You’ve had this dream: A friend, colleague, or family member tells you about a Corvette that’s been stored in a barn for years, which you then unearth, haul home, and build into a show-stopper that’s also fun to drive.
Paul Ricketts had it too, and the result of its coming true is the Nassau Blue ’66 Sting Ray seen here.
He first heard of this midyear nearly a decade ago. “My brother, Gary, and a friend of his came walking into my office,” he recalls. “My friend said, ‘My niece has a Corvette that’s been sitting in a barn for, like, 25 years, and she won’t get rid of it.’”
(If the name Gary Ricketts sounds familiar, it’s probably because you remember his “Throwback Thriller” Pro Street ’65 coupe, which we featured in our Oct. ’12 issue.)
The lady in question did have a Corvette stashed away, put there by her husband in the late ’70s in the hopes of eventually restoring it. Unfortunately, he passed away, and the Vette stayed put for more than a quarter- century, until she finally decided to find a new home for it.
Paul Ricketts picks up the story: “We went over and looked at it, and…there was stuff all over it. She had a blanket on it, but there were lawnmowers, rakes, shovels—you name it, it was on that car. We finally got to it, and it was all there. It had been sitting for 25 years, and boy did it need some work!”
A deal was made, the Vette was unearthed, and Ricketts hauled it home to start work on it. (Though not before the storage- frozen brakes became “unstuck” when the ’66 was pulled out of the barn it had occupied for so long.) “Once I got it home, I started tearing it apart,” he recounts. “The more that I tore it apart, the more it needed. So, I said, ‘I’m going to do this thing up right.’” That meant jacking the body off of the original frame, so that latter could be cleaned. “From there, the rest is history,” Ricketts adds.
But not before he did some investigating of his own. The ’66 had a non-original 350-inch small-block under its hood, but a number of telltale clues on the car told him that it didn’t leave St. Louis with a 327. Those clues included a big-block hood, big sway bars at each end, the design of the rear halfshafts -- and a big clue in the middle of the ’66’s factory gauge cluster. “I’m looking at the tachometer, and it’s only reading 6,300 rpm for a redline,” says Ricketts. “I thought big-blocks were redlined a little higher than that. So I did my homework, and I found out that the 390hp 427 was redlined at 6,300 rpm.”
At first Ricketts considered using a numbers- matching RPO L36 390-horse 427, an idea he eventually dropped. “The more that I looked, the more expensive they got,” he recalls.
That meant another source of big-block power was needed -- and fortunately it was as close as Nucar Chevrolet’s parts counter in Wilmington, Delaware. There, Ricketts scored a 502-inch GM Performance Parts crate engine rated at 502 horses and 567 lb-ft of torque. “It was a ‘deluxe’ model that had the water pump, carburetor, distributor, and starter -- you name it, it had everything on it,” he says.
That 502 joined the growing stock of replacement and reproduction parts Ricketts had acquired, most of them from one aftermarket source. “I used Corvette Central for a lot of my parts,” he says. “Every nut and bolt -- I didn’t waste any time on anything. I just changed everything on the frame and suspension.”
It took Ricketts five years to turn his barn find into the magnificent midyear seen here, and while he did much of the work himself, assistance was always close by. “My brother helped me quite a bit,” he notes. “There are a lot of things you can’t do by yourself, like putting the engine in, putting the front and rearends in, and stuff like that.” Also rendering valuable assistance was Pete Yarrington at Pete’s Rod Nest in Elmer, New Jersey, who sprayed a new coat of Nassau Blue on the body.
When the car was finished, Ricketts had a ’66 that was a real looker. “I’ve won at least five Best of Show trophies with it so far,” he says. “When we go to shows, people gather around it and have a ton of questions. That’s what makes it nice -- when people are really looking at your car.”
Unlike many Corvette projects, this one’s turned out to be as much a driver as it is a show car, which has pleased Ricketts no end. “It’s such a joy to drive,” he says. “I’ve driven a lot of midyear Corvettes before, but none of them rode as nice as this one does. It just ‘floats’ down the road.” Floating like one of Chevrolet’s top-line steel-bodied cars of the era? “Compared with some of the Corvettes I’ve had, it does drive like a Caprice!” he says with a laugh.
If you’ve got the idea to do some “barn archaeology” and find a project Corvette of your own, Ricketts advises, “You’ve got to have the heart and soul -- and the money.”
Assuming you do, you might just unearth a car with an interesting ownership history, or one that was built with a rare combination of options and colors. Even better, you might find one you can turn into a show-winning and fun-driving custom, like Paul Ricketts did with his stunning big-block ’66.
| Spec Sheet |
|Owner||Paul Ricketts; Pennsville, NJ|
|Block||GM Performance Parts cast-iron BBC|
|Heads||GMPP oval-port, cast aluminum|
|Valves||2.25-in intake/1.88-in exhaust|
|Camshaft||GMPP hydraulic roller|
|Oil System||GMPP mechanical|
|Carburetor||Holley 870-cfm four-barrel with vacuum secondaries|
|Intake Manifold||GMPP aluminum|
|Ignition||MSD distributor with electronic tach drive|
|Exhaust||Hedman “Hedders,” RPO N14 side-mount exhausts|
|Transmission||Restored RPO M21 Muncie four-speed manual|
|Rearend||Stock Posi with 3.55 gears|
|Suspension||Restored stock coil springs, unequal-length A-arms, antisway bar, and tubular shocks (front); transverse steel leaf-spring bundle, antisway bar, tubular shocks (rear)|
|Brakes||Restored stock four-wheel disc, non-power-assisted|
|Wheels||American Racing Torq-Thrust II chrome, 17x7-in (front and rear)|
|Tires||BFGoodrich Radial TA, 255/55R17 (front and rear)|