Thompson Tribute | Anthony Darwin's 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe
Words Craig Metros Photography Luke Ray
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 22.
At the 2015 SEMA show in Las Vegas, I saw one of the original Mickey Thompson prepared ’63 Z06 Corvette Stingrays. It was one of two original factory built Stingrays for the 1963 NASCAR sanctioned ‘American Challenge Cup’ race held at the famous Daytona oval. Thompson was charged with prepping the cars and recruiting drivers. As a builder, innovator and driver, Mickey Thompson is a giant amongst American motorsport heroes. He won numerous championships in diverse categories in motor racing such as midgets, sprint cars, off-road vehicles, stock cars, drag racing and sports cars. His performance vehicles back in the day always looked right and went very, very fast.
This Corvette was no exception. From a distance, it looked like another silver ’63 Corvette. This one had that 1960s race ‘period correct’ look of black steel wheels, white letter Goodyear tyres, and the number ‘3’ in classic white roundels positioned on the hood, rear deck and doors.
As I came to find out, this was far from just another silver ’63 Vette. At a closer view, the more apparent modifications signalled a serious race car that looked more experimental from the original manufacturer than your neighbour’s weekend racer. What I didn’t see under the closed hood was the experimental 427 motor. This was one of the two very first big block Corvettes that came out of the factory. The chassis was completely modified to withstand the high banked turns at Daytona and was aggressively lightened to weigh in just over 1270 kilos. Extra fuel was carried in a specially fabricated tank occupying the area behind the driver. This car was driven by Junior Johnson and Bill Krause and placed 3rd in the ACC at Daytona.
After that event, Chevrolet concluded their race season and returned the car to Thompson who eventually sold it. After several more years of road racing it was then used to train endurance co-drivers and eventually just neglected. It ended up in the hands of Californian car collector and racer, Tom McIntyre. He eventually restored the car and has been invited to several shows including the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Today, the car is considered one of the most significant Corvettes of all time.
Needless to say, I fell in love with this thing and immediately posted it on the Fuel Instagram site. Within a few days, what looked like the same exact car was posted on Instagram by a friend of mine in Australia. So, there is a number ‘3’ Mickey Thompson tribute car running around the Melbourne area and it is owned by Anthony Darwin. Earlier this year, FM caught up with Anthony to find out a bit more history regarding his silver MT tribute Corvette.
What is the history of your Corvette and how long have you owned it?
Frank Gearin from California was looking to purchase a high performance Corvette in the early 1970s. He found this car in a backyard in Compton, California. It had 40,000 miles on the clock and the grass around it had grown as high as the roof. It was a factory 1964 365hp 327 four speed Muncie car painted in silver blue with dark blue interior. Frank rebuilt another 327 engine as the original engine had blown up. Frank put in a steel flywheel and scatter shield and the car was painted silver. Frank used the corvette for club race days at Laguna Seca. Harry Wright brought the Corvette into Australia in the mid ‘90s, where it was raced at Winton Raceway and drag raced at Heathcote, where it ran a mid 12 second time over the 1/4 mile.
I bought the car in 2012. The silver paint has patina and the all original dark blue interior was redone in black. The 327 engine looks all factory with all the correct shielding, snowflake intake, Holley carb and 2 ½ exhaust. I removed the bumpers, replaced the knock-offs with black steel rims, and had signwriter Phil Berry hand paint the names and numbers on the car. I have run the car at the Ballarat drags in 8.2 seconds over the 1/8 mile.
Did you do most of the work yourself?
Yes. I was lucky growing up as I had my dad and granddad both influence me in cars as they showed me how to build and work on them. My dad has had the same 1957 Chevrolet sedan since I was three years old. I learnt from my dad and his father, and this has helped me gain knowledge to do all my own work on all my cars.
How did you find this car?
I was looking to buy a 1963 or 1964 Corvette coupe for about ten years. I’d seen this car twice when it first came into the country (15 years ago), at Hanging Rock and at the local drags in the car park (10 years ago). I said to the owner at that time if you ever wanted to sell the car to give me a ring. In late 2012 the owner rang me and said I’m selling the ‘Vette, are you still interested? I said yes and bought the car two weeks before my 40th birthday.
There are many famous Corvette race cars from this era that you could have created. How or why did you decide on the ‘number 3’ Mickey Thompson car?
When I bought the Corvette, I always intended to make it into a tribute car as I have the 1955 Chevy ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ clone car. I was deciding on doing the car as the Stinger that Don Figgins raced at Calder and Riverside as it was silver. Once I saw the Mickey Thompson Corvette at Pebble Beach I decided to do that tribute car. I've also been interested in Mickey Thompson's racing history, as he set a land speed record in his famous Challenger 1 streamliner. Challenger 1 is powered by 4 Pontiac engines and I also like Pontiacs. I own a Pontiac GTO.
What are some of the differences on your car from the original MT Corvette?
Mickey’s car is a 1963 Corvette that was modernised with a ’64 hood and rocker mouldings. My car is a ’64. I didn't want to cut my car in any way, and that is why I didn't modify the rocker mouldings to put the exhaust in. Other obvious differences include the lack of a split rear glass, no changes to the dash and I’ve kept the original factory gauges. All the original tail and park lights are intact on the car as I drive it on the street. That is why and how I ended up with the overall look of my car.
Do you have any future plans for your car?
I raced it at the Ballarat drags, running a 8.2 over the 1/8 mile. I did however break a rear tailshaft universal joint. In the future I would still like to race the ‘Vette at events like the Geelong speed trials and the local drags. Eventually I would like to compete at Drag Week Australia.