Bet you thought this midyear was pretty much a stock one when you first looked at it. Then you looked at it again, and its fine details began emerging. So it is with Jeff Hess' "Coupester," a '66 Sting Ray Coupe that he and Vestris Vettes collaborated on together.
Turn back the clock a few years to when Jeff began this project. He was looking for a C2, and the one that he eventually located didn't look that good-at first. "It looked like it was someone else's project-every body panel was in primer," says Jeff from his Woodland Hills, California, home. "It was a bare-bones car, but we picked it because the frame seemed to be straight with no apparent hits, damage, or repairs. It was pretty straight to begin with, but we knew that we wouldn't reuse 80-90 percent of it."
That's half the battle when choosing a project Vette of any generation-one needing as little "remedial" work as possible. Jeff turned to Vestris Vettes, one of a handful of top-shelf shops specializing in turning "experienced" Corvettes into incredible Vette Rods. Jeff says that he was looking for more than a Sting Ray that still looked stock. "Ninety-nine percent of the ideas in the car are mine," he says. "I came to John and said, 'Here's what I want to do.' Most of his customers are the true restomod people who want wide whitewalls and hubcaps-they want the car to look exactly the way it did in 1966, or 1958, or whatever the year was."
John's ideas included a radical redo of the '66's suspension, doing away with the original front coils/rear leaf system. Instead, Vette Brakes & Products' (VBP) composite monoleaf suspension went in, front and rear, on the original frame. Before the suspension upgrade, that frame received some additional bracing before it was powdercoated in charcoal gray. "You don't really see the frame unless you jack up the car, but rather than using a plain black coating, we did this," Jeff says. "Once they did it, John said, 'Whoa-I like this-we may do this on some other cars.'"
Into that frame went an engine that had never been swapped into a second-generation before then: GM's new LS7, which at that time had just been introduced in the '06 production Z06. Jeff recalls that he told John at that time, "This will make it a little bit more special than an LS1, or an LS2."
So did the modified GM 4L65E overdrive automatic transmission. Jeff says there was a very practical reason for picking it over a manual one. "We picked the automatic because, if you've ever been in California, you know the traffic is awful. My left leg would be twice as big as my right leg if it had a stick."
Jeff adds another reason why the 4L65E was chosen: "We believe that we were the first-and maybe the only-to mate an LS7 to an automatic transmission, because they all came with six-speeds in the Z06." Other updates and upgrades that went onto the '66's chassis included a Steeroids rack-and-pinion steering system, plus SSBC disc brakes and Bilstein shocks all around.
The coupe's body received plenty of attention once the varying shades of primer came off. What stayed on and what was changed? Jeff explains, "The front fenders are original, the doors are original, the hood is from a big-block '67, and the grille is from a '64. The outside mirrors are from an '80-'82 Corvette, and the door handles are C5s." And that's just for starters. "In the front bumpers we have LED signal lights, and the LEDs in the rear bumpers are clear-lens back-up lights," Jeff says of the additions to his midyear's exterior lights. Likewise, the front fender vents "have a powdercoated mesh in them, as does the hoodscoop-which we opened up," he says.
A multitone color scheme consisting of black and two different shades of charcoal gray across the hood, roof, and tail was sprayed on by Eagleton's Custom Auto Paint in Huntington Beach. "It's not a big, fancy place . . . but they did a wonderful job," Jeff says. "One of the things that people always ask me about is the paint job, because black is very tough to do." Jeff adds this about the Coupester's cabin, "I came up with all these different little tweaks, even in the interior. There's a custom console with a custom shift plate, Vintage Air, and Auto Meter gauges. The interior trim isn't black, it's charcoal."
It all adds up to one spectacular-looking C2. "Everything's better about the car," Jeff says. "John's philosophy is, 'Have the old look with new technology.' Between what I conceived and what John built, it came out pretty near perfect. It turned out the way that we envisioned it, and it's a wonderful car."
What's it like to drive? "It drives very, very well-obviously, far better than the original product," Jeff says of the VBP-monoleaf-equipped car's ride. But the choice of the LS7 and near-stock-size rolling stock can present problems of its own. "With the size and width of wheels and tires that I have on there, I've never floored the car. I just don't want to eat up the rubber because it would just sit there and spin."
As of this writing, Jeff was getting ready to show the Coupester again at the prestigious Grand National Roadster Show at the L.A. County Fairplex in Pomona. Though he's driven it to some events, it's hauled in an enclosed trailer to most others, in order to help keep the paint looking from-the-shop fresh. Does Jeff have any advice for someone planning a Corvette project, Vette Rod or not? He does, indeed. "The way to go is to start from scratch," he says. "Start with a decent 'product'-something with a straight frame, and a reasonably-straight body. Don't forget that we're talking about cars that are 40-some-odd years old. Bite the bullet and start from scratch, and you won't spend a lot of time and money 'getting back to even.'"
Data File: '66 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Coupester
Owned by: Jeff Hess and Sheila Williams, Woodland Hills, California
Built by: Vestris Vettes, Orange County, California
Magnificently maintained by: Mike Gaglio's Auto Detailing & Restoration, Northridge, California
Modified production '66 Corvette Sting Ray coupe
Modifications: Corvette America '67 big-block Sting Ray hood with functional hoodscoop; functional fender vents; custom bumpers with integral LEDs for front parking lights/rear turn signals and back-up lights; powdercoated taillight bezels and fogged taillight lenses; Callaway Double D exhaust tips; polished '64 Sting Ray grille; C3 sport mirrors, C5 door handles, '67 Sting Ray gas cap with "Coupester" logo
Bodywork and paint preparation: Eagleton's Custom Auto Paint, Huntington Beach, California
Paint: PPG Urethane Black with two-tone charcoal stinger and pinstriping; Paint applied by: Eagleton's Custom Auto Paint, Huntington Beach, California; Pinstriping/graphics applied by: Bob Iverson, Fountain Valley, California
Frame: Original production '66 Sting Ray frame, powdercoated
Suspension: Vette Brakes & Products (VBP) Monoleaf system with Bilstein shocks, front and rear
Steering: Steeroids rack-and-pinion replaced OEM Saginaw recirculating-ball system
Brakes: Stainless Steel Brakes (SSBC) rotors and calipers all around
Wheels: Budnik Smoothies, 17x8 inches (front) 17x10 inches (rear)
Tires: Toyo PXTPT, 215/55R17 front, 235/50R17 rear
GM Powertrain LS7 overhead-valve V-8
Handbuilt by: GM Powertrain Performance Build Center, Wixom, Michigan
Modifications: None needed (Items like a dry-sump oiling system, titanium connecting rods/intake valves and CNC-ported aluminum heads are all OEM)
Displacement: 427 ci (7.0L)
Compression ratio: 11.1:1
Ignition: OEM GM coil-on-plug
Induction: OEM GM electronic fuel-injection system
Exhaust: S&P headers and custom-fabricated 3-in exhaust pipes (all HOC coated)
Horsepower: 505 at 6300 rpm (advertised)
Torque: 470 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm (advertised)
GM 4L65E electronic overdrive automatic transmission
Shifter: Bowtie Overdrives' custom shifter with custom Callaway knob and integral reverse lock-out
Rearend: Modified production '66 Sting Ray rearend with RPO G80 Positraction
Modified '66 Sting Ray interior
Modified by: Fiber Technology, Huntington Beach, California
Modifications: Customized C2 seats with integral head rests; billet shifter plate; Budnik Flat Track CV-3 steering wheel with full leather wrap; power windows; Lokar vent window cranks
Upholstery: Dove Grey leather
Carpets: Charcoal cut-pile
Instrumentation: Auto Meter white-face gauges (including speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, fuel level, and ammeter)
Sound system: Kenwood AM/FM/CD head unit and CD changer, Alpine amplifier and speakers; Sound system installed by: Beach Auto Sound, Huntington Beach, California
HVAC: Vintage Air