Most of us can point to the time when we first caught crossed-flag fever. For Dick Dawson, it was in '63, when the split-window Sting Ray first rolled out of St. Louis. "I fell in love with it," he says of the midyear. "It became an obsession." An obsession that, in Dawson's case, led through five C2 Corvettes-including a seriously-built '65 that he raced in Mexico's Carrera Pan Americana road race-and ultimately led to the hybrid "Z067" roadster seen here.
As timeless as the Sting Ray is, things have changed since '63, and the Corvette with them. Having grown restless with the limited-by-comparison performance of the C2, Dawson began studying the cold fusion it would take to blend the classic looks of a midyear with the latest technology of a new Corvette, creating the best of the breed in the process.
The project began with two halves-a top and a bottom-from two different Corvettes. The first was a rolling chassis from an '02 Z06. The 2002 model year was when the Z06's LS6 engine jumped from 385 horsepower to 405, bringing the car's 0-60 time down to around 4 seconds. Reputed to have been a test vehicle, Dawson's '02 roller only had 1,100 miles on the clock and even had its original tires.
The '66 to which this running gear was to be mated, however, was a different story entirely. Bought from a dealer who had obtained it from a previous owner in the form of an abandoned restoration project, the '66 comprised a finished frame with the body barely bolted on. At this point, it should be obvious to even a casual observer that simply installing a C5 engine, transaxle, and suspension on a stock midyear frame is something of a non-starter. Before we get into how Dawson did it, though, let's look at why it's worth doing.
The big advantage of the C5 gear has virtually nothing to do with the engine. There are plenty of otherwise-stock C2s pushing out 400 hp or more, and aftermarket EFI conversions are common enough that making a high-horse engine driveable is no longer the challenge it once was. What the C5 offers is driveability of a different sort. The rear-mounted transaxle greatly improves front-rear weight distribution for more-balanced handling, and the short/long arm (SLA) double-wishbone rear suspension is light-years ahead of the rather crude three-link setup found on the midyear.
Although GM was aware of the SLA system as far back as the '50s, the company chose to inflict the cheaper three-link system on the Corvette when the independent rear suspension debuted on the car in 1963. The wheel was connected to the differential on either side by the axle half-shaft on the top and a strut on the bottom, both of which were of different lengths. When the suspension was compressed under load, the wheel gained camber, keeping more of the tread in contact with the road. What it did not do was gain camber consistently. The half-shafts were of the "floating" variety, which meant they were free to wander in and out of the diff. This, of course, plays merry havoc with the camber, adding that extra touch of unpredictability that keeps the wild-eyed excitement in driving a C2 or shark.
The C4-style five-link rear, while a decisive step ahead, was still bettered with the introduction of the C5's more precise twin-A-arm configuration. The C5 also offered a six-speed, rear-mounted transaxle, which put the transmission at the rear of the car, right in front of the differential. While this greatly improved the front-to-rear weight distribution, all of that stuff still ain't gonna bolt up to a stock C2 chassis.