1963 Chevrolet Corvette C2 Sting Ray - Past Blast

By: John Bowe with Steve Nally, Photography by: Steve Nally

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Like Aunt Bertha's apple pies in simpler times, the Sting Ray is a rich source of real texture and authentic flavour

 

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

If there’s one thing you can’t do, it is to compare cars from 30, 40 or 50 years ago with modern vehicles. When you drive a car that is decades old you have to retune your brain to the era when these cars were made, when they were new and cutting edge.

Sometimes that’s not easy to do, especially when you’ve made a career out of identifying weaknesses in cars – in my case, mostly race cars but also road cars like Tickford and FPV Fords – in order to make them better.

Modern cars are so refined and too technical in some ways. There was a happy period in the late-90s and early 2000s when there was just the right amount of technology in cars, but these days most new cars seem overrun with tech and lacking a little soul.

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You couldn’t really say that about this gorgeous 1963 Corvette Sting Ray which was the pinnacle of American sports car design at the time. It has no technology compared to a 2017 Corvette, for example, but it has an awful lot more soul. And these split-window Sting Rays were only made for one year, so they’re pretty rare.

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This car was bought new in America in 1963 by an Australian, converted to right-hand drive in the US, and shipped to Melbourne where it has been with the same family ever since. It is still exactly as it was when it was purchased. It’s totally unmolested which is pretty rare in Corvette-land.

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I love the look of Sting Rays. I wasn’t a fan of early Corvette styling but when I first saw the Sting Ray in magazines when I was a kid I thought it looked fantastic. Its curvy fibreglass is beautifully done and a point of difference; not many manufacturers used composite bodies in those days. Colin Chapman did at Lotus in the late ’50s but it wasn’t very common at the time.

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That wonderful styling did affect day-to-day practicalities, though. There’s really good luggage space behind the seats but there’s no easy way to access it because the Corvette doesn’t have a lift-up hatch or window like the E-Type Jag did. And I guess the split window hampered visibility which is why it only lasted a year.

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The small-block 327 cubic inch engine is really impressive and compared to a 1963 Ferrari V12, for example, it is simple and effective. It’s lusty like a healthy all-American girl – can I say that in 2017? – and very throttle responsive and grunty down low. And it sounds fantastic.

It’s bolted to the legendary GM Powerglide two-speed automatic. Two speeds! In a world in which ordinary hatchbacks now have six-speed autos (and some luxury cars have 10-speed transmissions) that is totally archaic. But when you have a torquey V8 under the bonnet to lug a light fibreglass-bodied coupe around, two speeds is adequate.

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The cockpit is gorgeous styling-wise and well laid out. It must have felt very futuristic back in the day and the dash has a spaceship feel to it. The gauges are easy to see and read, all the controls are labelled and easy to work, and the switchgear is push-pull, not the fiddly toggle switches that European makers favoured. But the seats are typically American for the period, flat with no lateral support. Still, it is comfortable to sit in and the driving position is really good.

Corvette Market Review (1963-2008)

It has four wheel discs, in-board at the rear (no doubt influenced by E-Type Jaguar) which is unusual because rear discs did not become an option until 1965. But they are overly assisted and you only need light pressure on the pedal to come to a screeching halt. The power steering is very light too and has no feel. I guess that’s a result of the US lifestyle. They had lots of smooth freeways and just cruised along. Like I said, you have to reset your brain when you drive a car that’s 53 years old, especially on Melbourne roads.

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The more I drove the Corvette, though, the more I got used to its chassis. It’s not soft and squishy like a lot of 60s American cars and it has reasonable grip but it’s not involving, you don’t really get into the dynamics of the car. It has independent suspension all round with a transverse leaf spring at the rear, which there’s nothing really wrong with, but it’s well outdated by today’s engineering standards. The lack of steering feel means you don’t get a lot of messages about what’s happening to the chassis but it does have quite good lateral grip.

The Corvette was GM’s way of building a sports car in 1963, but it’s not sporty like a Ferrari, Jaguar or Aston Martin from the same time. The European cars were much more expensive of course but the Sting Ray was supposed to be America’s answer to them so I am comparing them, in a way.

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There’s nothing about this ’63 Corvette Sting Ray that I don’t really like but there are aspects of it that I don’t love and that goes for most American cars, to be honest, because I grew up in a family that had European sports cars. But as an open road cruiser the Corvette is great and let’s face it, you fall in love with the way it looks, not the way it drives.

SPECIFICATIONS

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

Engine 5359cc OHV V8
Power 187kW @ 4400
Torque 475Nm @ 2800
Gearbox 2-speed Powerglide auto
Suspension Independent, A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar, dampers (f); independent, leaf spring, direct-acting dampers
Brakes Power-assisted discs (f & r)
Weight 1383kg

 

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