The '66 Sting Ray that you see here is what the NCRS calls an "example car." That's because it served as an example during the advanced judging seminar that NCRS held during its winter meet early this year in Kissimmee, Florida. They couldn't have picked a more distinctive midyear as an example, thanks to one very significant feature: The RPO K19 Air Injection Reactor (AIR) pump, an early-generation emission-control device required on all Corvettes sold new in California that year, and factory-installed on just 2,380 of the 27,720 '66 Sting Rays that rolled out of St. Louis Assembly.
Back in the day, many AIR pumps-and their related hoses and hardware-were launched on cross-shop suborbital flights that landed them in the scrap bin, many times soon after the car arrived home from the selling dealer. That's because, in their effort to reduce hydrocarbon emissions, they tended to reduce the performance of the engines that they were attached to. In reality, the actual performance reduction wasn't that great.
Bill Usher says that finding all the K19-related pieces was probably the biggest challenge in restoring this particular Sting Ray back to original. "There were so few cars made with it, and damn few spare parts available if you're going to recreate that particular option," he says from his Seabrook, Texas home. "It's expensive, and it's hard to do right. But, at the end of the day, within the NCRS circles, that's what made the car stand out."
Fortunately, Bill got help in getting a restored and functioning AIR system on his midyear. "I was able through Bill Hodel, who specializes in AIR systems, to get the right-dated components, and get that thing hooked up. It took about two or three months to get right, because there's a lack of documentation on how those AIR systems are supposed to be hooked up. There are more hoses on it-we were calling all over the country looking for the hoses."
However, it didn't take an involved search for Bill to find this Sting Ray in the first place. "I bought the car at an auction in May of 2008," he says. "It was at a World Wide Group Auction at the Lakewood Yacht Club, at the 'Keels and Wheels Concours d'Elegance' they have in Seabrook, Texas, every year." He says the car was in reasonable condition. "It actually looked good and ran fine, but I'm a Master Judge in the NCRS," and he found some glaring unoriginality in what was his first big-block Vette.
"When I bought it, it had a set of three dealer-installed Holley two-barrel carburetors on it, a Tri Power setup that was not appropriate for this 'IM' code engine, the 390 horsepower L36," he says. "Being an originality buff, that was the first thing that I changed. I said, 'I want this thing to be correct.'"
And correctness is what he got, thanks to K19 help from Bill Hodel, as well as that he received from Gordon Andrus' Houston Corvette Service-a shop that had previously collaborated with Bill on a Duntov Award-winning '61 Corvette. Also involved in this project was Westside Performance, who rebuilt the 427 to fresh-from-St. Louis-via-Tonawanda condition. "What it amounted to was an analysis of the engine, and getting everything back to the original specifications," says Bill of the shops' work. "The engine is now putting out probably a little over 390 horsepower, and it runs beautifully" he adds.
The original Nassau Blue paint was in good enough shape that it didn't need any refinishing, while the interior was treated to a fresh set of seat covers and carpets. But the '66's 427-and its exhaust system-was where the bulk of the work was done. "When I bought the car, it had side pipes," Bill recalls. "It didn't take very long to figure out that it was not a factory side pipe car. So, we had to re-duct the exhaust out the rear valence, and that was one of our discoveries. Another was getting the correct single carburetor on it. Then we had to find the correct intake manifold for it-one for oval-port heads, which the L36 has." That correct Holley carburetor, by the way, is one with provisions to accept the RPO K19 plumbing.