One of the cool things about hot-rodding is the wide range of street machines it includes. Of course, the common denominator with all hot rods is drag racing--or, at least, the power and performance that brand of motorsports requires. The Pro Street niche began in the late '70s as a unique blend of Pro Stock and Gasser drag machines. Pro Stock cars hadn't yet become "funny cars with carburetors" and still looked somewhat like their production-car cousins, albeit with huge rear tires, a jacked-up back end, wheelie bars, and a skyscraping hoodscoop.
Gassers, the drag-race darlings of the early- to mid-'60s, often used supercharged engines in older-style bodies, and were occasionally built on sports cars, including Corvettes. Pro Street cars blended elements from the Pro Stock and Gasser movements into street machines that were, in some instances, slightly dialed-down dragsters with mufflers, headlights, taillights, a few creature comforts, and an official license plate. The area encompassing southern New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland is almost devoid of road-racing tracks. There are plenty of dragstrips, however, making the drag-racing influence pretty potent there.
Lifetime south Jersey resident Gary Ricketts came of age at the tail end of the muscle-car era, with the party peaking just before he got his driver's license in 1971. Like most teenage car guys at the time, he got to watch his favorite muscle machines duke it out at tracks such as Atco Raceway, Old Bridge Raceway Park, Maple Grove, and Cecil County Drag-O-Way. And when the subject is cars, early exposure usually sets one's taste for a lifetime. Through the '70s and '80s, Ricketts had a series of interesting street machines, including a '64 Corvette, a '70 SS-454 Chevelle, a hot-rodded '33 Plymouth Coupe, a '69 Corvette, a '57 Chevy Nomad, and, eventually, a Model A street rod powered by a blown small-block Chevy. But when it comes to automotive matters-of-the-heart, Ricketts is first and foremost a GM guy. So by 1990, when attending a Super Chevy Show at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania, he was itching for another GM machine--this time, another Corvette.
He found a close approximation of what he was looking for in the form of an all-black '65 Sting Ray coupe with a 454 and a five-speed. The stage was set for his next project car, but first, he had to sell his Model A. That only took a few weeks, but it turned out the buyer didn't want the Ford's supercharged SBC engine. This was perfectly fine with Ricketts, because he really preferred that small-block to the not-so-small one in the Sting Ray. After taking delivery of the Vette, Ricketts and his friends removed the powertrain and installed the blown SBC, along with a Turbo-400 automatic armed with a high-stall (3,000-rpm) torque converter. He then sold the five-speed to a man in Philadelphia, generating enough cash to buy a new Posi differential and a '65-'66 big-block Corvette hood. The 454 big-block engine was sold for $3,500, which was enough for Ricketts to finish the car. Within a year, he had his black Pro Street '65 Corvette on the road.
Fast forward 10 years to 2002. By this time, Ricketts was ready for something different for his Sting Ray. Since the car isn't raced and is driven only occasionally, its mechanicals were still in excellent shape. The makeover, then, would focus on the exterior. PPG Metallic Silver was sprayed on by Alloway, New Jersey, painter Fred Green. Once that was done, Ricketts' son, Steven, volunteered to sketch out the flames. "After the silver paint was sprayed and set, my son went into the paint booth," Ricketts says. "In about four hours, he laid out the flames by hand. Fred applied three coats of Apple Red from House of Kolor, then Steve loaded up the spray gun with black and put the flame shadows on." Afterwards the car got several coats of clear before being sanded and polished to show car quality. While street machines are almost never "done," Ricketts was running out of things to do to his Sting Ray. The only other significant modification he desired was some stocker-/dirt-track-racer-type hood tinwork under the hood. He hired Carney's Point tin man Phil Scarfo to fabricate the easy-in, easy-out engine-compartment panels, then had son Steven apply flames to the new parts.
Part of the fun of owning a show-quality Pro Street machine is attending shows and displaying the car with the hood up. The hood on Ricketts' Sting Ray is one of several features that throw traditional Corvette enthusiasts. It's not the redesign of the classic '67 "stinger" bonnet that gets the Corvette crowd; it's the fact that it's hinged at the back, as on most other cars.
"It gives you an altogether different dimension of the engine compartment, versus the original Corvette. With the hood opening up the other way, you get a much better view of the motor," Ricketts says.
Other racing-inspired features include a full rollcage, Corbeau bucket seats, a big B&M shifter console with a "T" handle, an Auto Meter water-temperature gauge, and a set of wheelie bars.
Ricketts always liked the midyear Corvette's side-pipe setup, but factory pipes would have been a real choker for his powerful blown small-block. Instead, his car uses 17?8-inch Hooker Headers flowing into 21?2-inch stainless- steel pipe that's carefully tucked under the factory shields. The slatted chrome covers, combined with the car's silver-and-red paintjob, make for an arresting appearance. GM recently celebrated the production of the 100,000,000th small-block Chevy engine, arguably the finest all-around performance powerplant to come from Detroit. Ricketts' SBC is an excellent example of how the little "Mouse Motor" can be built to be both powerful and long lasting. Measuring just 355 cubic inches, the SKY Performance–built mill has been dyno'd at 580 hp at 6,600 rpm and 465 lb-ft of torque at 4,650 rpm. These impressive figures are largely attributable to the Weiand 6-71 supercharger and twin 600-cfm Edelbrock carburetors, as there's nothing exotic about the 9.8:1 compression ratio, stock iron heads, or 1.94-/1.60-inch valves. A MSD electronic ignition handles the spark, while a BeCool aluminum radiator keeps the pressurized SBC cool. As for climate control, the heater/defroster is a refurbished stock unit, while the "A/C system" comprises the stock window-crank handles mounted on the doors.
Another feature on Ricketts' Ray that gets its share of questions is his wheel/tire combo. In keeping with the car's '60s drag-racer theme, period-correct polished American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels are shod with JTL 165R15 front and mammoth Mickey Thompson 31x18.5-15 rear tires. The car's front suspension remains stock, while the rear setup combines a narrowed 9-inch Positraction differential with locating ladder bars and coilover shocks. Gary Ricketts' Pro Street '65 leads an interesting and enjoyable life. While it's obviously not a daily driver, he and his wife, Patty, do enjoy the car every chance they get. Says Gary, "It's a good car to drive. Very street worthy. If we take it to a show that's a couple hours away, we'll put it on a trailer. But if [the event is] in the area where we live, we drive it." Don't ask about gas mileage. "I do have to stop at several gas stations along the way, but we get there." Inveterate car guys with gasoline in their veins tend to never stop building new projects. Ricketts' next one will be a sweet ride for his wife, most likely based on the "rough" '64 that's currently in their garage. No doubt it will one day be a hot-looking sister car to his flaming silver-and-red '65. But that'll be another story.