Is the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray seen here restored to exactly the way it was when it rolled out of St. Louis? Phil Castaldo believes so, though the NCRS may disagree with him.

That’s because Castaldo’s C2 wears aluminum knockoff wheels, which were on the option list that year—but which the NCRS and the Corvette Black Book both say were never delivered to a retail customer on a ’63 Corvette. Why? Quality glitches like air leaking from porous early castings, and wheels coming off when the spinner’s gear drive failed.

Castaldo’s got reason to believe that his car had those wheels on it when delivered, because it was built with the Z06 Special Performance Package and the L84 327, which also included a special 36-gallon fiberglass fuel tank, the 375hp fuel-injected configuration, plus a dual-circuit master cylinder and heavy-duty suspension.

The fuelie 327, wheels, and fuel tank were all missing when Castaldo found the car in Eureka, California, after seeing a for-sale ad for it. “I think the car was stolen and recovered prior to ’69,” Castaldo says of its early history, verified by a police VIN check. He adds, “When I spoke to Norman MacInnes, who bought the car in 1969, he said two guys traded it in at Hallowell Chevrolet in Clovis, California. They said it was a theft recovery they’d bought from an insurance company and patched back together.”

Some of that “patching” drew Castaldo’s attention once the split-window Z06 was home. “When I took the car apart, I noticed that the right rear quarter had been broken out from the inside,” he says. “When they repaired it, they repaired it from the door edge to the splash shield. The only way that damage could have been done was by the wheel coming off.” But that wasn’t the only damage Castaldo found back there. “The original strut bar and shock support are still in the car, and they’re ground down,” he adds.

Another clue to what wheels were originally on Castaldo’s Z06 came from a former employee of Hensley Chevrolet in Horse Cave, Kentucky, the dealership that first sold it. He remembered the car—and that the dealer paid someone $500 to drive it to California. “It was that soft-gray color, and it had that special engine in it,” the ex-Hensley salesperson told Castaldo. “It had them new-fangled aluminum wheels where you have to hit those two itty-bitty nubs with a hammer to put them on.”

“I couldn’t believe it when he said that,” adds Castaldo.

Castaldo may have found this Vette’s original 36-gallon tank before he located the car itself. He bought one of the “super-size” tanks in California, then found out from that parts seller that the guy he’d bought it from had lived in Merced, California—the same town shown on the repair tag affixed to his Z06’s steel tank.

It took Castaldo a while to track down other missing pieces. “This car…was not restored from a catalog,” he says. “The fuel and brake lines, and exhaust, were custom made.” Few repro parts were used: The bulk of the items used in the resto were either refurbished originals or NOS.

Once Castaldo had everything needed, including a correct L84 fuelie 327 (which his son, Philip Jr., rebuilt) and a Muncie M20 four-speed, it was time to do the restoration. “On and off, it took around five years,” he says.

Fortunately, Castaldo’s Z06 wasn’t a rust bucket under the fiberglass. “There wasn’t one piece of rust on this car,” he says of its structural metal parts. “The windshield frame was perfect.” As was the frame, which he discovered while he cleaned it up by hand. “[There are] drag marks still in the metal from the welder dragging the stick to the next weld,” he says. All the original frame components, brake and fuel-line clips, parking-brake clamps, body bolts, and assembly hardware were all replated and restored.

Castaldo got plenty of help—from “Big Tony” Manzolillo and “Little Tony” Sagginario, whose bodywork included replacing the nose and rear quarters to remove the fender flares that were installed at some point. Pal Alan Naujokas shot the Sebring Silver Metallic lacquer paint at Advance Auto Body in Bellmore, New York, a shop owned by yet another old friend, Glenn Spielberg.

Once done, Castaldo had a piece of Corvette history, albeit one that lost points in the eyes of NCRS judges. “They don’t accept the wheels, so I lose points for the wheels and tires,” he says. “They even took points off because I had the knock-off wheel hammer in the car!” Even with points taken off for the “wrong” wheels, Castaldo’s Z06 has earned Top Flight at every NCRS event in which he’s entered it.

If you’re looking for a Corvette to restore, Castaldo says to go for the best one you can buy. “I was lucky with this car,” he says. “It had some damage, like flares added by a previous owner, and a little bump in the front between the headlights that was replaced.”

It’s likely there’s a stack of Chevrolet Engineering–generated paperwork in the General’s archives that details all the problems with the two-bar knockoff wheels, when those issues were resolved, and when the resulting fixes made it into production. Perhaps when that’s found, 1963 Z06 owners (and those with non-Z06 ’63s that were ordered with the RPO P48 wheels) can finally add a set of “correct” two-bar rims to their C2s, just like Phil Castaldo.

Spec Sheet

1963 Coupe

Owner Phil Castaldo; Smithtown, NY
Block Mark II small-block V-8, cast iron (casting #3782870)
Displacement 327 ci
Heads Restored stock L84, cast iron
Valves Original-spec 1.94/1.50
Camshaft Chevrolet “Duntov” high performance with pressure-fed solid lifters (standard with L84)
Pistons Stock forged aluminum
Compression 10.5:1
Crankshaft Stock forged steel
Fuel injection Restored Rochester mechanical with special O-rings
Ignition Restored GM/Delco transistorized points style
Exhaust Custom made by Gardner Exhaust, Red Hook, NY
Transmission Restored Muncie M20 four-speed
Rearend Stock 12-bolt with Positraction and 4:11 gears
Suspension Heavy-duty coil springs and sway bar with tubular shocks (front); transverse seven-leaf spring bundle with tubular shocks (rear)
Brakes NOS Z06 shoes, finned 11-inch drums, cooling fans, vented backing plates, and dual-circuit master cylinder
Wheels Original P48 Kelsey-Hayes “knockoff” cast aluminum, 15x5.5 in (front and rear)
Tires Reproduction Firestone Deluxe Champion blackwall bias-ply, 6.70-15 (front and rear); NOS P91 spare
Current Mileage Approximately 20,000