"There's no replacement for displacement." That's the motto of those who believe the way to more power is through an engine with a larger bore and stroke, instead of one that uses other means (like more or bigger carburetors, or freer-flowing cylinder heads) to achieve that goal.
That also applies to engine choices in the Midyear Corvettes, at about the mid-point of the C2's production history. In mid-March of 1965, RPO L78-the 425hp 396-joined the Corvettes' option list, with a sticker price of $292.70. It didn't take long for Vette buyers to do the math-the big-block delivered 50 more hp than the RPO L84 fuel-injected 327 did, for around $245 less. Though 2,157 '65 Vettes received the 396 during its 51/2-month stay on the option list, Chevrolet was committed to the then-new Mark IV big-block engine being Corvette's top performance engine beyond 1965. After that year, not only was the fuelie 327 gone as an option, so was the RPO L76 365-horse 327.
In later years, as second-generation Corvettes passed from owner to owner, big-block engine swaps were fairly common, thanks to the availability of factory parts like engine mounts, crossmembers, hoods, and stiffer front springs that enabled a 396, 427, or 454 to go where a 327 once resided. That's what happened to Del Kendall's '65 Sting Ray coupe, though at first glance you'd likely think this car was one of the late '65s whose 396 went in at St. Louis.
But the engine you see here didn't go in there, nor is it a 396. "We put a 454 short-block in it and used the original '65 rectangular-port heads, solid-lifter cam, and original intake manifold," he says from his Estes Park, Colorado, home. However, he didn't swap out the original 327 that this Sting Ray was built with. "It didn't have the original engine in it when I got it," says Del. "So, I felt alright about changing a few things."
Those changes came after some needed repairs were performed. "It had a little bit of front end damage," he says of the C2 that he bought from a friend about a decade ago. "We replaced part of the upper surround and put new bumpers on it and some other odds and ends in the front end."
By "we," he means his brother Dan, who helped out with the bodywork and paint, and who built the 468ci (454 bored .060-inch over) powerplant. Del also says this project wasn't one that seemed to take forever from start to finish. "It took Dan two months to do the body, working on it full-time with a helper," he says. "It was not a frame-off restoration, but they stripped it completely, and they cleaned it up under the hood." Also going in under the hood was a Vintage Air HVAC system.
Change was also in the works for the Sting Ray's cabin, though not at first. "We put new Saddle leather upholstery in it, which was the original color, but I didn't like it," Del recalls. "So, we changed the interior to white leather. It looks great, and you don't see that very often."
The chassis got a freshening to the suspension system, but the original front coils springs/rear leaf setup stayed in. "When I bought it, it had reproduction knock-off wheels and redlines," says Del of what was on each corner outboard of the four-wheel-disc brakes. "I remember those tires being a lot better than they were! So, I put a set of Michelin radials on it, and the car just drives completely different with them on."
It was Del's memory of a Vette in his past that prompted him to go the big-block route on his '65, while keeping its original styling intact. "I had one in 1965, a 396-powered convertible," he says. "I remember what they drove like." That memory stayed with him through the years, when he had over two dozen other Corvettes as personal cars (though not all at once), and he's bought and sold another 50-60 more over the years.
One of the Vettes he's kept is an ultra-rare Midyear: One of the 20 L88-powered '67s, which Del says he'll restore someday. "It was a race car that got beat around," he says. "I've turned down a lot of money for it, and it's really a basket case, but it has the original block and heads, and it's got the other stuff that would be impossible to find like the (radio/heater) block-off plates, and the original airbox hood. It's a neat old car to look at-but it's a basket case."