We've said it before, and thousands of Corvette lovers agree: The '67 Sting Ray was likely the closest of the Midyears to perfection, given that its fifth-year-of-production status led to the best build quality at St. Louis Assembly, and given many Vette devotees' fondness for the '67's styling and powertrain choices. So, how does one improve on that?
Jeff Cleary decided to go the Vette Rod route when he decided to build his '67 Sting Ray convertible. But the car that you see here didn't start with the first "project-ready" '67 that he bought. "The first car that I purchased, to build this car, I ended up re-selling it," he says from his Chesapeake, Virginia, home. "That's because it had some rust damage in it, and I didn't want to go through the expense and the time repairing it. That's because it really slows down the build, along with costing more money, because those things are very tedious and time-consuming to try to get done correctly."
A further search led him up to Maine, where the Corvette that he found that far away from home was far away from perfect-or intact. "It was just a cowl-back kind of derelict car," says Jeff. "The bonus of this thing was that the 'birdcage' was very good. It had actually been stored inside a garage, so that the birdcage was in excellent condition." Instead of going the restoration route, Jeff decided early on that he would Vette Rod it, taking advantage of later-generation Corvette chassis technology. As Jeff puts it, "I wanted to use the new suspension-I wanted a higher-performing suspension and a much better ride, as well."
With that decision made, an aftermarket frame would replace the original one. Jeff chose SRIII Motorsports' round-tube C2 frame, and he has no regrets at all about making that choice. "Hands-down, they're probably one of the best vendors that I used during the build," Jeff says without hesitation. "Mike Stockdale-as I see in the magazine all the time-anybody and everybody who's ever dealt with him has given him rave reviews on his product and how great the customer service is." Another reason why Jeff picked SRIII's frame was that it was up to the job of handling the power of Jeff's chosen engine. "I definitely didn't need anything that would turn into a pretzel," says Jeff.
And what engine did Jeff choose? How about a very-early-production LS7, one of the early ones out of The General's Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan. "I managed to get that through Davidson Chevrolet, up in Canton, Connecticut," Jeff says. "I know the owner there, and he managed to use a little persuasion to get one of the early-release engines." Jeff had a few upgrades in mind for the LS7-namely custom MSD ignition wires, a Katech "Torquer" hydraulic camshaft, and relocated coil packs.
But one big upgrade was made to the engine bay-it was modified to fit the factory Z06 air bridge. Unlike on most Vette Rods where the air cleaner is a 90-degree elbow and filter element off the throttle body, Jeff's '67 pulls fresh air from behind the grille to produce maximum horsepower. This required building a custom radiator core support and designing/building a hood hinge system that lifts the hood "up and out" over the header bar, much like that found on newer Corvettes.
To some observers, that upgraded LS7, and the custom three-inch, Flowmaster-muffled exhaust system it breathes through, make up the only sound system in the car. Not so, says Jeff. "We hid the system in the rear compartment behind the convertible top and fabricated a cover for it which houses the subwoofer and the two rear channels-there are two front channels, the two rear channels and the subwoofer. The entire system is driven from a 40-gig iPod and an Alpine 5 channel amp."
Whether or not that iPod is plugged in, what's it like when Jeff plugs himself into his '67 and takes it out on the road? "It's kind of like Jekyll and Hyde, because it rides so nice and feels like a new car but then you stab the throttle and the response is ridiculous...borderline violent," he says. "The car weighs just over 3,100 pounds, and it produces over 560 rear-wheel horsepower-which is about 620 horsepower at the flywheel. It doesn't matter what gear you're in, it's just a rocket!" Almost like being launched off an aircraft carrier? "Next to it," the former Navy man-a veteran of many catapult-assisted takeoffs from carrier flight decks-says with a laugh. "It's definitely a quick ride."
Are you planning on building a fine ride like Jeff's Midyear? "I'd hate to think that someone would start with something worse than I did," Jeff says. "I'm echoing a lot of the same things that Rich Lagasse said and preached with his Split Personality C2. That is, try to find the most complete car you can, one with no more parts on it than what you want, but no less than what you should get, including all the trim and the hard-to-find parts. You can really get into trouble quick, in terms of cash, to try to obtain all those things."
And, as Jeff shows us, staying out of that trouble while building a Vette Rod like this is one way to make the '67 Sting Ray "more perfect."
Data File: '67 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Convertible
Owners: Jeff and Diane Cleary, Chesapeake, Virginia
Modified production '67 Corvette Sting Ray convertible
Modifications: Wide GTS Customs rear quarter panels, smoothed firewall, floorpan modified to fit tube chassis and suspension, transmission tunnel modified to fit T56 transmission
Bodywork: K&L Enterprises, Martinsburg, Virginia
Paint: DuPont black basecoat/clearcoat with a Dark Titanium stinger; preparation and applied by K&L Enterprises
Frame: SRIII Motorsports round-tube frame
Suspension: (Front) C5 Corvette with QA1 coilovers (Rear) C4 Corvette with QA1 coilovers. All aluminum parts smoothed and clear epoxy coated.
Steering: C4 Corvette rack-and-pinion with Flaming River tilt column
Brakes: Baer "Extreme 6" disc brakes with 6-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors all around, Hydraboost power assist unit and Hurst Line-Loc
Wheels: Production C6 Z06, 18 x 9.5 inches all around
Tires: Nitto NT 555 275-35/ZR18 front, 295-35/ZR18 rear
Modified GM Powertrain LS7 V8, 2006 vintage
Modifications: John Walsh of J2 Race Engines, Tuned by Virginia Speed
Displacement: 427 cubic inches (7.0 liters)
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Cylinder Heads: Production LS7
Ignition: Production LS7 coil-on-plug with relocated coil packs and custom MSD wires
Induction: Production LS7, with air intake behind grille
Camshaft: Katech "Torquer" hydraulic camshaft with Katech/PSI valve springs
Exhaust: Custom long tube headers (1 7/8-inch primary tubes with 3-inch collectors), Walsh Bag 3-inch stainless steel pipes and Flowmaster 50 Series mufflers
Horsepower: 562 @ 6100 rpm (Observed on dyno)
Torque: 532 ft. /lbs. @ 5050 rpm (Observed on dyno)
Modified Tremec T-56 six-speed manual
Built By: Rockland Standard Gear, Sloatsburg, New York
Shifter: Hurst with C6 Z06 knob and boot
Rear End: Narrowed Dana 44 with 3.90:1 gears, and rear axles/Positraction by Tom's Differential, Ponderay, Idaho
Modified/restored '67 Sting Ray convertible interior
Modification: Upholstery work by David Wells Custom Upholstery, Chesapeake, Virginia
Seats: Modified C5 power/heated sport seats
Upholstery: Black/gray leather by Al Knoch Interiors
Carpets: Wells Custom Upholstery black cut-pile
Instrumentation: Custom AutoMeter gauge cluster: 0-160 mph speedometer, 0-10,000 rpm tach, with fuel level, voltmeter, oil pressure and coolant temperature gauges in dash, plus oil temperature and fuel pressure gauges in center dash stack.
Sound System: Alpine PDX 5-channel amplifier/9-channel equalizer with JL Audio 10-inch subwoofers and Blaupunkt component speakers, driven by a 40GB iPod
HVAC: Vintage Air