1963-’67 Chevrolet Corvette C2 | Buyer's Guide

Photograph Courtesy GM

The sports car landscape experienced a huge upheaval in the autumn of 1962. The Corvette Sting Ray landed, rendering just about everything else obsolete.

Consider the other cars available at that time. The latest offerings from Britain were the MGB, Triumph TR4 and Spitfire, and the Lotus Elan was set to debut in a few weeks. All Porsches had four cylinders and swing axles—the 911 was still under development. Street Ferraris had live rear axles. The only modern mass-produced sports car that could compete with the Sting Ray was the six-cylinder Jaguar XKE, which had been unveiled just the previous year.

In a tank populated with relative guppies, the all-new Sting Ray made a huge splash. This American sports car featured gorgeous futuristic styling, a fully independent suspension, and an available fuel-injected V8 engine. Gone were the heavy live rear axle and cumbersome handling. The new Sting Ray became such a design icon for General Motors that many of its styling elements persisted on the carmaker’s offerings for decades—including today’s Corvette.

Making Waves

Like most successful designs, the Sting Ray’s soul was developed not by a corporate committee, but by passionate individuals. First came the styling. In 1957, General Motors was considering a modern revision of the Corvette. GM Styling head Bill Mitchell had just returned from the Turin Auto Show and decided to hold an informal design contest. The goal: Whip up a fresh body for this prototype—it came to be known as the Q-Corvette. 

The winning design was submitted by the youngest stylist on the team, Peter Brock, who would later pen such classics as the Cobra Daytona Coupe, Lang-Cooper Can-Am car, Triumph TR250K and today’s Superformance-built Daytona Coupe. Brock submitted a futuristic fastback coupe design that clearly became the inspiration for the production Sting Ray. Mitchell’s team prepared clay models of the car, and they were shown to GM management. The bigwigs liked it, but the deep recession of late 1957 caused them to temporarily cancel the project.

All cars start with a sketch, and Peter Brock’s pen produced a vision for the second-generation Corvette. He made this drawing on November 17, 1957—just two days shy of his 21st birthday—and GM Styling head Bill Mitchell quickly fell in love with it. Illustration Courtesy Brock Racing Enterprises.

In addition to the 1963 Corvette, Brock’s drawing also influenced the 1958 Stingray Racer. Photography Credit: Peter Brock

Mitchell, however, had other ideas. Chevrolet Engineering had a spare chassis called the Mule, which was left over from the cancelled Corvette SS race car project. Mitchell bought it for $1. 

He built a secret studio that became known as the hammer room because it was hidden in the center of GM Styling behind a false wall hung with tools. Using the Mule chassis, several of Mitchell’s top stylists, including Larry Shinoda, Tony Lapine (who later designed the Porsche 928) and Chuck Pohlmann, built a modified roadster version of Brock’s design. 

Mitchell loved the streamlined shapes of fish, so he named the rakish car the Sting Ray and entered it in SCCA races in 1959 as a privateer. It was driven by one of the top Corvette drivers of the day, Dr. Dick Thompson, who was known as the Flying Dentist.

While the Sting Ray racer was stunningly beautiful, it was heavy and vastly underbraked due to its outdated drums. After an unsuccessful 1959 season, a lighter body was built. Thompson began winning in 1960 and nabbed the SCCA C Modified national championship that year.

Meanwhile, in mid-1958, the Q-Corvette project was revived and given the designation XP-720. By December 1959, Mitchell’s team, led by Larry Shinoda, had completed a full-scale mock-up of XP-720. It was based heavily on Brock’s design and the Sting Ray race car. In April 1960, GM management approved the project.

Engineering the new car was the responsibility of another strong individual. Zora Arkus-Duntov was a Belgian-born engineer of Russian descent who loved high-performance sports cars. Known as the father of the Corvette, he was instrumental in transforming the early car from an anemic touring vehicle into a powerful, respected sports car. 

He pushed for an advanced, mid-engine design for the Q-Corvette, but Mitchell’s front-engine configuration had won approval from GM management. Duntov resolved to make the new car as modern as possible and managed to get approval for a stiffer frame, a new front suspension and, most importantly, a fully independent rear suspension. On December 24, 1961, GM management signed off on the final version of the production Sting Ray.

Jump In

Regular production of the new Corvette began in September 1962, and the official debut was in October. The car featured many firsts for the Corvette, including optional power steering and air conditioning. A coupe version was available along with the traditional convertible, and power output ranged from a mild 250-horsepower V8 to a fuel-injected, 360-horsepower V8.

The public was stunned by the beauty of the new car, and magazines of the day quickly ran out of superlatives. “For the first time, I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe,” Duntov said.

The new Corvette was fast, but the available Z06 package—the silver car is so equipped—made it even faster. The Z06 added a Posi differential and track-ready suspension. Knockoff wheels were included, too. Photography Credit: Courtesy GM

The only criticisms were its weight—3150 pounds—and its four-wheel-drum brakes. The coupe’s vision-blocking split rear window also brewed controversy: Mitchell loved it, Duntov hated it, but everybody noticed it. The 1963 Sting Ray set Corvette sales records, with an increase of almost 50 percent over the previous record, set in 1962. 

Sea Legs

Duntov made sure that the new Corvette would also impress on the race track. A rare 1963-only option carrying the Z06 designation mated the 360-horsepower, fuel-injected engine and four-speed transmission with the right bits needed for on-track performance: Posi-Traction differential, dual-circuit power brakes with special metallic linings, brake scoops, heavy-duty springs, uprated shock absorbers and front anti-roll bar, aluminum knockoff wheels, and a 36.5-gallon fuel tank.

Just 199 Z06 coupes were built, but that wasn’t the only competition-ready Corvette offered: In addition to the Z06, Duntov also spearheaded a plan to build a special Corvette called the Grand Sport to compete in international races.

The third-generation Corvette wasn’t ready as planned for 1967, so that year’s model can almost be called a carry-over. While Chevy dropped the knockoff wheels and wood steering wheel, the side vents were redrawn. The 427-powered cars also received a new hood scoop. Photography Credit: Courtesy GM

The Sting Ray was a huge step forward for Corvette racers—up to a point. A Mickey Thompson-entered Z06 driven by Doug Hooper won its first race at Riverside, California, on October 13, 1962, but the win was overshadowed by the race debut of the car that would become the Sting Ray’s nemesis. A 260-cubic-inch Cobra driven by Bill Krause led the race handily before falling out with a failed left-rear wheel hub. 

The writing was on the wall, and while the Z06 scored several SCCA wins in A Production—mostly in the East with Dr. Dick Thompson at the wheel—the much lighter Cobra went on to dominate SCCA club racing.

Ripple Effect

After its strong debut, the street Corvette continued to receive attention. In the 1960s American automakers made detail styling and mechanical changes every year, partly to encourage sales of the “latest and greatest” model. At General Motors the trend was to steadily clean up an initially “over-the-top” design, and the Sting Ray was no exception. 

For 1964 the controversial split rear window was replaced with a one-piece unit, and the fake hood grates were removed. Other upgrades included improved quality control and more sound deadening. 

Big changes came in 1965 with the addition of four-wheel-disc brakes, available side exhausts, and a 396-cubic-inch big-block engine rated at 425 horsepower. Styling changes continued the trend toward simplification, with the substitution of three functional vertical front fender vents in place of the two horizontal imitation vents. There were only two significant changes for 1966: the substitution of a 427-cubic-inch big block for the 396 and the deletion of the optional fuel-injected 327.

Styling was further refined by replacing the three vertical front fender vents with five slanted vents and centering backup lights over the license plate. Other improvements included dual brake circuits plus a relocated hand brake; the latter could now be found on the center console. A build sheet, a valuable tool for today’s restorers, was attached to the fuel tank. 

Two engine options for 1967 bear special mention: L89 aluminum heads for the triple-carb, 435-horsepower version of the 427 (16 reported built) and a thundering race version of the 427 that carried the “L88” option code. To discourage public consumption, Chevy rated the L88 at only 430 horsepower, 5 less than the Sting Ray’s top street engine. In reality, the L88’s maximum output is closer to about 560 horsepower. The factory built only 20 L88-equipped cars.

A totally restyled Corvette was supposed to debut in 1967, but the new body, based on the Mako Shark II show car, was delayed until the 1968 model year. The 1963-’67 Corvettes eventually became known by the “C2” or “midyear” designation, and and they’re regarded by many as the purest expressions of the Corvette.

Sink or Swim

The new Corvette finally debuted as a 1968 model. While it did feature that radical new body based on the Mako Shark II show car, the chassis and running gear were largely carried over from the previous model. This Corvette generation would last until 1982.

The Sting Ray name wasn’t totally forgotten, however, as Chevrolet revived it for 1969—as one word this time. Thanks to the right mix of nostalgia and performance, the original Sting Ray remains the breakthrough that established the Corvette as a truly world-class sports car.

Things to Know

A reported 72,418 Sting Ray convertibles and 45,546 coupes were produced throughout the C2 Corvette model run. These midyear cars have maintained value through the recession, but price is heavily dependent on rarity and options.

Most of what you need to keep these cars running and looking good is available, although some parts are pricey. However, you may hit some dead ends if you’re aiming for a topnotch restoration; bright trim, fuel-injection pieces and air-conditioning parts are all particularly difficult to find. So are any items unique to a given year, especially 1963. Remember, even the newest Sting Ray is 43 years old. Buy the best version you can afford.

Photography Credit: Anthony Neste

Body and Interior

  • Vinyl-covered foam headliners on 1966 models deteriorate. Center consoles are brittle and break easily.
  • Headlight motors are often troublesome. 

Chassis

  • These cars may have fiberglass bodies, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to rust. Rust is common on the frame, specifically where it kicks up just ahead of the rear wheels.
  • The calipers on the 1965-’67 disc brake systems are all alloy, and their piston bores corrode easily, causing them to stick. Replacement calipers with steel sleeves are available. Pre-1967 cars have single-circuit brakes, so system condition is critical.
  • The lower radiator supports can corrode. Big-block cars often overheat.

Drivetrain

  • Engines and transmissions are generally bulletproof. 
  • Check the differentials on big-block cars. 
  • The Rochester fuel-injection system is very expensive to restore. If in doubt, call in a qualified expert to get another opinion.
  • A.I.R. pollution control parts can be hard to source.
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Comments
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wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
12/23/21 11:23 a.m.

"The latest offerings from Britain were the MGB, Triumph TR4 and Spitfire, and the Lotus Elan was set to debut in a few weeks."

That's apples and oranges, comparing small bore prduction cars with the C2.   You mentioned the XKE, which had far better brakes than the C2, though less power and the British also offered the Jensen CV8 which came with 4 wheel discs and a big block Chrysler for power.

I have driven C2 Corvettes and they frankly do not impress with handling nor ride quality, but I do feel that the styling was very striking and resulted in a lot of sales.

yupididit
yupididit PowerDork
12/23/21 2:42 p.m.

Unpopular opinion but the C2 looks better than the E-type. Fight me

secretariata (Forum Supporter)
secretariata (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
12/23/21 4:46 p.m.

In reply to yupididit :

Reauchambeau South Park Style! I kick first.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
12/27/21 7:59 a.m.

In reply to yupididit :

Can't do it, they are certainly in he same league.

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