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.
History tells us that the base '64 Corvette convertible came equipped with a 327/250hp powerplant and retailed for $4,037. For a worthwhile investment of $53 or $107 more, an owner could increase the horsepower of his 327 to 300 or 365 hp, respectively. Jason Page, also of Toowoomba, took this data into consideration when he was hired on to do the restorative engine work. He and Bowen decided to keep the factory 327 in the Sting Ray, freshening it with a mild rebuild that included non-stock Chevy double-hump heads fitted with 2.02/1.60 valves. A hydraulic Crane stick thumps out a healthy hum with 218/222-degree duration, 0.443/0.450-inch lift, and a 110-degree lobe-separation angle.
Fuel is supplied by an Edelbrock mechanical pump and inhaled by a Barry Grant 650-cfm carb atop a Weiand dual-plane alloy intake. Spark is routed from a GM HEI distributor to ACCEL 8.5 mm wires and NGK TR-55 plugs. Exhaust rumbles through 1 3/4-inch headers and into 2 1/2-inch reproduction Corvette side pipes.
The classic Vette uses a heavy-duty hydraulic clutch to direct power to an original Muncie M-20 gearbox and a 12-bolt Posi rear housing 3.70 gears. The front suspension features lowered coils, Koni adjustable shocks, and stock upper and lower control arms. The rear is fitted with lowered springs and two more adjustable Konis.
The brakes have been upgraded at all four corners using heavy-duty calipers transplanted from a '65 Corvette, along with drilled-and-slotted 10-inch rotors. The road-capable Ray rides on 17-inch American Racing wheels wrapped in Bridgestone 225/55-17 rubber.
Moving to the cabin, Toowoomba's R&R Auto Upholsterers sewed reproduction vinyl into original-style seat covers, added new carpet, and rebuilt the speedometer, tach, and gauges. The dash, door panels, trim, hardware and convertible top were replaced with factory-correct reproductions. A Hurst Indy shifter, installed by Bowen, gives this classic sports car an interior aspect befitting its muscle-era origins.
Bowen tells us the six-year restoration was a learning experience well worth the effort. At its very first showing in 2005, the Sting Ray took First Place in its class at the Queensland Corvette Club Concours. It followed that performance with a class win at the 19th Annual National Corvette Convention Gold Coast in 2007.
Surprisingly, breathing new life into a classic Corvette doesn't make Bowen feel like a front-page hero. Instead, he's just a proud owner who takes personal joy in what he has accomplished. "I wanted to have a unique car that would appreciate in value," he says. "But more than that, I wanted a car I could take to shows, club events, and weekend drives. I am very proud to have a classic American car that is one of only a small number in Australia.