Andy Cannizzo is widely known as “Mr. ’63,” and to paraphrase those old Smith Barney commercials, he got the nickname the old fashioned way: he earned it. Nearly 50 years ago, Cannizzo got into collectible cars with the purchase of his first 1931 Model A coupe. Many more followed, including several national award winners, but after two decades with the ubiquitous Ford, the Staten Island, New York, native decided it was time for a change and switched his obsessive allegiance to 1963 Corvette coupes. Since 1988 he’s owned examples with every available engine, ranging from the base 250-horsepower mill to the fire-breathing 360-horse Fuelie.
Though he does consider Chevy’s legendary split-window design pure art, he’s not content to buy perfect cars to place on a pedestal and worship. Instead, it’s all about the challenge of restoring them to the highest possible degree of excellence. “I just love the art of restoration,” explains the retired IBM technician with a boyish grin that belies just how seriously he approaches the hobby. “My enjoyment comes from doing research on 1963 Corvettes and ’63 parts, learning as much as possible, hunting down original, correct GM parts and striving for perfection in the restorations I do.”
Drawing on his comprehensive knowledge about early Corvettes in general, and ’63s in particular, as well as experience gained working at two machine shops many years ago, Cannizzo is able to accurately restore individual parts and assemblies, such as ’63 consoles, Midyear headlights and vent-window assemblies. This, combined with an ability to locate original GM parts, has made him a valuable resource for other restorers.
Sometimes a seemingly simple call from someone looking for a particular part leads to an unexpected result.
“About 10 years ago, I was called by a gentleman looking for a 1963 master cylinder,” Cannizzo recalls. “I told him that I had many fully restored originals on the shelf and could send him one that’s ready to install. He said he doubted I had what he needed, [which was] a dual-reservoir master for his ’63 Z06 ‘Tanker.’ He was right in that I didn’t have a Z06 master, but I began asking him questions about the car, and of course asked him if it was for sale. It wasn’t, but I kept his contact information. I then began searching for a real, factory-built Z06 tanker, the rarest and most sought after of all ’63 Corvettes. I found several cars, but they were either too pricy, too far gone or were fakes.”
After two years of diligent searching did not yield a suitable car, Cannizzo called the man who had contacted him in search of a Z06 master cylinder. To his utter delight the bloke still had the car and in fact wanted to sell it. “He said my timing was perfect, as he was about to list it on an Internet auction site. The car was in Hamden, Connecticut, which was quite a coincidence because my son David had just married a girl from the same town.”
Cannizzo went to Hamden the following weekend and carefully inspected every inch of the car. After concluding that it was in fact a real, factory-built, big-tank Z06, he quickly reached an agreement with the seller. “It was truly the fulfillment of a dream,” reflects Cannizzo. “The ’63 Corvette is an iconic collectible, and Z06s are the rarest examples. Out of 21,513 Corvettes made in 1963, only 199 were built with the Z06 race option. Of those, only 78 were built with the 36-gallon tank option, and only about 50 real ones remain in existence today. The car I bought is one of only five red ones known.”