Far away on our favorite island continent, there are rumors of a C3 Corvette so fierce that Australian citizens dare not utter its name. "It has the roar of a monster," some said. "Untameable," others cried. Our curiosity was piqued-we had to learn more of this petroleum-breathing Myliobatiforme (that's a stingray for you non-marine biologists). We contacted Matt James, a Transport Manager in Mount Pleasant, New South Wales, to learn of its origins. "Yes, the Yellow Tale Stingray exists," he tells VETTE, "and I alone have known its true history...until now."
James tells us that an inconspicuous '68 Stingray immigrated to Australia in 2000 after being sold by its owner, a female hairdresser in Las Vegas. "She had always wanted a red Corvette," he says. "And that's the way it arrived in Australia. But there are way too many red Corvettes in Oz. I decided this one needed to break tradition. It would become famous because of how different it looked. I chose yellow because all I could think about was how yellow looked best on a Corvette."
Like the car's previous owner, James had always wanted a Vette. "A friend of my family had just purchased a '68 big-block. I was at the traffic light when I heard this thing rumbling up towards me and flying straight past me," he says. "From that day forward, I knew I had to have a Corvette."
The resolute Aussie also knew exactly how he wanted his future sports car to look, and fate eventually brought a suitable candidate his way. "A couple of years ago, I was introduced to a group of Vette owners in my town," James says. "The fire in my belly for a Corvette got stronger and stronger. It was time to find one. After a few months of hopeless searching, I came across this '68 Stingray. It was in a horrible state of disrepair, but that didn't bother me, as I wanted to build a Vette the way I wanted one to look."
To prepare the Stingray for restoration, James took on the disassembly duties himself. He stripped the Vette's body to bare fiberglass and was taken aback when he found LeMans Blue was the first color sprayed over the original primer. "I had no idea it was a factory blue car," James reveals. "But when I checked the cowl tag, my suspicion was confirmed. My Corvette left the factory with Code 976 LeMans Blue paint and Code 411 Dark Blue vinyl interior. How it ended up in Australia [in] red with a black interior, I'll never know."
James then set his sights on the interior. "Because the cockpit was shabby, too, I stripped it with the mission of replacing every panel inside. After all, the only point in having a great paint job is if the interior can match it," he says.
Next on this weekend restorer's to-do list was the engine. "It didn't look any better than the shabby body, and that meant it had to go," James recalls. "When we pulled the motor out, we discovered two things: It had seen better days, and it was not the original motor. I saw no point spending money on it, or keeping it."
With his part of the project completed, James turned his Corvette over to Jason Cavenagh of Classic Fabrications in Wollongong, New South Wales, and asked him to create a custom work of art. Cavenagh found the fiberglass body a challenge. He had to focus special attention on the fitment of the fenders and doors, and he took many hours bullying the body panels until they lined up even better than they had on the assembly line. Then he worked the body with filler primer until it was laser straight, following with epoxy primer and a three-stage custom yellow paint produced by DeBeers. Finally, he made one modification to the original body. At James' request he painted and installed an L88 "Stinger" hood.
With the Corvette's body shining like a stupendous solar flare, James commissioned a custom cockpit to be sewn and assembled by Jim Badger Auto Upholstery of Fairy Meadow, New South Wales. It features black leather thrones accented with yellow welting, a standard '68 Corvette steering wheel, black cut-pile carpet (replacing the factory's 80/20 loop), and Corvette gauges customized with yellow faces and Chevrolet Bow Tie logos. Other interior mods include a tilt column from Flaming River, a Pioneer CD head unit and speakers, and Corvette-logo sill plates.
Then came the drivetrain. Regardless of his effulgent color preference, James was insistent that he keep one aspect of the Stingray true to its Chevy roots: the big-block. "I learned my Corvette was one of 7,717 equipped in '68 with the L36 427/385 powerplant," he says. "Although the original engine was gone, I vowed that within the fiberglass body would go a GM big-block."
To accomplish this goal, James contacted Eagles Spares of Sydney, who suggested a 454 H.O., GMPP's popular big-block crate motor. It features a cast-iron block, a 4.25x4.00-inch bore/stroke combo, and four-bolt main caps. A forged-steel crankshaft and connecting rods are linked to forged-aluminum pistons. The heads are GM's cast-iron, rectangular-port units with 118cc combustion chambers and 2.19/1.88-inch valves. A GM factory roller cam with 211/230-degree duration and 0.510/0.540-inch lift produces a feral growl with factory 1.7-ratio, stamped-steel rockers.
What James liked most about the big-block crate engine was its easy install. With help from mates Kane Rodgers and Sasho Srbinoski, all he had to do was add a Delco HEI ignition routed to Top Gun wires and NGK plugs, a Rochester 650cfm carburetor, a GM starter, and Hooker headers with side pipes. With that done, he simply reconnected the original wiring harness and coolant system, supplied oil and fuel, turned the key, and the 425hp/500 lb-ft mechanical creature roared to life.
To transfer the Vette's newfound brutal power to the rear wheels, James optioned an RPM super-heavy-duty clutch mated to a rebuilt Muncie M21 close-ratio transmission. A stock driveshaft pushes the power rearward to an original GM housing, Posi unit, and 3.08 gears. The chassis saw improvement as well. He upgraded the suspension to Grand Touring springs up front, fiberglass leafs in the back, and Koni shocks at all four corners. Braking power comes from C5 rotors and calipers up front-where tight gripping is needed most-while stock GM discs remain positioned in the rear. The Stingray rides on 17x8-inch Torque Thrust II wheels shod in Nankang 245/45-17 front and Falken 255/45-17 rear rubber.
Having covered a number of right-hand-drive Aussie Vettes in the past, we inquired as to why James' Stingray retains its steering wheel and driver's seat on the port side. He tells us a recent change in Australia's auto-importation laws has given him an advantage unforeseen by legislators: "I left it LHD because it makes it easier to get parts for the car, sure, but that's not the real reason this is an LHD Stingray," he smiles. "It also makes talking to girls on the side of the road easier."
One other interesting cue on this Corvette is its complement of 427 emblems. They pay homage to the Stingray's original engine, and although the 427 is long gone, James felt it important for the Corvette to retain original-style badges.
After two years of restoration, the Corvette was completed just two days before its first national show, the '06 NSW Corvettes Unlimited Convention in Penrith. Its final, striking detail was an underhood mural designed and sprayed by Smart Arts of Wollongong. The subject: The Yellow Tale Stingray itself, the Las Vegas desert, Betty Boop, and Route 66-an homage to the America that created the Corvette, and the message that this Stingray still carries its American memories close to its heart.
That message apparently resonated with the auto enthusiasts gathered in Penrith. There, in front of its peers, Matt James' spectacular '68 Stingray won the National Roads & Motorists' Association (NRMA) Car of Show Award. James was there to accept the award not only for himself, but also for his family and the men who helped him restore the Corvette to show-class condition.
Currently, James enjoys attending club events and cruises in the Yellow Tale Corvette Corvette. A GM ZZ502 crate motor, a Tremec TKO five-speed, power steering, and Wilwood rear brakes are all on his future-mods list. "I'll take any chance I can to get in the Stingray and go for a ride," he tells us, "because I know my car is one-of-a-kind, and that's the way I've always wanted my Corvette to be."