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1963 Chevrolet Corvette - Misterl's Midyear

'63 Built For Harley Earl To Be Auctioned By Mecum At '09 Bloomington Gold

Scott Ross Jun 16, 2009
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A Magnificent Midyear: GM Styling customized this '63 Sting Ray for retired VP-Styling boss Harley Earl, which he regularly drove until his passing in 1969.

Think of it as the continuation of the line of "dream cars" that started with the Y-Job and LeSabre. Think of it as a daily driver owned by the man who turned mass production of passenger cars into an art form. Now imagine it in your collection. This first-year Sting Ray convertible has a very interesting history--one that touches on the best parts of GM's history. For this C2 was originally owned by Harley Earl.

Though engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov helped turn the Corvette into "America's Only True Sports Car," and Chevrolet Division general managers like Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen and E.M. "Pete" Estes championed it, it was "Misterl" himself who came up with the idea for a fiberglass-bodied two-seat convertible, during a trip to Watkins Glen, New York (with the LeSabre) in 1951 for the road races there. That idea in time became the "Opel" design concept, the EX-122 prototype that debuted at the '53 GM Motorama, and--eventually--the production Chevrolet Corvette.

Though Earl's tenure as the head of GM Styling (which began in 1927, with his hiring to start what was first called the Art & Colour Section), and as a GM vice president--which he was promoted to in 1940--ended with his retirement in 1959, he still had ties with The General, even as he relocated from Michigan to Florida. Those ties resulted in a special Sting Ray built for him, one with prototype features like side-mount exhausts and an auxiliary gauge cluster on the right side of the dash. That car also featured an RPO L75 300-horsepower 327, Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission, and one of the first sets of revised cast aluminum wheels (once Chevrolet and vendor Kelsey-Hayes worked out the porosity and air-leakage problems those wheels had at the start of '63 production) wearing two-prong knockoffs.

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Not Just Another Corvette Lover: Under Harley Earl's watch, Corvette went from idea to "dream car" to production. Here he is with his '63, parked in the driveway of his Florida home. (Courtesy Richard Earl/The Earl family)

"The reason that this car is so valuable is because it's one of a kind, designed by Harley Earl--the last Corvette that he ever designed," says Harley Earl's grandson, Richard. "It's a direct descendant from the Y-Job and the LeSabre, and it was specially built for him inside GM Styling on the QT. GM paid for this car and sent it down to him--even though he was no longer in Detroit. They regarded him as a legend. It didn't happen for anybody else outside the company--no one else was having freshly-minted Corvettes built whenever he wanted, for his wife and himself." (Richard, a former Wall Street broker, now makes a living selling Harley Earl-designed cars. "Motoramic masterpieces" is how he likes to refer to them. He maintains the official Harley Earl Web site,, and is working on a biography of his grandfather.)

One notable public appearance that this car made in its early days was in February of 1963, as a parade/festival car at the Daytona 500, whose winner's trophy is named for him. (In his retirement years away from GM, Earl was a NASCAR commissioner, and a good friend of NASCAR founder Bill France). The blue-and-white C2 was there for the 500, held one month to the day after the top brass on the 14th floor of the GM Building in Detroit pulled the plug on all factory racing programs.

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Lest you think that this was a car built for a one-time use, think again. It remained at Earl's Palm Beach, Florida, home and was regularly driven by him, and it was parked in the driveway there on April 10, 1969--the day he died. "`For Harley Earl, the guy who invented the art of making cars, this was his last Corvette," says Richard Earl.

As of this writing, the Harley Earl '63 Sting Ray is in Bob McDorman's collection in Ohio, but it could be headed to where you house your own collection. That is, if you're the successful high bidder on it at the Mecum Auction that's part of this year's Bloomington Gold weekend at St. Charles, Illinois. "It's a great car, and we've known it for a long, long time," says Mecum Auction Company President Dana Mecum.

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It will be a "main attraction"--featured in the auction's advertising and catalog, while helping attract attention for the other Vettes up for bids. "The one thing about a 'main attraction' car is that it's a very high-end collectible," says Dana. "That really limits the number of people who can buy it, yet it creates a 'halo effect' over the event. That car is the one that everybody comes to look at, even though most of the buyers are there looking for Corvettes to be their new driver, or next project."

The Harley Earl '63 will also be the latest GM Styling creation to go up for bids at a Mecum event. "Some of the other Styling cars that we sold in the past were a lot of Bill Mitchell cars--there's a maroon car that's very similar to this one that's called the 'Bill Mitchell' car, and about three years ago we had some Styling cars from the Van Chapley collection that we sold," Dana adds.

What's it like to drive this piece of GM Styling history? "It's a real looker, and it's loud," says Richard Earl. "It's a throwback, a piece of history. For me, sitting in the car that my grandfather drove, it was a full circle for me as far as being one of the most exciting moments of my life. In my opinion, it's like driving "Motoramic Masterpieces' like the LeSabre or the Y-Job."

And to think...the next one to drive a car that's the continuation of the "dream car" line highlighted by the Y-Job and LeSabre could

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Data File: '63 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Convertible
Original Owner: Harley Earl (Retired GM V.P.-Styling)
Currently owned by: Bob McDorman, Canal Winchester, Ohio

Production '63 Sting Ray convertible with RPO C07 removable hardtop. Bodywork and paint preparation: GM Styling, Warren Michigan
Paint: Blue with longitudinal white center stripe; applied by GM Styling

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Frame: Production '63 Sting Ray
Suspension: (Front) coil springs with unequal-length A-arms and tubular shocks (Rear) Independent rear suspension with tubular shocks and transverse steel leaf spring bundle
Steering: Restored OEM GM-Saginaw recirculating-ball, power-assisted
Brakes: Restored OEM GM-Delco Moraine drum-and-shoe brakes with 11-inch (OEM size) drums, power-assisted
Wheels: '63-style (RPO P48) cast aluminum wheels with two-prong spinners

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Chevrolet overhead-valve smallblock V8 (RPO L75)
Built by: Chevrolet Motor Division's Flint Engine Plant, Flint, Michigan
Displacement: 327 cubic inches
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Cylinder heads: Production RPO L75 cast iron
Ignition: OEM Delco points-style ignition
Induction: One Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor
Exhaust: Cast iron manifolds with custom-made (by GM Styling) sidemount exhausts
Horsepower: 300 @ 5000 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 360 ft. /lbs. @ 3200 rpm (Advertised)

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OEM Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual
Shifter: Original Corvette four-speed shifter with spring-loaded reverse lockout
Rearend: RPO G81 Positraction with 3:.36:1 rear gears

Modified production '63 Sting Ray
Modifications: Auxiliary gauge set on right side of dash, custom seat upholstery
Seats: Production '63 buckets with custom white/blue leather upholstery
Carpets: OEM nylon loop-pile
Instrumentation: OEM '63 Corvette (0-140 mph speedometer, 0-8000 rpm tachometer with 5800 rpm redline, plus fuel level, oil pressure, ammeter, coolant temperature gauges and electric clock), plus auxiliary instruments (Accelerometer, 24-hour rally clock, Tach, Oil Pressure, Vacuum and Inside Temperature gauges) on right side of dash
Sound system: OEM Delco (RPO U65) signal-seeking AM radio
HVAC: OEM Harrison heater/defroster, no A/C



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