Is the Corvette of your dreams one that you'd like to build or restore to your level of perfection, or would you rather your dream Vette be one that you acquire with the work already done? Matt Devlin is a Vette enthusiast who has owned, built, and restored nearly two dozen second-generation Vettes. But one Sting Ray that now graces his Overland Park, Kansas, garage is one that he didn't turn a wrench on. In fact, not only was it a completed car when he got it, it was the ultimate trend-setting, show-stopping Midyear: The first "Pro Classic" Corvette built by Rich Lagasse.
A quick refresher. "Pro Classic," as Rich defines it, means to achieve a complete package which fully integrates the latest in technology available to improve performance, comfort, handling, and appearance of the car, while retaining the integrity of the original design.
Matt says that he first laid eyes on it via the Internet, not long after Rich had completed it. "I came across Rich Lagasse's website, saw the '67, and totally fell in love with the car," he says. "I read everything on the site about the car, and I liked his approach to building it. I'd restored several Corvettes in my lifetime, but he'd gone to the next level, and I was just blown away by that."
What specifically attracted Matt to this car? "That it retained all of the original body lines," says Matt. "The side pipes, bumpers, and fenderwells were original, as was the '67 big-block hood." Also grabbing Matt's eye was the then-new 17-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels, the 502-inch big-block under the hood, and that brighter-than-bright red color on the perfectly-prepared C2 body.
An email from Matt to Rich led to a quick reply, and the two struck up a friendship over the next half-dozen years. "Rich told me how he designed and made the three-bar spinners and adapters," says Matt of their subsequent conversations. "Nobody else had those, but now somebody's copied them and everyone has them-but Rich was the innovator.
That friendship also included a special Christmas present one year that Matt's wife, Carol, got thanks to Rich. Matt tells the story: "One of the pictures on Rich's website of the '67 showed a big poster of it, hanging on the wall behind the car. Carol contacted Rich and asked if there was any way to get a copy of that poster. This wasn't a paper poster-it was a beautiful piece on vinyl. Rich went back to the people who did it for him, who'd saved the artwork, and they made another one for him. That Christmas, she gave me this huge tube for my Christmas present. I opened it up and unrolled that thing, and I saw that was the poster of the '67, and it brought a tear to my eye. I thanked her, called Rich, and hung it in my garage. At no time did I ever think I'd come to own that '67 Corvette."
But that opportunity arose in 2005. "Rich called and told me that he was thinking of selling the '67 to start another project, and he wanted to know if I'd be interested in it," Matt remembers. "I said, 'Of course I'm interested, Rich, but I don't know if I could afford it or not.' He said, 'Matt, it's more important to me that the car goes to a good home and to someone that would appreciate it as much as Barb and I have.'" A couple days' worth of back-and-forth negotiating led to the deal for Matt to buy the '67. "I actually had a knot in my stomach for two days while we were talking that over," he says. "Once we arrived at the price, I felt like I could breathe again!"
That was nothing compared to July 11, 2005-the date when Matt took delivery of the Sting Ray in Fremont, Ohio, halfway between Matt's home and Rich's. "We went there to meet him, and of course, I was early," says Matt. "I was sitting on the curb in the parking lot when he pulled in with it. We met, he dropped the trailer door, and I saw it for the first time in person. He said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'I don't deserve this!' It far exceeded my expectations."
It also exceeded anyone's expectations with features that were seen for the first time on it. Along with the 17-inch Torq-Thrust wheels, other items making their first appearance on this car included the power brake booster, made to clear the left valve cover of the GMPP 502 crate engine, and the headers that let it breathe easy. "Those are the first set of 'block huggers' that Sanderson made for the 502," explains Matt.
When Matt brought the '67 home to Kansas, his neighbors-including those familiar with his Corvette exploits-heard about it in a big way at about 2 a.m. "When I fired it up to put it in the house, it sounded like John Force just lit the candles on his funny car." Not only that, says Matt with a big laugh, all the neighbors' lights came on-and his wife, Carol, ran inside their house!
Just as hot as the candles on a nitro-burning race car is the shade of red on this Midyear. You won't find it on any paint-maker's palette. "It's Rich's own paint formula, and it's the most beautiful red that I've ever seen," Matt says. "It just draws people to it like a magnet. When I go to a show and place the car there, everyone stops what they're doing, comes over, and looks at that car."
And show it he does. "I've won multiple Best of Show awards with it," Matt says. "I've won GM Appreciation Awards and People's Choice Awards with it. Every place that I've ever taken that car, it makes people's jaws drop." That also included an invitation to be in the "Chip's Choice" display at Corvettes at Carlisle.
Matt also points out that the '67's change of home enabled more Vette lovers and show-goers to see it than before. "One of the good things about buying the '67 from Rich was that it would be in a different part of the country, where other people could enjoy it. I've showed it in Kansas City, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma-any place that I've taken the car. People's jaws just drop when I roll that car out."
Matt's enjoyment of this Midyear isn't limited to showing it. Rich built the '67 to drive, and Matt enjoys the time he spends in it on the road. "The car is totally awesome!" he says when asked what it's like to drive. "It actually does drive like a new Corvette. First of all, the sound of the 502 big-block through the side pipes is just music. It is incredible."
Then there's the handling. "With the VBP suspension system under it, the car steers, drives, and feels like it has 50/50 weight distribution," says Matt. "The '67 handles like it's on rails-it corners flat, and it stays flat as a pancake around corners, while smoothing out the bumps in the road." But that's not all. "It has tremendous power, and as long as I'm hooked up, it goes exactly where I point it. But it'll quickly overpower the back tires."
If the idea of having a modern, high-tech, Pro Classic Vette Rod in your garage overpowers your previous Corvette dreams, Matt says, "Go for drivability and improvement of the ride." He adds, "I have a completely-original '65 Corvette convertible that I drive, and it drives like a pickup truck compared to this."
If you're a regular Corvette Fever reader, you've no doubt seen Rich Lagasse's handiwork, especially in the stories about the build of his '63 Sting Ray "Split Personality" coupe. Matt says of the friend who sold him the '67, "Rich's idea of it going to a good home was big. He could've sold that car for a lot more money than what he sold it to me for." He adds this about Rich and his wife Barb. "They're just the sweetest, most down-to-earth honest people that I've met in my life. They have integrity and all those good things. I not only benefitted by getting this wonderful car, but a wonderful friend at the same time."
But don't ask Rich how to get that shade of red that's on his '63 and Matt's '67. "He's willing to share any of his ideas other than the color of the paint, because he keeps that to himself," says Matt. "When I bought the car, the section in the build files that had to do with the paint color was empty. I scratched the oil pan one time, and I needed to repaint it. I did get the color, but I had to do the double-dare, cross-your-heart, never-tell kind of thing to get it!"
Data File: '67 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Convertible
Owned by: Matt Devlin, Overland Park, Kansas
Built by: Rich Lagasse, Enfield, Connecticut
Original '67 Sting Ray convertible body
Paint: R/M Diamont special-blend "Rich's Red" basecoat/clearcoat: Painting/paint prep by Corvette Center, Newington, Connecticut
Modified production '67 Sting Ray, with original frame painted to match body
Suspension: (Front) Vette Brakes & Parts (VBP) composite transverse monoleaf spring, tubular A-arms, larger-than-stock anti-sway bar, and Carrera shocks. (Rear) VBP composite transverse monoleaf spring, larger-than-stock anti-sway bar, and Carrera shocks
Steering: Restored GM/Saginaw recirculating ball, non-power-assisted
Brakes: four-wheel disc brakes with cross-drilled rotors, stainless sleeved GM calipers, and a custom-built power brake booster
Wheels: American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels with three-prong spinners, 17x7 inches (with 4-inch backspacing) in front, 17x8 inches (with 4 3/4-inch backspacing) rear
Tires: BF Goodrich Radial T/A, 205/50R17 in front, 235/45R17 in rear.
GM Performance Parts (GMPP) 502HO crate engine (based on Chevrolet Mark IV big-block)
Balanced/ blueprinted: Arthur Bonneau at Bunjies Hot Rod Shop, Brimfield, Massachusetts
Displacement: 502 cubic inches
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Cylinder heads: GM Performance Parts cast aluminum
Ignition: MSD electronic
Induction: Holley 850-cfm four-barrel carburetor on GMPP dual-plane aluminum intake manifold
Camshaft: GM hydraulic roller
Exhaust: Prototype ceramic-coated Sanderson "block hugger" headers with original '67 Sting Ray 2 1/2-inch factory side exhaust
Horsepower: 600 @ 5,200 rpm (estimated)
Torque: 620 ft-lb @ 4,200 rpm (estimated)
Richmond Gear five-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter
Rear end: Rebuilt original '67 Sting Ray with Positraction and 3.36:1 rear gears.
Restored original '67 Sting Ray convertible
Restored by: Rich Lagasse, Enfield, Connecticut
Seats: restored '67 Sting Ray buckets with Al Knoch black leather upholstery
Carpets: Al Knoch reproduction black loop-pile
Instrumentation: restored production '67 Sting Ray: 0-160 mph speedometer, 0-7,000 rpm tach, plus fuel level, ammeter, coolant temperature, and oil pressure gauges in dash and analog clock in center dash stack
Sound system: Pioneer AM/FM/cassette head unit in factory radio location
Heater: Restored production GM/Harrison heater/defroster
A/C: Lower top and windows, then lower foot on accelerator pedal as appropriate.