It seems that most Corvette lovers eventually have a desire to experience owning a Sting Ray, or “midyear”, the second-generation Corvettes so-named because they were made during the mid 1960’s from ’63 – ‘67. After years of admiring their iconic and dramatic Disco Volante inspired styling, the strong value of the loonie in 2010 finally encouraged me that the time was right to pursue my dream. A midyear was to be my fourth Corvette, and even though I was enjoying my C5 ’04 Z06 “LeMans” and would have to sell, I thought the right combination of our currency and the depressed classic musclecar market values at that time might finally make a midyear purchase and restoration project possible.
Turns out it was more difficult than I thought…I decided that I preferred the lines of a coupe body with its’ dramatic fast-back styling and ample interior storage space. I also preferred the neutral handling and affordability of a small block, and since big block cars were being listed at double or triple the price of a small block car, I believed that the chances of purchasing a counterfeit example were less likely with a small block car. As with my ’96 Grand Sport and ’04 Z06, I preferred the last year of the generation so it had to be a ’67, with it’s clean, emblem-free fenders and hood, functional side louvers and pop-culture recognition, second only perhaps to the ’63 split window coupe. I also preferred the RPO L79 engine option, which was a 350 hp version of the 327 cu small block motor, with aluminum rocker covers and intake, Holley carb, 11:1 compressions, and hydraulic lifters. Out of the 23,000 Corvettes GM built in 1967, 8,500 were coupes, and only 6,000 Corvettes came with the L79 option. Crunching the production number ratios, that works out to an estimated 2,000 L79 coupes built in ’67. Finding a decent car, in my budget, would turn out to be a challenge.
After almost two years of scouring numerous online sources for a decent, affordable ’67 L79 coupe, in the fall of 2012 I finally found an example for sale on consignment at West Coast Corvettes in Anaheim California. It was a high mileage example, rough but straight, and very original. It was truly a “desert car”, and from the NCRS Shipping Data Report I later obtained, I learned that it was originally sold new by a dealership in San Diego. It had spent its entire existence either in Southern California, or in Arizona.
Though this Corvette had some work done on it already, including new carpets and seats for the standard black vinyl interior, and rebuilt original motor, it was still considered a project car and priced accordingly. It would need paint, trim, rubber, electrical, glass, and much mechanical sorting, which all needed to be included in my budget.
I also got to know the previous owner, a very nice lady who purchased this Sting Ray in May 1974. She told and also wrote me of how she met her husband while driving her Corvette, and of all the trips she took in it along the California coast highways. She had treasured the car as a precious member of her family, and kept it for the past 30 years in their private aircraft hangar in the Arizona desert. She seemed genuinely pleased by the plans I had for restoring her car, and throughout the project I sent her and her husband regular updates, as well as a package of several photos of the finished car.
The previous owner was also generous with providing me whatever history and paperwork she had for it, including old photos, and receipts of the engine rebuild in 2002. This was important, since unfortunately when we dropped the tank to inspect the build sheet in the shop after the car was delivered here, the paper was so deteriorated from all the years in the hot desert, that it turned to dust.
I arranged to have the Sting Ray inspected by the company I had used for two previous cross-border vehicle purchases – automobileinspections.com, and their report, road test, and several hundred photos seemed to indicate this car was well preserved for its age and mileage with a mint-condition frame, and was the one I was looking for. After a brief negotiation the deal was completed, and TFX finally delivered my ’67 to Stan’s Power Paint, my local paint and restoration shop in Markham. It arrived on a cold, rainy, December night in 2012, and the first thing I was told by the driver was that it was dead, and had to be pushed on and off their trucks.
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Buying a vehicle sight-unseen is always a crapshoot, but I was prepared for a long project. We soon discovered that at some point in the voyage from California, someone had left the ignition key in the “on” position, and with old-style points and condenser ignitions systems, this was a bad thing to do. As a result, the breaker points had welded themselves shut, and the lead wire to the coil had melted. Luckily there was no fire, because we also soon discovered that the carb was not working properly, and seemed to be flooding-over when cranked and there was fuel leaking onto the engine. Rebuilding the carb and updating the ignition system with a breaker-less electronic unit solved the problem.
Using the experience that I had gained from restoring my 1971 LT-1, my plan was to transform this Sting Ray into a concours-quality restored example. It would be as original and correct as possible, but with a few safety and functional updates such as head rests and shoulder belts, so that I could drive with my kids. I also retained the aftermarket Holley 850 cfm double pumper carb and Flowmaster mufflers it arrived with, because of their amazing sound and performance.
With the well preserved condition of the frame and bird cage, I decided to do a body-on restoration. I was also concerned that it could be a challenge to get this car to ever drive like factory again if the body was removed. We planned that the body and paint work would take about five months to complete. With at least three weeks of curing time between each of the two coats of primer and two coats of color, this would allow the materials to adequately settle, and prevent the eventual appearance of fine sanding marks in the paint. Giving the shop almost half a year to do body and paint work, with a flexible delivery date, was also a cost-saving strategy, since the work tended to get done during periods when they had time available from other priorities.
All the glass, weather stripping, bumpers and trim was removed and sent out for replating and polishing, or replacement with correct reproductions. Front and rear glass was replaced with date-coded reproductions, and the incorrect 1974-vintage Maroon paint was stripped. The bare body panels were first massaged – all panels gapped, leveled, and body lines straightened. Door hinge pins and bushings were replaced, and any minor body damage repaired with new fiber glass. Door jamb areas were also dressed and cleaned up.
Then after a coat of sealer and then two coats of primer, with sanding guide-coat and block-sanding in between, two coats of single-stage (clear and color mixed together) Urethane paint was applied in the correct original RPO 974 Rally Red. We let three – four weeks pass between each of the two sanded priming coats, and two coats of color, with water sanding done on the two color coats, and a final cut and polish to the second coat of color. I would visit and inspect the progress frequently, as well as document the work with photographs. Several smaller component repair and restoration jobs were done by me at my home. The paint work was completed by spring of 2013.
The carb, water pump, wiper and headlight lifting units were rebuilt while the paint and body work was being done. This car came optioned with the quirky RPO U15 Speed Minder option with its scratchy plastic gauge lenses, so I had to remove all the gauges, clean them, and replace the lenses.
I learned that besides heavily pitted window glass and lights, one of the other drawbacks of purchasing a car that had spent its life in the desert is that even though the climate preserves original parts very well, over time all the lubricants for the moving parts tends to dry out. This is not too much of a problem in an arid climate, but when you remove the car from that environment and expose it to our humid Ontario climate, things start to break down. Among all the other age-related issues of the components, I quickly discovered that several functions that were carefully tested successfully during the pre-purchase inspection at the dealer in California, now did not work and would need to be replaced or rebuilt.
After paint, and with the NCRS Judging Manual as a guide, so began a year-long exercise in sorting. This included: a new brake booster, rotors and calipers, electrical switches, ignition harness, window regulators, door latch mechanisms, new front grill, hoses, decals and labels, sill and rocker moldings, fuel gauge and sender unit, fuel pump and lines, new heater core and box, new door handles, new mirror, antenna, emblems, fuel filler lid, radio and speaker, center console trim plate, lenses and light fixtures, wheel trim rings, tires, voltage regulator, horn relay, shocks, front end joints and bushings, and an alignment, just to name a few of the many parts and systems that needed to be repaired, rebuilt, or replaced, and with the correct hardware.
After finally getting my ‘67 home to my garage some eighteen months after it arrived in Canada, I hand-polished the final color coat, and Liquid Glass was applied to protect the paint, chrome, and give it a high gloss finish. It took me a few more weekends to thoroughly clean and detail the Sting Ray, but almost four years since I decided to seriously search for one, it was finally, mostly, done. There is still the small issue to address of the improperly calibrated speedo, which reads about 20 mph slow on the highway due to a rear-end that was swapped for a higher ratio at some point in the car’s history.
With the brave John M. as co-pilot and riding on storage flat-spotted Good Year “Power Cushion” Redline bias-ply reproduction tires, it seemed only suitable that the first public outing of my latest project would be the 2014 CCO show ‘n shine at Wallace Chevrolet Corvette in Milton.
Throughout the 2014 driving season, my ‘67 was back and forth between my home, the shop to get more details sorted, various weekly cruise nights and socials, NCRS bbq, and several car shows, including Pine Ridge, Corvettes of Durham, Yorkville, and Markham Main St.
Of course I was especially proud to be recognized for all my efforts with this project by the members of my club, CCO, when I was honoured with the Ron Senick Memorial Award trophy for 2014.
With the events calendar already starting to fill, 2015 promises to be another busy and fun year!