How do you improve on perfection…and make one man's dream not look like another's nightmare?
If that dream of perfection involves the second-generation Corvette Sting Ray, you contact Purcell, Oklahoma's Heartland Customs.
Back in 2007, the shop built a '63 split-window coupe that combined Z06 hardware and modern styling touches with that classic design. J.W. Lovett saw that car, and—according to Heartland Customs' Jeff Page—thought it was the most beautiful car he'd ever seen.
"He wanted to know if we could come up with something to top it," says Page of the initial meeting that led to this project. "Of course, I'm a big Corvette guy, so I told him, ‘The only way to top a Z06 is with a ZR1.'" That meeting took place around the time the C6 ZR1 hit Chevy dealers' showrooms for the '09 model year.
The plan was hatched: Build a '64 Sting Ray with the ZR1's supercharged LS9 engine and other hardware. But instead of keeping the exterior period-correct, Page says they decided to go further.
"We went ahead and actually modified the exterior to give it that modern ZR1 flair on the outside, but you still know that it's a '64 when you look at it." One of his top goals was ensuring that the end result didn't look like a "bad kit car."
First things first—they needed a donor car. One was found on eBay, but to say it was a "basket case" is being much too kind. "I'm sure at some point that car had been submerged under water, because everything that was metal on the car—the birdcage, windshield frame, body-mount brackets—was rusted out, completely gone," says Page.
But of course the fiberglass body had no rust. It also had no engine, transmission, or interior, or a correct frame underneath it, for that matter. "It was basically a body and an old beat-up chassis underneath it, which is exactly what we wanted, except for the rust," says Page.
Out went the old birdcage in favor of a new one, and away went the old frame and suspension hardware, replaced by a rolling chassis from Speed Shop Incorporated. "We told them what we wanted to do with all the ZR1 stuff," says Page, who also says Street Shop had been considering making a ZR1 platform that could be bolted under any C2. As Page puts it, "We came along, and were kind of the ‘guinea pig' for them."
That platform included an all-new frame, narrowed in back so the 12-inch-wide ZR1 wheels would fit inside the Sting Ray body (which was treated to a new steel floorpan and rear fenderwells that added strength and wheel clearance). It also included a T-56 six-speed and a Dana 44 rearend, for one big reason: "When you run a C6 transaxle, that big torque tube runs down the middle of the car and it just kills your interior," says Page. "You have to narrow your seats, and it's already too small inside those cars to begin with."
At the frame's other end, more than a little work was needed. "When we got the chassis here and did the mock-up, it wasn't quite radiused enough to get full travel out of the front suspension," Page recalls. "We went in there and modified it, took photographs of it, and sent them back to Street Shop so they could modify their jig."
As for the body, along with the steel floorpan, every panel was modified. It got carbon-fiber replacement pieces for the rocker panels, front lip, and roof overlay. "We hand-laid the overlay into the top and feathered it all back into the fiberglass body," says Page. "Then, we masked off what we wanted to be exposed when we painted the car. We clear-coated it all together so we could color-sand out all the lines, so you can't feel where the color [meets] the carbon."
In all, the '64 took 10 months, with about 4,000 hours of shop labor to do all the chassis, body, and interior mods, as well as paint and assembly. Debuting on the grandstand stage at last year's Corvettes at Carlisle, the car made the rounds of the show scene—and cleaned up.
"It's killed," says Page. "It's won pretty much every show it's been in. It's won every Corvette show that it's been in." But that's not all. "We took it on the ISCA 2010-2011 circuit, and it [was named] the International Class Champion for Sports Cars for 2011." Not bad for a car that wasn't designed or built to compete at that level!
One look will tell you why it won—and why it'll never be confused with a bad kit car. And it doesn't drive like a bad kit car, either. "It's amazing," says Page. "It feels like you're driving a new car."
If you're looking to combine classic Sting Ray styling with contemporary Corvette power and handling, Page has two key pieces of advice. First, be patient, regardless of whether you're building the car or having a shop do it. "Especially if you're doing something like the carbon-fiber roof, rocker panels, or front splitter that we did. If you're doing something that nobody's ever really done before, it takes time and patience to get it right."
The other piece of advice? Start with the best car you can find. "Spend a little extra money and get a good donor car," says Page, "because it will save you thousands of dollars once you get it to the shop."