The Corvette Sting Ray that appeared in 1962 might have looked inter-galactic but it arrived 18 months too late to shock the sports-car market like no other design in history. That accolade had gone to Jaguar’s E Type and the new ‘Vette was destined to always stand in its shadow.
General Motors’ first all-new sports car in a decade was based on a ‘design exercise’ by Corvette creator Harley Earl. That original Sting Ray was displayed in 1959; a low, open-topped projectile with knife-edge styling and ‘pods’ above each wheel. Exhausts that ran below the doors would become a feature of the production car.
Just one engine was initially available, a 5.3-litre V8 with single four-barrel induction or fuel injection. Transmission was manual with three or four speeds and brakes all-drum. Automatic transmission became available from 1964 and a year later the Corvette matched Jaguar by including all-disc braking.
In a throwback to pre-World War 2 suspension design, the independent rear end incorporated a transversely-mounted leaf spring. It owed its existence to the sheer impracticality of the C2 design which left no space between the steel frame and fibreglass body for coils.
GM convention at the time decreed that cars of the Corvette’s weight couldn’t have engines larger than 400 cubic inches (6.6 litres). In order to ‘legally’ offer a big-block, the 7.0-litre 427 was downsized to 396 cubic inches before being slotted into the 1965 Corvette. Finally, Chevrolet had an E Type eater.
New in 1966, a 396-engined Corvette four-speed cost US$5200. At that price it was $200 less than the less-powerful open-top Jaguar and almost $2000 cheaper than Carroll Shelby’s uncompromising 7.0-litre Cobra.
The low price was illusory though. Power steering added $95, electric windows $59 and leather trim $79. Add an AM/FM radio costing $199 and the ‘drive-away’ price quickly climbed beyond $6000.
By 1967 and with a completely reshaped ’Vette on the horizon, there wasn’t much point in changing an already good thing. New slotted wheels were added and some embellishments removed for a cleaner look. The ban on engines above 400 cubes was gone too, so the last ‘street’ C2s offered two versions of the 7.0-litre 427. There was also a vicious race-spec L88.
Brand new C2 Corvettes were rarely sighted on Australian roads. On the occasions one did arrive it was usually a special dealer order and spent the weeks before being delivered enticing curious customers through the doors of Holden dealerships. Few of those original imports have survived and maybe that’s no bad thing. Right-hand drive conversions back then employed techniques that would never pass inspection under current engineering standards.
Choosing a car with its steering wheel still on the left will maintain the car’s original dynamics and ensure that things like the heater trunking haven’t been butchered.
C2s have increased in value faster than any other Corvette series. A decade ago the money being sought for a 396-engined coupe in good condition sat between $55,000 and $70,000. Today those cars will sell for more than $100,000 and it is possible to pay $200,000 for an excellent ‘427/435’ Roadster (427 cubic inches developing 435 horsepower) with four-speed transmission.
Fibreglass has one huge advantage over steel in that it doesn’t rust. What it does do is crack and craze and adhere in many places to a steel frame that is so susceptible to rust that repairs are a mega-costly nightmare. Most serious from a safety stance is corrosion around rear suspension mounts and also cracks adjacent to steeringbox mounting points. Look also for rust stains due to deterioration of the steel framing around the windscreen, behind the front mudguards, sills and door shut-faces. Any Corvette you are considering must be sent to a specialist for a detailed inspection and quote to repair any serious problems. Providing the fibreglass is sound, other parts needed for body restoration are easy to find and usually not expensive.
Chevrolet V8s are strong and very simple to maintain. Most common in C2s are small-block 5.3 or after-market 5.7-litre motors with single four-barrel carburettors. Valley cover and rear main bearing oil leaks are irritating but can usually wait until the engine comes out for a rebuild. Chuffing noises signify a cracked exhaust manifold. Cars with original fuel injection are very rare and maintaining them is a specialist task. The Muncie manual transmission takes some effort to manipulate, however the gears shouldn’t baulk. Clutch shudder can be a symptom of general drive-line wear. The Powerglide auto is a tough transmission and cheap to fix.
NUMBER MADE: 117,764 (1963-67)
BODY STYLES: steel and bonded fibreglass two-door coupe and convertible
ENGINE: 5356cc, 6489cc or 6996cc V8 with overhead valves, single downdraft carburettor or fuel injection
POWER & TORQUE: 224kW @ 5000rpm, 486Nm @ 3200rpm (327 4bbl)
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 6.3 seconds, 0-400 metres 14.4 seconds (327 FI)
TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual or two-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic shock absorbers (f) Independent with transverse leaf spring and locating struts, telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: drum or disc (f) drum or disc (r) with power assistance
TYRES: 7.75x15 cross-ply
All-drum brakes as fitted to early C2s aren’t appropriate any more so disc/ disc conversions are essential for serious use. Disc brakes still need to be in good condition, with rotors that aren’t warped or scored and no sinking pedals. If the suspension creaks and the steering shudders when turning at very low speeds, prepare to replace some ball joints and perhaps have the steering box overhauled. Also check while someone turns the wheel with the car stationary that the steering box is securely mounted. The transverse leaf spring at the back needs inspecting for cracked leaves or shackles that are flogged out. Worn diff mounts will produce annoying clunks.
Neglect and sun exposure afflict Corvette interiors. The vinyl was cheap and didn’t survive long if exposed to the elements. Good news is that new vinyl and even leather seat trims, door linings, carpets and dash components are available. Damaged instruments, missing control knobs and scratched glass are more costly to replace and parts are unlikely to be found in Australia. Seats will often be difficult to adjust. Check that the frames aren’t bent or broken and the roof-lining hasn’t been damaged by people trying to juggle luggage into the coupe ‘boot’ Make sure that the retractable lights emerge quickly and pods align properly with the body when retracted.
CORVETTE (396 Coupe) FAIR $45,000
(Note: concours cars will demand more)