he knew that if he did not purchase one at that time that he would be priced out of the market very soon.  So like he did with the Z06 he scraped together the money to buy the Cobra much to the dismay of his father who couldn’t understand why his son would pay the price of a car in pieces. He still owns the car today and is in the process of restoring the Cobra to the same standards as he has his Corvette Z06. 

 Early in the 1990’s CJ decided to re-do his original work on the Z06.  Though his car looked good CJ had decided to do a more accurate restoration since parts availability had improved since his the work he had done initially.  Then shortly after he began the “second restoration” of the Z06, he got married and most of the work on the Z06 and Cobra was put on “indefinite hold”.  Much of his free time was spent working on his house and during the next decade more of his time was taken being a father to his three sons, which left little or no time for the restorations.  So what he originally thought was a brief hold on the cars early in the 1990’s turned into the cars sitting, mostly untouched, for almost fifteen years in an unheated garage.

 But over the fifteen years Titterington never stopped thinking about bringing the Z06 and Cobra back to life with a complete restoration.  Finally as his sons got older he had more time to concentrate on his cars and by 2005 he was ready to begin a completely fresh restoration on the Z06 and to continue to chip away at the Shelby Cobra. At this point Titterington decided to do a complete body off restoration on the car. But even though CJ knew he was going to do a thorough restoration, he had not yet considered bringing the car back exactly to the way it was delivered and first raced. He still was considering using authentic but not necessarily Z06 parts.

 Rebuilding the engine was one of the first things Titterington tackled.  He knew the engine should be rebuilt and he was also aware that doing it when the body was off the car and the engine out was the time to complete it.   In addition no matter which way he intended to take the restoration he knew the engine would need to be done regardless.  So the engine was completed early in 2005.  The restoration proceeded slowly over the next few years, a result of budgetary and time constrictions, but whenever he got the chance to buy some original parts for the car he did, sometimes parts that did not come on his car originally.  His three sons offered to help him when they could and he got a few hours each week from one of his friends, Dave Ley, who tackled the body and paint work on the car.

 It was during this phase that CJ acquired an authentic Corvette Grand Sport hood and a set of two bar knock off wheels and planned to use the parts on his restoration, even though they never had been original to the Z06. But again during this restoration he had not decided to restore the car to exact original race specifications.

 During the ongoing work, he continued to research the history of his car and made contact with Alvin Forsyth’s widow, Laura.  After several phone conversations with her, she invited him to her home to show him pictures, memorabilia and reminisce about Alvin, the races, their 1958 “fuelie” and 1963 Z06, and other racers and teams.  CJ learned much from those conversations including the names of many of the original component suppliers.  In several of the photos Laura shared with him, CJ noticed the same man working on the Z06.  He asked her who he was and she told him it was, Steve Shiner, the original mechanic and crew chief on Alvin Forsyth’s Z06 .  She explained that Shiner had worked at the Forsyth Chevrolet dealership and was the mechanic who did all the work on the car.  In addition Shiner would accompany the car to the races and also act as crew chief.

 When Titterington returned from his meeting with Laura Forsyth, he immediately began trying to find out if Shiner was still alive and if so to make contact with him.  He began calling every “Shiner” in all of the phone books around Metro Pittsburgh until, by chance, he found a relative of Shiner’s who put him in contact with the mechanic who was now well into his 70’s.  After a few conversations about the car,  CJ found out that the mechanic continued to do a little work in his back yard shop even though he had to use a walker to get around.  Since he had already had the engine in the Z06 rebuilt, CJ asked Shiner if he would consider rebuilding the engine for his 289 Shelby Cobra.  Shiner agreed and CJ assisted him.  During the several hours of the rebuild Shiner would relate stories about Forsyth, the races and several well known racers of the time.  Shiner also told Titterington that he had worked his “magic” on the fuel injection system of the car and that Forsyth had wanted a special camshaft installed in the Z06.  Having gotten to know David Crower, owner and founder of Crower Cams, Shiner called him and explained exactly what they were looking for.  Crower specially ground a unique cam for Forsyth’s Corvette.  CJ was disappointed knowing that somewhere during the car’s past the Crower cam was replaced.

 Even though Titterington devoted almost all of his free time to the restoration process, working mostly by himself except for the one evening a week when his friend would come and assist him, the restoration moved slowly.  After two years the body was still off the frame and though CJ had learned a lot about the car from Laura Forsyth and Steve Shiner he began to think more about the direction the restoration was headed. 

 During his research Titterington had learned that Forsyth ordered the car with the “radio delete” option, so he began his search for an accurate original “radio delete” dash.   Then in 2007 while Titterington was at Corvettes at Carlisle, hunting an accurate “radio delete” dash for his Z06,  he was introduced to someone that would change the course of the CJ’s  Z06’s future and the entire focus of the restoration.  He met Franz Estereicher. 

 Estereicher is recognized as the foremost authority on racing Z06’s in the world and though he tries to keep a low profile anyone who owns a C2 Z06 or who has studied these cars recognizes the fact that there is no one with as much knowledge about these cars.  Estereicher has assembled perhaps the most thorough library about the Z06 and other racing C2s and includes, drawings, specifications, production records, historic documents and photos.  He has an extensive library of reference documents, articles, company communications and photos. Estereicher knows the provenance of every known Z06 and knows exactly the way each of these cars left the factory and where they went.  In addition, he owns one of the first Z06’s produced (Vin 30837S100809), owned by Mickey Thompson and raced by Bill Krause.  In addition he owns another extremely rare 1962 Corvette raced by Tom Swindell.

 Estereicher knew about the existence of Forsyth’s Z06 but its whereabouts over the last few decades was unknown.  So when the vendor at the legendary Corvettes at Carlisle mentioned that one of his customers was searching for a radio delete dash for his Z06, Franz’s interest was peaked.  When Estereicher met Titterington he asked him if he was the owner of a black Z06?  And when Titterington told him he was, he asked him if it was the #81 Z06 raced by Alvin Forsyth.  CJ replied that he had been the owner of the car for almost thirty years. Franz was ecstatic to have discovered the missing Z06’s whereabouts.  They immediately began talking and it didn’t take CJ long to understand that he was not talking to just another Corvette enthusiast, he was talking to someone who knew more about racing Corvettes than anyone he had ever spoken with.  Subsequently he discovered there was virtually nothing Estereicher didn’t know about the 1963 Corvette Z06.  After several conversations with Franz, including an meeting at Estereicher’s home which went well into the early morning hours, centered on the car, its history and the restoration he currently had in progress, CJ was convinced that the only proper way to restore his car was to bring it back to exactly the way it was when it began its racing life.  He realized that in order to do this he’d have to make changes to the “second restoration” he had begun. The Grand Sport hood could not be used and the two bar knockoff wheels had no place on the car.  Estereicher knew exactly how CJ’s car was delivered, he had reverse engineered the original Corvette design documents to the date CJ’s car was manufactured and he also not only knew but could document the history of the car.  Under Franz Estereicher’s guidance a detailed restoration plan was decided on and begun. 

 During the process Estereicher was more than willing to help him.  He shared his reverse engineered diagrams and specification drawings so CJ could insure that the exact parts used in the restoration were date correct.  Though CJ had restored the frame prior to meeting Franz, afterwards he realized that the paint used was a gloss and, not being the factory specification, would have to be changed to conform.  Whenever CJ need advice on a specific part he would speak to Franz before he proceeded to insure the information he had was correct.  From early on CJ was quick to tell anyone that Franz was and continues to be his mentor.

Now with the final restoration plan in place, CJ realized that the engine, though already rebuilt, had been sitting too long and decided to have the engine freshened while it was removed from the car.  He also realized that to be 100% accurate he should have that Crower cam that Steve Shiner, the original mechanic and crew chief for Forsyth’s Z06, told him about.  So he asked Shiner if he could locate a duplicate.  Though it was a long shot, Shiner contacted Crower and unbelievably they had saved the exact specs for the specially ground cam they had done in 1963 and they reground an exact duplicate.  Shiner, the mechanic that had installed the first cam almost fifty years before, installed the exact duplicate in the rebuilt Z06 engine.  While he was at it, the aging mechanic also performed his “magic” on the fuel injection system, exactly as he had done for Forsyth.

 Other details of the car had been uncovered as well and Titterington was committed to restoring the car to exact specifications.  On the original car large holes were cut into the rear Plexiglas® window for air extraction and to help reduce the heat inside the car during long endurance races.  Titterington had the original workmen reproduce exact reproduction rear windows. 

 It is that type of detail which has characterized the restoration of CJ’s car over the last five years.  CJ credits several people for the way the car has evolved. Obviously first and foremost is Franz Estereicher who has guided CJ’s final restoration on the historic Z06.   He is particularly appreciative to his friend Dave Ley, who consistently gave up evenings over the years for the restoration of the fiberglass body and the paint work.  Anyone who has ever tried to restore a black fiberglass car knows the difficulty of getting it right and Ley has done an exceptional job.

 What Titterington has set out to achieve has evolved over his thirty seven year ownership from making his car “streetable”, through a “second restoration” and then finally to an award-winning outstanding restoration resulting in highly coveted invitations to concours and historic events.  CJ has just begun to show what he has accomplished and his car will compete with the finest examples of Chevrolet’s legendary 1963 Z06’s in the upcoming Concours d’Elegance of America on July 28 in Plymouth, Michigan.  One can only wonder when nineteen year old C.J. Titterington bought the “used up” race car in 1976 if he had the slightest idea that he and the car would one day be the focus of thousands of automobile enthusiasts at some of the most prestigious events in the county.






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