Just remember-if you're going to get on it, make sure it's pointed straight first." So said Tom Keiling, owner of the sinister all-black '67 Corvette you see here, just before I pulled away in his pride and joy.
Oh, I'd be getting on it alright. It's not like opportunities to flog Tri-Power 427 Sting Rays come along very often. Problem is, back in the '60s, the stylists may not have talked to the chassis engineers when they were designing the car. Unless you're willing to cut up the bodywork or install tubs, there's no way to fit very much rubber in the back of a midyear Vette. Three-deuce Rat power, well over 500 lb-ft of torque, and 225/70R15 tires is a recipe for tire spin. Standing on the throttle with the front wheels turned is a recipe for doing pirouettes, the kind that typically end with an impromptu meeting with guardrails, curbs and other immovable foreign objects.
My first turn behind the wheel came on some twisty country roads in the northwest corner of New Jersey. The manual steering of the big-motored Corvette feels remarkably accurate. The wafer thin steering wheel takes some getting used to, but there's plenty of feedback. The cornering was flat, too-the owner has done some chassis upgrades-but with 6-inch wide wheels and not a lot of rubber, you'd expect less.
Handling is fairly neutral, even with all that cast iron up front. He used Vette Brakes & Products Smart Struts to improve the rear suspension geometry and upgraded the front and rear sway bars to 1 1/8-inch and 3/4-inch (front and rear, respectively). Shocks are KYBs in the front and adjustable QA1s out back.
The big fun, aside from being seen in such a beautiful car, is shoving your foot to the firewall and having those three Holley carbs burst open. While the Tri-Power setups had a well-earned rep from the factory as being "triple trouble" because of their temperamental vacuum-operated secondary carb operation, Keiling long ago converted it to full manual linkage. Now when those end carbs kick in, the response is immediate, precise and bordering on violent. Your head snaps back and the car explodes forward with the ferocity of a hit of nitrous.
Keiling bought the car back in 1984, and even though it had a dead small-block in it, he still paid $7,500. It was an original big-block car and he was determined to bring it back to its former glory-and beyond. He procured a 427 block and crank from a speed shop and spent the winter months building himself an engine (displacement is now 439 ci). As this was the mid-'80s, fuel quality was far worse than it is now and he went conservative on the compression ratio (9.5:1). The heads used were ported 990 casts; and the valves open and close via a Jones solid flat-tappet cam (.562 lift intake, .594 exhaust).
Next up was finding the correct carburetors and '67 Tri-Power intake manifold (which was taller than the '68-69 version because of hood clearance issues). Headers are Blackjack 1 7/8-inch pieces, which have been Jet Hot coated and exhale into 2.5-inch Flowmasters (there is no crossover). He had an X-crossover installed, but because of the crossmember in the Corvette, it was mounted too far from the engine. The car slowed significantly in the quarter-mile. Once he replaced the X, the speed picked right back up.
By the spring of '85, the car was mobile, but he and his wife, Sherry, continued going through the car, replacing various suspension bits, then the carpeting and seats. Finally, they stripped the paint and did the bodywork. The car was painted at Book Buick (RIP), which is where Keiling was working at the time as the service manager.
After that, Tom kept tweaking the car to improve its performance. He swapped out the original M-21 4-speed and 4.11 gears for a Richmond five-speed and 3.08s. The ultra-low first gear in the five-speed more than makes up for the swap from 4.11s to 3.08s and fifth gear is direct (1:1), not overdriven.
"The best thing I did was to install the five-speed," Keiling insists. "To drive on the highways with the Muncie and 4.11s, you were turning 4000 rpm to keep up with traffic. Now 70 mph is 2,800 rpm."
When he first took the car to the track, Tom was handed e.t. slips in the 13.20 range-at an eye-opening 110-111 mph. More practice netted a best of 12.8 at 112. Two things, he feels, made the car a lot quicker. Learning to drive it at the track and putting the five-speed in it.
"The five-speed made it a whole lot easier to get out of the hole. First gear is 3.27:1 instead of 2.20 with the four-speed. The ratios for first through fourth gear are very close to a 2.20 Muncie with 4.56s. But on the street I click it into fifth and it's got 3.08s.
"The five-speed gave the car a completely different personality. You could have a conversation inside the car. It was a lot of money, but well worth it."
The first time down the track with the five-speed, the Corvette went 12.60s. Tuning the carburetors was the next step. He changed the accelerator pump discharge nozzle, which allowed him to get into the secondary carbs quicker. There was also some axle windup with the IRS, which he cured with the QA1 adjustable shocks. Last time down the strip at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, resulted in a 12.31 at 114.8 mph, with a 2.00 60-ft time. The car has gone as fast as 115.8 and consistently runs in the 12.40s, even in July heat and humidity.
We don't think Keiling will be happy until the car runs in the 11s on its 70-series Goodyears. That means a lot more tinkering, a bit more tuning. Of course, he may just swap on a set of modern aluminum cylinder heads and a roller cam. This could add 10 mph or more and send e.t.'s into the mid- or low-11s.
Your author had the opportunity to make some laps in the car-to say it was a blast is an understatement. Anyone can launch a car on slicks. It takes finesse to launch a Rat-motor Vette on 70-series Goodyears. Get into the secondary carbs too soon and you'll do nothing but spin. Once you get rolling, you nail it and watch the tach shoot for the stars. Once the needs hits about 6800, you slam the Hurst into second, never lifting the throttle. You hope the tires don't spin too badly. Once in awhile you experience axle hop on the 1-2 gear change. The action isn't as smooth as a Muncie; it's stiffer. But it works. Then come third and fourth and you're across the finish line before you know it. It's a scene you could repeat over and over again. You never want to get out of the driver seat.
After a couple of hits at the track and some more street driving, we understand why these cars routinely sell for six figures and beyond. They represent an era when GM was at its peak, both in engineering and design. The styling is timeless. The interior is styled as perfectly as the exterior-those who worked on it obviously sweat the details.Great looks, eye-opening performance and ever-increasing value is a combination that's hard to beat.