C2: The Sting Ray
More than four decades after its introduction, the 1963 Corvette remains one of the most startling, engrossing and completely delightful automotive designs of all time. For many discerning enthusiasts, the ’63 to ’67 Corvettes are the most compelling of the series.
The “midyear” Corvettes aren’t so much beautiful as they are provocative. And it was Harley Earl’s successor as GM design chief, Bill Mitchell, who was doing most of the provoking. Back in the late ’50s, Mitchell had acquired one of the old SS chassis that had been built to race at Sebring and, working with his assistant Larry Shinoda, designed a new body for it with a high waistline, a chiseled prow and sharply creased fenders and called it the Sting Ray.
At about the same time that Mitchell and Shinoda were conjuring up the Sting Ray body style, Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov was building what he hoped would be a world-class chassis for his beloved charge. Cutting the wheelbase down by four inches to 98, Duntov built a ladder frame that was much stiffer than the previous X-member design and allowed the passenger compartment to be sunk down between the rails. He also designed a new independent rear suspension that economically (in both dollar cost and space usage) used a single transverse nine-leaf spring and the half shafts as part of the linkage.
It was the marriage of the Mitchell/Shinoda body design with the new Duntov chassis that resulted in the 1963 Corvette roadster and, for the first time, fastback coupe.
From the rotating hidden headlamps across the front to the boat tail-shaped rear window, the ’63 Corvette coupe was outrageously attractive. And with a thick center bar splitting the rear window in two, not a car out of which it was particularly easy to see. That design earned this car the nickname “split window coupe.”
However, the ’63 is the most cluttered of the Sting Rays, with phony vent grilles in the hood, non-functional gills in the front fenders, ribbed rocker moldings and that bar bisecting the rear window.
What carried over from the ’62 to the ’63 Corvette were most of the engines (all of which still displaced 327 cubic inches), the four-wheel drum brakes and the general styling of the rear quarters. A three-speed manual was still the standard transmission and the base 327 V8 was still rated at 250 horsepower. On the options sheet were 300- and 340-horsepower four-barrel, and 360-horsepower fuel-injected versions of the 327. Also available was the legendary “Z06” race pack option for the coupe that included such things as metallic brake pads, a heavy-duty suspension and an oversize fuel tank. Ordering the Z06 required the costly fuel-injected engine, so production was limited.
Motor Trend tested a ’63 Corvette powered by the fuel-injected engine and backed by the Muncie four-speed transmission. The ‘Vette hustled from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and consumed the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds at 102 mph. “We thought the old model cornered darn well,” wrote the magazine, “but there’s no comparing it to this new one. It does take a little different technique, but once the driver gets onto it, it’s beautiful.”
The public fell in love with the Sting Ray, buying 10,594 coupes and 10,919 convertibles. That’s almost half again as many ’62 ‘Vettes were sold and the first time total sales topped 20,000 in a year.
For 1964 the Sting Ray’s styling was cleaned up but the car otherwise mostly carried over from ’63. Eliminating the dummy hood vents, restyling the roof vents and taking the center bar out of the rear window to drastically improve visibility made the true glory of the Sting Ray’s shape more obvious. New to the options list was a 360-horsepower four-barrel 327, and the fuelie motor was now rated at a stout 375 horsepower.
Visually, the easiest way to tell a 1965Corvette from a ’64 is the three functional vertical louvers in each front fender. But the big news (literally) was the availability of the new 396-cubic-inch big-block V8. And there was even better news as four-wheel disc brakes became standard (though 316 fools did delete them in favor of drums and a $64.50 credit).
The “L78” 396 grunted out a hulking 425 horsepower and became an instant legend as the meanest machine to leave General Motors since the company had stopped building Sherman tanks. With the arrival of big-block power, the mechanical fuel-injected 327’s days were numbered — 1965 would be its last year.
But the 396 lasted only one year in the Corvette as it was superseded by 427-cubic-inch versions of the big-block V8 for 1966. Behind the new egg crate grille, buyers could opt for the standard 327, which was now rated at 300 horsepower, a 350-horse version inhaling through a single four-barrel, the “L39” 427 making 390 horsepower or the overwhelming “L72” 427 rated at 425 horsepower (the same as ’65’s 396, but with a less temperamental personality).
For 1967the louver count on each front fender went up to five and the parking brake moved from under the dash to between the bucket seats. But the real glory of the ’67 came with the regal “L88” 427, which used aluminum cylinder heads and an intimidating 12.5-to-1 compression ratio to make somewhere north of 500 horsepower while wearing a huge 850-cfm four-barrel carburetor (though Chevy would, disingenuously, only admit to 430 horses). The L88 option carried an astronomical $947.90 price tag and ordering it automatically eliminated the heater, radio and fan shroud. The intent was obviously racing and only 20 L88s were ever built. Today they are the most desirable of the first Sting Rays.
Also new to the Corvette option charts was an “L68” 427 rated at 400 horsepower and the L71 427 rated at 435 horsepower and featuring three two-barrel carburetors (“tri-power”).
In every conceivable way, the Corvette was at its peak in ’67. But, for no apparent reason, it was redesigned for ’68 anyhow.
Edmunds: Chevrolet Corvette History