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1963 Chevrolet Corvette - Darwinian Split Window

A Mid-Year That's Evolved With The Times

Bob Wallace Mar 1, 2002
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There was no way that an Arkansas college kid could've imagined that the $1,100 used Chevy that he bought for transportation in 1970 would evolve into a treasured possession, or that said '63 Chevrolet would still be an integral part of his household over three decades later. Of course, when that old Chevy happens to be a Corvette, a Split Window coupe, well, we doubt many folks would not understand how such a thing could occur.

The college kid's name was Jeff Montgomery, the Corvette was a two-owner silver coupe with about 85,000 miles showing on the odometer, and the '63 spent the next four years functioning as a transportation module (yeah, but what a transportation module!). After Montgomery's graduation, he kept right on using the coupe as his daily driver for another three years. And, at the same time, he began modifying and personalizing it, both to suit his tastes and to keep up-within reason-with the latest trends.

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Sometime in the early '70s...

In the '70s, that meant flared fenders and gold Imron paint, 8-inch wide Cragar SS wheels, and, after pulling out and carefully setting aside the original 327, an assortment of small-blocks ranging from a 302 to a 377-inch stroker. Jeff showed the first inkling of what would develop into his process of refining and evolving the Sting Ray with updates from newer model Corvettes, when he bought a wrecked '65 coupe (for $400!) and updated the "Split" with the slightly newer donor car's four-wheel disc brakes, Muncie four-speed, the rearend and springs, and the seats.

Come the '80s and it was time for another round of updates as well as some serious refurbishing, as the odometer in Jeff's Vette was on its third go-round (the old Sting Ray had amassed over 200,000 miles). And by this time, applying bits of technology from the latest model Corvette was becoming a habit for Jeff. It was also "time for a new look."

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... the mid-'80s...

The "new look" was also a kind of "old look" with the car being returned to its original Sebring Silver, and the interior getting restored. However, the flares stayed. Additionally, Jeff added chrome-plated Hooker side pipes, a set of A/P chromed wire wheels, a repop L88-style hood, and deleted the front bumpers. This round of reworks and updating cost about $5,000-a sizable sum in the early '80s-and readied the 'Ray for another decade, and another 50,000 miles of enjoyment.

Enter the '90s. Another decade and, in Jeff's words, " was time for a new look, again." This time the "new look" was definitely a look back, as the flared fenders were replaced by stock contour panels, the stock hood was re-installed, and the chromed wires were deep-sixed in favor of reproduction factory knock-offs. Jeff took the original engine, complete with its factory-installed shielding and numbers-matching parts, out of storage, freshened it up, and slipped it back into its old home in lieu of the latest in a string of hot rod engines. Montgomery's back-to-almost-original movement (the '65 brakes, Muncie, and other miscellaneous parts stayed) was capped with the fitment of a factory-style exhaust system in place of the side pipes.

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A mid-'80s GM integrally boosted power steering box makes the old Sting Ray a real pleasure to drive. Those snug fitting headers are out of the Hedman catalog.

This round of restoration and refurbishing didn't last long. "After attending a few concours shows, I decided that having a '63 Corvette that was exactly like everyone else's '63 wasn't for me. What's made 'Corvetting' so much fun was how the car lends itself to self-expression." That, in turn, has led to the Sebring Silver coupe's latest stage of evolution.

"My main focus has been to refine the car into a comfortable touring car. I've tried to incorporate upgrades from newer Corvettes, as they were introduced, in the '63 while retaining its vintage look." Those refinements include, "...a few common chassis upgrades..." like a fiberglass composite rear monoleaf spring, adjustable shock absorbers, larger front and the addition of a rear anti-rollbar, urethane bushings, and radial tires. One of Jeff's favorite enhancements was when he managed to transplant the internally boosted, quick-ratio steering box from a later GM car into the '63, which give the car, "...modern day handling and driving characteristics."

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The heart of the '63's evolution lies under the hood rather than beneath the floorboards. A certain numbers-matching, original 327 small-block is once again sitting in storage, but this time, there's no hot rodded engine up front. Refinement calls for smooth applications of power, minimal temperament, and reasonable fuel economy, all of which obviates traditional approaches, like lumpy cams with lots of overlap and huge or multiple carburetors. Refinement, in this instance, is a '91 L98, the marvelous Tuned Port Injection small-block with a torque band that seems at times to be as big and flat as Texas. Jeff reports that the setting up the L98 in his Sting Ray was a snap, thanks to an installation kit from Street & Performance, located in his hometown of Mena.

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For the moment, Jeff and his wife, Penny, are content to savor what their old Corvette has become. Proving to themselves-and any doubters-that an almost 40-year-old Vette, with the proper refinements and enhancements, can make a comfortable long distance tourer, the Montgomerys have embarked on a series of road trips in the '63, with the stated goal of driving the old car in every state, and taking a picture of it with a "Welcome To" sign for every state. To date the trio (Jeff, Penny, and Sting Ray) has covered 28 states, but Jeff admits that "we may have to skip Hawaii." Along the way, they've participated in numerous shows and carted home some impressive awards including a Best of Show at the Black Hills Classic (in Spearfish, ND) and a Best Engine at the annual Lone Star Classic.

Meanwhile, the odometer has now rolled over the 300,000-mile mark and is "better than ever." Jeff and Penny told us that they have a lot more fun meeting and talking to Corvette admirers all around the country, getting waves and thumbs up as they drive their vintage Vette around the country, than in receiving awards at shows. Says Jeff, "I'd encourage Corvette owners across the country to pull those vintage Vettes out of the garage or museum, and start driving them. They might be surprised at how much fun it is to see the USA in an old Chevrolet!"



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