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.
Less than five months later, Bill had the '66 back together, in its original configuration, and ready for the regional NCRS event at Waco, Texas. But, he says, it was hectic in the days leading up to the show. "It was kind of like Biker Build-Off at the shop," he says. "We were really going as fast as we could, so we could get it in that meet in Waco." Their results paid off with a 96.5 percent score, good for a regional Top Flight award, despite the '66 having the wrong radiator in it-a consequence of a tight deadline and a slow-to-arrive correct radiator.
Next up was the NCRS Winter '09 meet at Kissimmee, Florida. "The Kissimmee meet was an attempt to do the P.V. (Performance Verification) test, because when a car scores as high as it did at Waco, you're thinking about the Duntov Award," Bill says. "But, first you have to pass the Performance Verification test. This is the one judging process that people get so frustrated with, because it's so difficult to pass."
Of all the things that could have been anticipated, a 31-degree overnight temperature in Kissimmee wasn't one of them. "There's a plastic component on the passenger side of the automatic choke that broke-I think because we'd had the base of the air cleaner off and on dozens of times, which cracked it and the damn thing wouldn't start correctly," Bill says. "That was pretty much all she wrote. But, it typically takes multiple times to pass a P.V."
With a laugh, Bill says that his midyear is the best car ever to fail a P.V. test. "It shows how you can take a car that can be outstanding in most all respects, yet fail the P.V.-where it has to start, drive and handle just like a new car would have in 1966. It's not like any test you would have at a Concours. It's regarded within the NCRS as being one of the most gut-wrenching processes you could endure. You check the car for weeks and weeks, and there's always some little thing that can go wrong, either sitting in the parking lot idling or on the 10 to 15 mile road test."
But there was plenty right in the rest of the '66's appearance at Kissimmee. Along with starring in a Jerry Heasley photo shoot, it was an "example" car in an advanced NCRS judging seminar. "That's the deal where they'll take several good example cars, put them on a lift, and then have some Master Judges go around the cars and point out different features and aspects of the restoration." At Kissimmee, Bill's '66 was the only big-block C2 among the example cars, and he got a lot of kudos for it from the judges and seminar participants-especially over its correct K19 setup, and its freshly-restored engine bay and chassis.
What "example" does this C2 set on the street? Bill says that it's a magnificent driver. "It accelerates tremendously," he says with a smile as big as Texas. "This is the first big-block Corvette that I've owned, though I've owned other Corvettes. The thundering acceleration and associated sound-it's like nothing else. The car drives beautifully on the road-everything's been fine-tuned, as far as the steering and the handling go. You can drive it with no hands on the wheel. It's been prepared for a P.V., which means the car has virtually no flaws, and is 'showroom new.' And it's ready for another go-'round at the P.V. test, at the Lone Star Regional NCRS meet in Killeen, Texas this coming fall.
Whether you're looking for your first Corvette, or your next one, Bill has plenty of advice. "I've made all the mistakes and learned a lot about how to approach these cars and the projects they create. The key is to look for originality. Certainly, from the NCRS perspective, they're looking for originality not just in the engine, but in the components, big and small. A lot of what you go through, in getting ready for Top Flight, is making sure that if each component isn't original or a restored original, then it's a reproduction that has all the features that the original had, to satisfy the judges." He adds that a prospective Vette buyer should get two reference books: NCRS Corvette Technical Information Manual and Judging Guide for the year of Corvette that they're interested in, as well as Corvette by the Numbers (written by our editor, Alan Colvin), which identifies the correct major components that went into these earlier cars. Bill says, "These reference books will help you to identify cars which have been modified, or had various components changed or replaced over the years."
He adds, "I feel this type of restoration to original specs is generally better for value preservation. If you can get a car and improve upon its correctness through better understanding of factory originality, that is a good thing. You can then develop a positive judging history; this in turn will help verify and document the car's makeup and potentially protect the market value to some degree within prevailing market conditions."
Data File: '66 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray coupe
Owner: Bill Usher, Seabrook, Texas
Production '66 Sting Ray coupe
Bodywork: Chevrolet's St. Louis Assembly Plant, St. Louis, Missouri
Paint: DuPont Nassau Blue acrylic lacquer; Paint preparation and applied by Chevrolet's St. Louis Assembly Plant, St. Louis, Missouri
Frame: Production '66 Sting Ray
Suspension: (Front) Coil springs, unequal-length A-arms, tubular shocks and stabilizer bar (Rear) Independent with heavy-duty transverse-leaf spring bundle and tubular shocks
Steering: OEM GM-Saginaw recirculating-ball, non-power-assisted
Brakes: OEM GM-Delco Moraine four-wheel-disc brakes, non power assisted
Wheels: OEM 15-inch stamped steel wheels with OEM chrome full wheel covers
Tires: Reproduction 7.75-15 Firestone “Deluxe Champion” whitewalls all around
Chevrolet overhead-valve Mark IV big block V8 (RPO L36)
Originally Built: Chevrolet Motor Division's Tonawanda Engine Plant, Flint, Michigan
Built By: Westside Performance, Houston, Texas
Displacement: 427 cubic inches
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Cylinder Heads: Production RPO L36, cast iron
Ignition: OEM GM-Delco points-style ignition
Induction: Holley R3370A four-barrel (with RPO K19 Air Injection Reactor provisions) on OEM cast iron intake
Camshaft: Production RPOL36 with hydraulic lifters
Exhaust: OEM cast iron manifolds with 2 1/2-inch pipes
Emission Controls: OEM PCV valve and RPO K19 Air Injection Reactor (K19 was a required option) in California, where car was sold new
Horsepower: 390 @ 5400 rpm (Advertised) Originally rated at 400 hp at start of model year
Torque: 460 ft. /lbs. @ 3400 rpm (Advertised)
Muncie M-21 close-ratio 4-speed manual (RPO M21)
Shifter: Original '66 Sting Ray four-speed shifter with spring-loaded reverse lockout
Rear End: RPO G81 Positraction with 3.55:1 rear gears
Restored production 1966 Corvette Sting Ray
Restored By: Houston Corvette Service, Houston, Texas
Seats: Restored production '66 buckets with reproduction black vinyl seat covers
Carpets: Reproduction black nylon loop-pile
Instrumentation: Restored OEM '66 Sting Ray (0-160 mph speedometer, 0-7000 rpm tachometer with 6500 rpm redline, plus fuel level, oil pressure, ammeter, coolant temperature gauges)
Sound System: RPO U69 GM-Delco AM-FM radio
Heater: Restored OEM GM Harrison heater/defroster
A/C: Despite this car's inherent coolness, no factory or aftermarket A/C is on it