1963 Chevrolet Corvette - Back From The Wilds

One-Owner '63 Endured Years Of Neglect Before Frame-Off Resto

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What do you call a Corvette that endured robust driving by its first two owners, then the ravages of tropical weather for over two decades? You'd call it what second owner Arnold Yuen calls it: "Beautiful!" Arnold discovered it while he was stationed at Amarillo (Texas) Air Force Base, a navigator in a B-52 crew assigned to the 461st Bombardment Wing, Strategic Air Command (SAC), United States Air Force. While off-base one day in December 1963 at Plains Chevrolet in Amarillo, he and a buddy spotted something in the back of the dealer's shop. "We saw the Sting Ray sitting in a back corner, and I asked, 'What is this Corvette doing back there?'" he recalls. "One of the mechanics said, 'That's the service manager's-he didn't register it. He got too many speeding tickets with it, and he didn't want the cops to find it, so he put it there.'" The mechanic added that the dealer was looking to sell the unregistered and untitled Sting Ray. After a talk with the Plains Chevrolet's sales people, Arnold was the first registered and titled owner of a nearly-new Sting Ray, optioned with the RPO L76 340-horsepower 327, M20 four-speed, and J65 sintered-metallic brakes.

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That Corvette soon became Arnold's primary off-base activity while he was stationed at Amarillo AFB. "Being a single person from Hawaii in Texas back then, there weren't too many opportunities to do things," he says from his Frisco, Colorado, home. "When you got off of Alert, you wanted to do something! Amarillo at that time wasn't a big town, so I used to cruise all over the place with it and just have fun."

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Eventually, orders took Arnold to Vietnam and then to Hawaii, and he was accompanied by his beloved Sting Ray. Follow-on orders sent him (and by then, his family) to Japan and then to Germany. While on these assignments he chose to store his '63 in Hawaii, at his father's place. "All he had was a carport," Arnold remembers. "I covered it up and said to my brother, 'You can use it, but keep it in good shape.'" When he returned to Hawaii from Germany in the early '80s, the semi-outdoor storage and Hawaii's weather and climate had taken their toll on the Midyear. Seeing the car again for the first time in years, the family took note of the Corvette's condition. "My young daughter said, 'Dad, you've got a plant growing in your car!' Arnold says. "I said, 'You've got to be kidding me.'" She wasn't-there were ferns growing inside the car in the rear right sidewall, below the window, plus standing water in the footwells; water and humidity had severely damaged the Vette's interior. "And my wife was livid"!

Soon after, he was stationed in the States (at Travis AFB, located between San Francisco and Sacramento), and had thoughts of replacing the '63 with a similar one that he'd located in Phoenix. "My kids said, 'Dad, that's the one that you played around in when you were a bachelor, it has fond memories for you. If you sell it now you may have regrets in the future. You should keep it and restore it; go ahead and get it fixed!'"

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He had California Street Machine in nearby Suisun City, California, freshen the 327, adding custom JE forged pistons and valveguides that enabled the use of modern-day unleaded fuels. The body and chassis were sent off to Classic Cars LTD in Spokane, Washington. Arnold says the '63's original body reinforcements hadn't endured the years well. "The only thing I had to change out was the birdcage frame under the body, because the frame attachment bolts on it had rusted solid," Arnold says. "They had to find another birdcage, which they found in Southern California." It turned out that birdcage was from a '66 coupe that was wrecked while preventing a kidnapping (a story that Reader's Digest magazine later picked up on).

As for the frame under the car, no such replacement was needed-thanks to some preventive/protective maintenance Arnold had done years earlier to protect against the ravages of wintertime road salt. "The factory frame protection wasn't enough, so I had the frame Ziebarted," he recalls.

Inside, the restoration job went to Craig Nichols' shop in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where the small jungle that had taken root was replaced by a reproduction red vinyl interior, and the stock signal-seeking AM radio and dash gauges were rebuilt.

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Since the restoration of Arnold's split-window was completed, it's been shown more than a few times, and Arnold and his wife, Sydney, take it to events with their fellow Looking Glass Corvette Association members. At the first NCRS sanctioned judging he entered, he was awarded NCRS First Flight. "They told me at the Rocky Mountain NCRS meet, 'A few little things, and that car can earn Top Flight,'" says Arnold, who's since replaced the Hurst shifter seen here with a restored original M20 four-speed shifter, one of the things he's done in order to get the car to Top Flight.

Even if your travels haven't taken you around the world as Arnold's have, it's likely you've seen a long-time-stored Corvette. If you're thinking about doing something with that barn find, Arnold has this advice: "You need to look at the frame. When I took my body off, the first thing that I checked was the frame. If the frame is totally gone, I would suggest thinking about getting another frame, if you want to go NCRS."




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