The Real World:
Corvette Sting Ray Coupe
“I just love that car,” was Rick’s take on the L79-powered coupe. “All my life I’ve wanted a Corvette with that roofline. Growing up as a kid, there was a red ’65 with sidepipes in my neighborhood. I always wanted one, but could not pull it off. I put it off year and year and that turned into decade after decade. This one belonged to Ford Heacock of Heacock Classic Car insurance. I knew it was a real L79 car.”
Not just an L79 car, but one with an M-20 four-speed, sidepipes and factory air—a big plus as these cars can get toasty warm inside if you plan on driving them a lot in warmer weather. And drive this one Rick does, more than any other car in the NPD collection.
“I drive it so much because it drives so nicely,” he insists. You can really toss it in corners.”
As much as I loved cruising in the Impala, Camaro and Chevelle, this Corvette—thanks to its more serious chassis, independent rear suspension and superior driving position—made the others feel almost ancient. It was that far advanced over every other domestic car on the road back ’67. It had to be like driving a space ship. The manual steering was a little cumbersome at low speeds, but was remarkably precise on the road. Yes, the steering wheel was skinny, but that was normal back then. The ride was superb and the grip five levels higher than its closest competitor. We wondered: How much did the NPD car’s redline radial tires help in this regard?
Shift action on the M-20 was even more precise than the Chevelle’s. If this were my car, I’d have been throwing powershifts with it all afternoon. As it were, I drove it hard but with respect. The Sting Ray rewarded every action with an equally positive reaction. The roar of the high-winding, 6,500 rpm small-block through the sidepipes was as intoxicating as any 18-year-old Scotch whiskey. The four-wheel disc brakes (11.75-inches all around) stopped the car in short order and repeatedly. The driving position was absolutely perfect, as was the view over those artfully sculpted fenders. A telescopic wheel was available in ’67, but this Vette didn’t have it. Can’t say I missed it much.
The controls were all within easy reach, though the A/C controls were a tad confusing. Marina blue with a blue interior is a very ’60s combination, and one we’d empty the 401k for today as long as it came in a ’67 Corvette. After spending 30 minutes behind the wheel of this example, it’s no surprise that collectors trip over themselves to buy them at auction. It’s obviously a landmark automobile.
Complaints? Well, you definitely need to watch your legs on those sidepipes, especially if you’re wearing shorts. Much as they would after a Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin concert, your ears are ringing after you exit a Corvette with sidepipes. Let’s face it: There’s nothing behind those covers but chambered pipe. And while this ringing may be negative, much like seeing your favorite band in concert at high volume, the sounds leave you euphoric.
If you’re searching one out, the biggest problem with any vintage Corvette is provenance. There are so many fake big-block and high-output small-block cars, you need as much paperwork as possible—and we’ve even heard of that being counterfeited. Caveat emptor, indeed.
After piloting both the Chevelle and the Corvette, you are torn. The power of both is definitely enough to get you noticed at Tubby’s Drive-In. The Sting Ray’s hot, but you hear there’s an all-new version coming in ’68.
The Impala’s out. Too big, too slow, too “establishment.” You are hot for the Camaro, but if you order one with the L78 big-block now, who knows when you’ll actually get it? Bill makes you a decent offer for your grandfather’s old Bel Air, especially considering it’s a six-cylinder car.
This is the moment of truth.
This is the biggest decision you’ve ever made without consulting your parents. Chevelle or Corvette? Convertible with room for five or a coupe that seats two. Once Bill runs the numbers, you come to an irrefutable conclusion.
Chevelle it is. Payments on the Vette would really stretch the budget, plus the insurance will be a lot higher. Your write out a deposit check, fill out some paperwork and head home one last time in the old Bel Air. Tomorrow evening, you’re picking up your brand-new, Marina Blue, SS396 Chevelle convertible. You won’t be able to sleep tonight
Conclusions In The Real World
A day like this comes along once in a lifetime. The opportunity for me to explore the idiosyncrasies of one classic automobile is a treat. To be able to sample four pristine examples that not only look (or are) original, but run the way GM intended is one for the bucket list. These cars are the state of the Chevrolet art, circa 1967. Obviously, NPD was missing a Nova, so there’s a hole in the story. Still everyone wants to know: Which was my favorite?
If money were no object, I’d say the Corvette because of the timeless styling, the way it drove, and the power from the high-strung small-block. Every time the car’s mechanical tach danced towards the redline, electricity shot up and down my spine. But they were expensive then, and even costlier now.
Throw economics into the mix, however, and I have to say the Chevelle was my hands-down choice. It had the muscle under the hood, the slick-shifting four-speed, plus enough room for my family and all our luggage. A trip to the beach with the top down would be a memorable, to say the least. Heck, a trip to the dry cleaners in this car would be reason to celebrate. It was that wonderful.
That’s not to say there was anything wrong with the Camaro or the Impala, but were this 1967 and I was married with children, no doubt about it—the Chevelle would be the car for me.
Special thanks to Derek Putnam of National Parts Depot, without whom this story could not have occurred. Not only did he set up the logistics, but he came early and stayed late to ensure I had everything I needed. Also, special thanks go out to Jim and Rick Schmidt of NPD, who graciously allowed me to not only drive these fine automobiles, but let their employees help me all day.