Leave it to an Australian to breathe new life into a purely American icon. That's what happened with this '64 Corvette Sting Ray ragtop, which found its way 7,000 miles from its original California home, left to languish lorn and unattended.
"It was sitting in a corner of a shed," says current owner Peter Bowen, a finance broker in Toowoomba, Queensland. "I went to purchase a '67 Camaro, but it was full of rust. My panel-beater said to me, 'Why not look at the Corvette? You shouldn't have too much rust to worry about with it.' So, after much back and forth over a number of weeks, I ended up with the Vette."
Bowen, a Corvette neophyte, had inadvertently stumbled across a great find. The second-year Sting Ray proved to be an instant classic that has held its status well and continues to rank among the most collectible Corvettes in the marque's storied history.
But turning a dilapidated basket-case-classic or not-into a thumbs-up feature car takes years of dedication, labor, and resilience. In 1997, Bowen embarked on what would become a six-year crusade of restoring the Corvette to its former glory. "The car was in fair condition," Bowen recalls. "The body was good for its age, and the chassis had no rust at all. But the bumpers, grille, and a lot of the original engine-bay parts were missing. It took four years to strip the car back to its chassis and source the necessary parts from the U.S. I learned a lot, as I knew nothing of Corvettes before the purchase."
First, the resto tyro sent the '64 to Corvette Queensland, in Gympie, Queensland. (Do the Aussies have great place names, or what?) There, the car was converted to Australian-standard righthand drive using a Ford Falcon power-steering unit, a component commonly chosen for these government-mandated LHD-to-RHD conversions. The rest of the interior was switched from left- to right-dominant as well. It took months of patient waiting on Bowen's part, as he was eager to take a more hands-on approach to his Corvette's restoration.
With the Vette finally back in his own garage, Bowen's next step was to hand-sand the body himself. "It took unknown hours over countless weekends," he says. Then, family friend Greg Oakes signed on to do the bodywork. "I told him the rebuild was to be a total, body-off chassis project. He said he would do the panels and paint and spend many hours helping me assemble the whole car."
To achieve a show-quality sheen, Oakes applied five coats of primer to the Corvette's body, then dry-rubbed the entire shell. He followed that with four more coats of primer and a wet-rub. After determining the car's structure was laser-straight, Oakes then shot four coats of Spies Hecker Dakar Yellow basecoat, followed by two coats of clear and a skillful wet-sand. Three more coats of high-solids clear, followed by a buffing and hand-polishing, completed the look. For a custom appearance, Oakes continued the body-color paint into the engine compartment, accenting select components and metal in gloss black. According to Bowen, the finished product never fails to amaze.