Few people would disagree that the Corvette Sting Rays built from 1963-’67 are among the most beautiful machines on four wheels. How they became that way — and how they remain a cultural icon to this day — is a story unto itself.
The original Corvettes from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s had become increasingly more powerful and better-handling roadsters, thanks largely to the efforts of chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov. However, by 1962, the ’Vette’s dated X-frame-based underpinnings were becoming less capable of handling the up to 360 horsepower that was being stuffed under its aging bonnet.
The arrival of the Corvette Sting Ray for 1963 instantly cured that problem.
Penned by Chevrolet styling guru Bill Mitchell, who also created the original Buick Riviera, the 1963 Sting Ray made instant antiques out of all previous 1953-’62 Corvettes. The car’s knockout good looks featured bulging fenders, split “nerf”-style chrome front and back bumpers and popup headlights.
The roadster was joined by a fastback-styled coupe with a distinctive spilt rear-window design. The top of the doors on this version were cut well into the roof, making entry and exit simple.
Underneath the new bodywork was a ladder-type frame and independent rear suspension, the first time such a setup had ever been offered on an Americanbased production car.
The ’Vette’s available V8 engines were positioned well back of the front wheels, creating nearly equal fore-and-aft weight distribution. Combined with beefier brakes and leading-edge chassis and suspension, the new fiberglass Chevy was able to run circles around previous models.
For the first two years of production (’63-’64), the only available engine was a 327 cubic-inch V8 with output ratings of 250, 300, 340 and 360 horsepower (the latter being the rare fuel-injected version).
For ’64, the hardtop’s split rear window was replaced by a onepiece design that improved visibility. Designer Mitchell fought a losing battle to keep his original two-window design intact, claiming that changing it “spoiled the whole car.”
In 1965, the horsepower wars escalated with the arrival of the new 396 cubic-inch V8 that featured Chevy’s “porcupine” cylinder head design (so-called since the motor’s valves and pushrods stuck out at odd angles) lifted from the 427-cube race engine. For those Corvette buyers wanting to advertise ownership of the big block, the car could be ordered with optional chromed side pipes.
Available for only one model year, the 396 came in three power levels with the hottest pumping out an impressive 425 horsepower.
The fastest, toughest, meanest Corvette Sting Ray on the block arrived in 1966. The optional ($437.10) 427 cubic-inch powerplant was available in 390- and 425-horsepower versions. That latter’s three two-barrel-carb setup turned the $6,000 Corvette into an absolute rip-snorting, heart-stopping monster that could reel off zero-to-60-m.p.h. runs in less than 5.5 seconds. But the 427 saga didn’t end there. If you were brave enough, you could order your ’67 with the L71 engine option, which got you a 435-horsepower (its true rating was well over 450) variant of the 427 that came with single four barrel and plenty of exotic-for-the-day hardware.
For drag-racing purposes, a special run of 20 L88-designated Sting Ray coupes were constructed for 1967. These factory specials featured race-prepped engines that produced a mind-boggling 560 horsepower.
By the time the last of the secondgeneration Corvette Sting Rays departed the factory floor in 1967, nearly 118,000 copies had been produced. Of those, 40 percent were coupes.
But, as pretty and as fast as it was, even Duntov himself later conceded the early Sting Rays were the least satisfying of all Corvettes.
Never mind. This is still the car people of all ages drool over and would own in an instant if only its rapidly escalating value didn’t put it out of reach of mere mortals.
An all-new Stingray (note the different spelling) was supposed to have arrived for 1967, but development problems delayed its launch until the following year. It, too, had its distinctive features and plenty of available cubes to boss its way around the streets. But for die-hard ’Vette-heads, it was missing the soul of the previous Sting Ray. While the muscle may have been there, some of the magic was gone — some say gone for good.
Malcolm Gunn is Wheelbase Communications’ chief road tester and historic writer. Wheelbase is a world-wide supplier of automobile news, reviews and features.