For many, if not most of us, driving a Corvette while in college would have been a dream come true. What better magnet could there be for attracting the opposite sex, what better set of wheels to complement the passion and craziness of younger years, helping to create lasting memories? How many of us wish things could have been like this? For Ray Starling of Colorado Springs, Colorado, however, the picture was drawn differently.
When Starling attended college in the '70s, he did indeed drive a Corvette-a silver '66 coupe with a 327/four-speed and side pipes. But before you can even say, "Oh, that must have been awesome," Starling tells of the reality of his situation. Not your average college student, Starling had already been in the military and was married when he started hitting the books. It was "pretty cool" to have a Vette while in college, he recalls, but his motivation for owning America's Sports Car ran deeper than the desire for owning a college babe magnet. A self-described hot rodder since his teenage years, Starling had owned a GTO and a '57 Chevy, but wanted what so many like him wanted: the ultimate hot rod.
Unfortunately, Starling's days with his "pretty cool" ride ended when he finished college and returned to the military. "I went in the army and needed a fence and a baby bed, so I set my priorities"-and though he still wishes he could've kept it, the Vette went. But as so many of us know, the Corvette dream never dies. And so it was with Ray Starling.
After finishing his tour of duty and establishing a civilian career, he once again looked to get his hands on a Corvette. There was an '82, which then gave way to a Mercedes during what Starling terms his "yuppie" years. But what he really wanted was another mid-year. (And who can blame him?) And though his memories of that small-block coupe remain fond, he was looking for a couple of upgrades the second time around. Starling wanted a '67 big-block, and he wanted A/C; quite the rare combo, what with only 140 '67s reportedly built that way.
The five-year search brought Starling to many "trashy" examples, and included a near miss when he almost flew to Phoenix to buy one. In the end, however, things came together in an unexpected and fortuitous fashion. Starling and his wife Carla were looking in the DuPont Registry, and found an interesting ad from a gentleman located in St. Joseph, Missouri. Starling balked at the asking price for the magazine, wrote the number on his hand, and headed home...only to be greeted by a ringing phone. The caller was from St. Joseph, and had heard that Starling was looking for a big-block/air mid-year. When Starling arrived in St. Joe, as it's called, he found his car. It was "in about a thousand pieces," but, as Starling puts it, "I knew what I wanted, and knew what I had."
What Starling had was a restoration that had been started by Corvette Express in St. Joe, consisting of a rusty frame with the body off it, an interior that was the wrong color (the car had been painted red by a former owner), and the correct engine. What he also had was an intact buildsheet, and just as it had been nearly 30 years earlier, that piece of paper became the blueprint for building a fully optioned '67 big-block Vette.
Once the stripped-down mid-year and lots of pieces in boxes were delivered to Corvette Center in Colorado Springs, the work began in earnest.
According to the build sheet, Starling did indeed have his big-block "air" car, but he had also found a car that had come off the old St. Louis assembly line with a host of other options. Almost all '67s came with an AM/FM radio (97 percent) and a Positraction rear (89 percent, and geared at 3.36:1 in this case). About half came with tinted glass (49 percent) and the M21 close-ratio four-speed (48 percent). A quarter of the '67 production run came with transistorized ignition and power steering (25 percent each). Twenty-one percent came with power brakes. Starling's '67 has all of them, and we're just getting started. Side exhausts (18 percent), electric windows (17 percent), and the object of the quest, air conditioning (also 17 percent) were also included, and all plentiful compared to the rest of the options this mid-year sports.
A speed warning indicator only made it into 9 percent, as did one of the most striking features in this ride (if you look under the hood): RPO L68, the 427/400hp Tri-power big-block. The rest of the options, though rare, are very noticeable. The Teal Blue interior sports headrests, standard today but then found on only 8 percent of Corvettes. The same goes for the shoulder harnesses, which only made it into 6 percent of Corvettes. Topping it all off is a color that only 1,096 '67 Corvettes sported: Elkhart Blue, complemented with even rarer bolt-on aluminum wheels.
Ray Starling was an active participant in the restoration, visiting the Corvette Center everyday, if not twice a day, and certainly feels that the total is more than the sum of its parts. He's got his air-conditioned big-block to be sure, and an impressive array of rare options. He's got a prize winner (as in awards at last year's Denver Super Chevy Show and this year's Vettes on the Rockies), and a mid-year that others find desirable (Starling recently turned down a high five-figure offer). His Vette is correct, and although the NCRS "dings" him for the dressed-up engine and powdercoated frame, even they are impressed. Starling likes to talk about two judges who looked at this black and chrome engine and said, "Oh my God," then walked away saying "what a beautiful car."
And it's ok with Ray Starling that his mid-year doesn't pass this particular test. Since he'll never sell it, total correctness isn't an issue. There's no guilt about hitting the road in the old Sting Ray, which the Starlings do for in-state events. He's got the car he's always wanted, upgraded with the options he's long desired. And he even sums it up better than we can: "I like my car...can you tell?" So do we, Ray, so do we.