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Respectability at Last
|When the fall of 1962 brought out the new
1963 Chevrolet models, one stood out among them, the sporty little
Corvette Sting Ray. This sleek air-splitting design
Corvettes had enjoyed moderate success since their 1953 premiere, especially after the introduction of the V-8 engines to these fiberglass sports cars in 1955. With the Sting Ray, for the first time the corvette was offered in two body styles, the popular “Roadster” (actually a convertible), and a new fastback coupe. From the ground up, Corvette was all new in 1963 and for five seasons presented itself as one of the most exciting American automobiles ever produced.
While the basic body envelope remained intact from 1963 to 1967, there were a number of changes each model year to make them very individual vehicles. On the outside, the 1963 is recognizable by the simulated chrome vents on the hood, while the coupe featured a “split” rear window. From 1964-on saw a one-piece rear backlight used on coupes, and deletion of the chrome vents in the hood depressions. Sting Ray in 1965 received three functional front fender cut-out vents and blacked out grille bars. In 1966 the simulated roof vents were deleted and the grille changed to an egg-crate motif. 1967 saw deletion of most external trim but added two fender side slots to the previous three.
Recognized as a special car from the day they were born, the Sting Ray Corvettes from 1963 to 1967 have always been popular to enthusiasts and collectors alike. This has meant that the price range of these cars has always been very strong. As one would expect, Sting Rays that are certified as factory high-performance editions possessing high-performance or big-block V-8s, are always more desirable.Stingray Model Year Production:
No other group of collector car enthusiasts in America today has more interest in factory issued serial and casting numbers than those who collect and restore Corvettes. The National Corvette Restoration Society (NCRS) is the authority for purists on what is right, and what isn’t for all Corvettes.
Matching numbers goes beyond making sure the VIN belongs to your Corvette. Through the NCRS have comes volumes of historical information regarding Chevrolet’s now famous sports car. For the first-time Sting Ray buyer, one has to decide what they are really looking for. A choice has to be made between a totally stock show car, a modified custom or performance car, a good looking weekend cruiser, or possibly a family or personal restoration project.
Looking For a Show Corvette
If it qualifies, many Corvette have received “Bronze” “Silver” and “Gold” awards at the annual Bloomington Gold meet in Illinois. The level is determined by authenticity and quality of restoration. Even a Bronze level award is quite an achievement.
Receiving a coveted NCRS “Top-Flight” award enhances the value of any Corvette. Top dollar prices can be asked for and obtained on those Sting Rays that have been judged the best in their field. NCRS judges are schooled in a number of areas, such as serial numbers (which should match with those on the engine block), casting numbers, (making sure they are proper for the time period built), and overall proper components that are all thoroughly critiqued.
There are other classes besides restored Corvettes, such as the “Survivors”, presented to cars that are basically original and untouched. As with the restored cars, these certificates are not easily obtained, and pull a lot of weight when fixing a value to a collector Corvette Sting Ray.
If you are looking to buy a Sting Ray for show, NCRS certification is usually a very good indication you are getting a great Corvette. It’s also a good idea to verify the authenticity of any award documentation that comes with the car.
Power: Mild to Wild
Engine sizes ranged from 327 up to 427 cubic inches, with a virtual plethora of power options. Fuel-injection was available through 1965, rated at 360 horses in 1963, while the next two seasons it was pumping out 375 hp. The standard engine for these Corvettes was a relatively mild, but still satisfying, 327 cid V-8. Base horsepower rating was increased in 1966 from 250 to 300.
During this time other optional packages offered more power through the use of multiple carburetion, special heads, and other technical adjustments that gave the 327 mill horsepower ratings such as 340, 350, 360 and 375, the latter with fuel-injection.
In 1965 the 396 cid/425 hp V-8 became an option for Sting Ray buyers. This big-block high-torque monster did very well both on the strip and the street, but lasted only one year in production before it was replaced by the even bigger 427 cid V-8 in 1966. Several different variations of this legendary engine were used, with the base horsepower rating at 390, while two different figures were published for the high performance versions, first at 450 hp, and later down-rated to 425. (While the reason for this is unclear today, it has been speculated it was done to help lower exorbitant Corvette insurance rates, but this is suspect as well).
The last year of the first generation Sting Ray was 1967, and the 427 big-block led the pack with four different packages, with the vast majority being the “L-36" 390hp, “L-68” 400hp, and “L-71" with 435hp The rarest 1967 production Corvette 427 was the fabled L-88 with aluminum heads. It sported an advertised 430hp, but was rumored to easily dyno out above 500hp. Just 20 Corvettes in 1967 were equipped with this mill, and today a documented 1967 L-88 Sting Ray is easily a $100,000-plus automobile when restored to NCRS top levels. For updated values, click here.
What Do You Want?
If you want to just enjoy a Corvette, and neither investment nor originality are your major concerns, the emphasis should be on the physical condition of the car. In fact, some of the best Corvette buys are cars that have been well-restored to stock looking condition, but have a replacement motor.
First and foremost, make sure you find a solid example. While the fiberglass body will not rust, the chassis is prone to corrosion and fatigue, and many a 'Vette has seen an accident or two.
Body panel alignment is another (and rather common) clue to a questionable history. Look for: doors that don’t close easily, poorly aligned hoods, and inspect the gap all the way around those famous pop-up headlights. While today Sting Rays are treasured by their owners, as new and used cars they were often ridden very hard and put away very wet. Quick cosmetic restorations can hide much, so a thorough inspection should always be made.
Don’t let a shiny new paint job mask potential body and related problems. Minor stress cracks on original cars are to be expected, but on a fresh restoration (or alleged restoration), minor cracks are usually indicative of poor or cheap body work.
Make a complete visual inspection of your prospective Sting Ray purchase. You’ll want to open the hood to check out the engine compartment, but don’t over look the areas visible behind the grille, or up under the wheel wells. While the hood is open, be sure to make positive the Sting Ray’s vehicle identification number is stamped on the engine block too. Do an operational check of the heater and ventilation controls, windshield wipers, and most important the headlights.
Due to a lack of trunk space, traveling around the country isn’t really recommended for Corvettes. (I always wondered how two grown men could travel in the television show Route 66 week after week with a small suitcase strapped to the trunk of their Corvette.) Make sure that you are sure about the real reason that you are buying a Corvette, and don’t be disappointed when you find out your giant-economy size suitcase and 40-quart ice chest won’t fit in your sports car when you want to go on a weekend cruise. One of the most important things you need to check out prior to purchase of a Sting Ray is to make sure you can sit comfortably the steering wheel.
One characteristic of these cars that often goes undetected is the enormous amount of heat that radiates into the cabin, especially on the coupes. If you're looking at a coupe and plan on lots of hot weather driving, pay the premium for a/c.
For driving around town, the automatic transmission might be a better choice than the four-speed manual shifter. High performance big-block engines with a four-speed are great for quarter-mile straight-line sprints, but are usually over-kill for a simple around-town cruiser. Same goes for the available side exhaust. Although generally desirable, they are rather loud and their appeal wears thin after a while.
The base 327 V-8 engine with single four-barrel intake should also be ample for getting around town or those weekend hops. Another performance feature to consider is four wheel disk brakes. They were added to the standard equipment list in ‘65 (although they could be deleted for credit) and they can pull the Vette down with authority. Don’t dismiss earlier models with drum brakes, however. They work just fine unless you plan on really pushing things.
The Good Stuff
Convenience options such as AM-FM radio, power windows, and air-conditioning were offered in all five of the first generation Sting Ray years and are desirable and valuable additions to any Corvette. Be forewarned though, factory installed A/C commands a healthy premium.
Other options to watch for: 36 gallon fuel tank, original aluminum wheels, hardtop, leather seat trim, teakwood steering wheel, backup lights and tinted glass. Beginning in 1966, headrests seats were available, and are a plus on any Sting Ray so equipped.
Going the other way, models with no power accessories, no radio and the heater/defroster delete are valuable in their own right. These usually are outfitted with the heavy-duty mechanical bits (brakes, exhaust and suspension) and were probably used for racing or rallying. These are about as close as you can get to “racing” Stingrays.
Buying for Restoration
One of the most abused words in the collector car hobby is “restored”. By definition, to restore something means taking it back to its original condition. The goals of NCRS is to see that all Corvettes that they judge are brought back to factory standards. They do not award extra points for over-restored Sting Rays with a mirror-like gloss on the chassis rails, or areas detailed that were never touched or paid attention to as the cars rolled off the assembly line.
A number of 1963-1967 Corvette restoration guides have been written. These guides make for an excellent starting point to give you an idea of what you will need to do, and what perils you may be facing. Many of the parts needed to make a correct restoration are available through suppliers and at swap meets. Always keep in mind that these are not inexpensive cars to restore, and like most collector cars, it’s rather difficult to recoup your restoration costs.
Keep those Eyes Open
A visit to an all-Corvette festival such as the Corvettes at Carlisle event held the last weekend of each August in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or the mid-June Bloomington Gold Corvette Swap Meet and Auction, staged in Bloomington, Illinois, makes an excellent place to find your coveted Sting Ray. Bloomington Gold also offers seminars on restoration, purchasing, and authenticity of all Corvettes, especially the Sting Rays.
If you are looking to a Corvette Sting Ray as strictly an investment, one might be better off with a healthy chunk of a mutual fund. But for something one can enjoy for an occasional drive, for the money these cars are extremely rewarding. They have a broad, enthusiastic following and you will always find ready buyers.
Just like investing in the stock market, do your homework when it comes to the investment potential of the example you are considering. Look for those correct ID numbers, proper equipment and overall condition. Truly, the Sting Ray is a car rich with history. Determining what your goals and criteria are for your Corvette will put you in a better position when the day comes to both purchase, and sell, the car of your dreams.
This article originally appeared in July 1999. For updated values, click here.