Do It Yourself
The Challenge of a '63 Sting Ray
Story Kevin Harper / Images Bill Erdman - August 30, 2012 10:00 AM
“Having the NCRS judging manual as a guide can be very helpful in taking the steps to bring a car to the highest quality. This car is proof, having won multiple Top Flight honors. ”
When the 19th annual Corvette Funfest rolls around September 13-16 at the Mid America Motorworks complex in Effingham, Illinois, the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray is going to be prominently featured.
Enthusiasts will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of a car that had a significant impact to the hobby that lasts to this day.
According to the history of the car as written in Mike Yager’s Corvette Bible, this was a one-year design that was created by Larry Shinoda. The “split window” design was not a favorite of Zora Arkus-Duntov, who was into total functionality and felt the driver’s rear vision was compromised.
“A unique new coupe had the look of a jet on wheels with a fastback roofline and a very aeronautical-looking two piece rear window,” it reads (page 61).
The 1963 Corvette was the start of the C2 era, which lasted about five years. This car represented many obvious changes, starting with the headlights. No longer fully exposed four-eyed models, the hidden headlight concept that would be so well associated with the Corvette was begun. The hidden headlights had actually begun with the 1936 Cord, but this represented GM’s first foray into this design element on a production car (there was a 1938 Buick concept that used them).
The change of generation also gave the company an opportunity to offer new aspects that might lead to a greater appeal among buyers. With more than 10 years in the marketplace, the Corvette name had already begun to establish its sports car image. The chassis and frame were stiffened to accommodate the aerodynamic change. In the driver’s compartment, black face gauges were introduced. Air conditioning was now available for owners who sought relief from the elements. Leather seats could be had as an option with power steering and power brakes making an appearance.
Kenneth Hellegers of Totowa, New Jersey, realized he had found something special when he laid eyes on this Riverside Red 1963 Coupe. The car wasn’t tricked out with everything from the option box, but he knew it would be a valuable car in good condition.
Hellegers started his restoration project in 1985. At the time, the car had already racked up 98,000 miles, but the days of high use were about to end. Armed with an NCRS judging manual and a 1963 assembly manual, Hellegers took on the restoration work himself, paying close attention to detail. The body-off restoration was done with a strap kit and engine hoist. There was no rush, with the effort more intent on completion. The frame and all suspension components, front and rear, were completely restored. Stock OEM parts or original restored suspension parts were used during the process.
Like all 1963 Corvettes, this car came with the 327 engine that had just made an appearance in the previous year. The standard engine was the 250 horsepower model, but this car took it up a couple of notches. Bypassing the 300 horsepower model, the engine found in here is the 340 horsepower version with the four-barrel carb. There was the highest choice, a fuel injected 327 with 360 horsepower as a power rating, so Kenneth’s car is the highest carbureted model offered. The 327 was completely rebuilt during the process to wipe away the 98,000 miles of previous use. It is hooked up to a T10 four-speed transmission with 3.55 gears. These driveline components were disassembled and put back together with new parts as needed. “The car is as mechanically sound as it is cosmetically sound,” said Hellegers.
While the red is not the original paint (replaced by the exact color to match the data plate), the body is unaltered. On the inside, the interior has been worked over with the idea of keeping it as close to the factory as possible. It works well. The gauges and clock were restored while seat covers and carpet were replaced with exact reproduction pieces.
Having the NCRS judging manual as a guide can be very helpful in taking the steps to bring a car to the highest quality. This car is proof, having won multiple Top Flight honors.
Restoring a 1963 Corvette is not an easy task these days. Yager notes in the Corvette Bible that not many parts are easy to find and that the cars are expensive to restore because of the number of unique parts. There were more convertibles made for the 1963 model year (10,919) than coupes (10,594). Even combined, it becomes a small number of original cars to choose from, especially when you consider that many 1963 models may have already been cut up as donor cars for successful 1963 projects.
Armed with these facts and the history of the car, it is a relief and gratifying to find a true 1963 Corvette built to the standards that Kenneth Hellegers used. As the car hits its 50th year celebration, it is delightful to see what the stewards of the hobby have brought forth. This car is a classic example of all that is good about being an auto enthusiast.