1963 Fuelie vs. 1967 L71 427/435 Vette
Illustrated Corvette Series No. 243
The difference between a 1962 and 1963 Corvette is staggering. In 1963, the new Sting Ray looks like the sports car from another planet. The only carryover components used for the new Corvette were the base and optional engines. Everything else (body, interior, suspension and frame) was all new. The C1’s basic structure was created in 1952, and over the years was given slight tweaks, such that by the late 1950s, the Corvette was holding on against the European cars. But the new Sting Ray was a game-changer.
We’re going to look back at the first and last C2 “performance” Corvettes—the 1963 fuelie and the 1967 L71 427/435. The Sting Ray had an all-new perimeter frame that would ultimately serve as the foundation of the Corvette up to 1982. The new C2 frame allowed the passenger seats to be located “down and inside” the framerails, unlike the C1’s frame that located the seats “on top” of the frame, thus allowing the overall design to be lower and more slender. Although the shape looked aerodynamic, it suffered from severe lift at high speeds. The lift issue was a combination of the body shape and the rear suspension “squat” upon hard acceleration was never really solved, just dealt with.
The independent rear suspension and updated front suspension made the 1963 Corvette the only American car with four-wheel independent suspension. This was a very big deal then. The new interior was just beautiful. The dash had double arches with a perfectly laid out array of the proper sports car gauges. From 1953 to 1962, the Corvette was a convertible with an optional bolt-on hardtop. The new Sting Ray was a production version of Bill Mitchell’s 1959 Stingray Racer; a beautiful car with big aerodynamic problems. Instead of a convertible-only version, there was a coupe version with the now classic “stinger” design. The hidden headlights were show-car-like and rotated vertically along the front leading edge when the lights were turned on.
The rear glass had a split down the middle so that the crease that started at the front edge of the roof could run uninterrupted back to the rear of the car. This was the infamous split-window that was a love-it or hate-it detail, and was Bill Mitchell’s pet design element. The split-window was gone after 1963 making the 1963 coupes a rarity. The 1963 convertibles outsold coupes: 10,919 to 10,594. Some coupe owners replaced their split-window with a 1964-’67-style rear glass.
The “racer kit” RPO Z06 was only available with the 360-horsepower L84 fuel injection 327. The Z06 was all about brakes and suspension and was not worth much for street use. A maxed-out street fuelie with all the performance and creature comforts, including air-conditioning, cost just under $6,000. Today, some split-window coupes are astonishingly expensive, depending on options and condition. A maxed-out 1967 L71 427/435 cost just under $7,000. In 2017 dollars, $6,000 equals almost $48,000, and $7,000 equals just over $51,000. While these numbers are way below today’s money for a maxed-out Corvette, modern Corvettes are far more complex and better cars overall.
The fuelie’s 360 horsepower and 352 lb-ft of torque was strong, but relatively easy to handle. But in 1965 when the L79 396 (425 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque) became available, the Corvette turned into a real beast. In 1966, the 396 grew into a 427, still (under)rated at 425 horsepower but torque was up to 460 lb-ft. And finally, in 1967 the street L71 427 maxed out with the 435 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. The 1967 Corvette is unique because it is the only C2 with the forward-slanting side vents, stinger big-block hood, backup lights in between the taillights and five-slot steel wheels with beauty rings and caps.
For 1967, there were three big-block options: the $200 L36 427/390 with hydraulic lifters and one four-barrel carburetor, the $305 L68 427/400 with hydraulic lifters and 3×2 carbs, and lastly, the $437 L71 427/435 with solid lifters and 3×2 carbs. If you wanted aluminum heads, RPO L89 was another $368. And if racing was your desire, the L88 427/430 option cost $947. Mandatory with the L88 was the M22 heavy-duty, close-ratio four-speed transmission. The L88 also included a racing suspension and brakes, and was not for street use. The actual unpublished horsepower of the L88 was around 525 hp, but more could be easily extracted.
The basic structure of the Sting Ray was designed in 1960-1961 and more than adequate when maximum horsepower for the Corvette was around 290 to 315 and a torque load around 300 lb-ft. Who knew in 1960-1961 that horsepower and torque would eventually go through the hood. Engineers learned quickly that it was much easier and cheaper to make more power with cubic inches. The last L84 327 fuelie, available in 1965, made 375 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque for $538. The 1965 L78 396 big-block made 425 horsepower and 414 lb-ft of torque for just $292. Yes there was a weight penalty but 2,157 customers bought the big-block and just 771 bought the L84 fuelie. Would you have spent more for less weight and power?
The big-block chassis was beefed-up with stronger front springs, a larger 0.875-inch front sway bar and a new 0.625-inch rear sway bar. For street performance, this was more than adequate. But on the racetrack, with wider wheels and tires, things started to stress out. Racer Tony DeLorenzo shared in an interview that while racing the Owens Corning 1968 L88 Corvette, after a 12- or 24-hour endurance race the team had to replace the frame! The remedy was a full Logghe Stamping tube frame welded to the stock frame. Massive power and torque combined with wide racing tires was twisting the 1960-1961 designed structure. Power had out-matched the C2-C3 structure.
While horsepower is the sexy part of performance cars, the Corvette took another big step forward in 1965 with the introduction of standard four-wheel disc brakes. Brakes had always been an issue for racing Corvettes. It took time to develop a disc brake system strong enough for a 3,500-pound car. Today, the vented C2-C3 brakes look as sophisticated as an anvil but were a huge improvement over drum brakes.
The shortcomings of the chassis design and aerodynamics of the C2-C3 Corvettes were never really corrected. It’s too bad that the chassis wasn’t upgraded when the C3 came out in 1968. A stiffer chassis would have made for a much better Corvette. With a slight bulge on the fenders, wider tires could have fit and the front could have been lowered slightly. The 1967 Corvettes didn’t have chin spoilers, but the 1967 Camaro did. Hood vents would have helped the lift issue, too. And lastly, engineers never corrected the rear suspension squat that exasperated the front end lift issue.
The C2 midyear Sting Ray came in with one personality and went out with a very different one. In just five years, the performance leap was astonishing. Road & Track magazine tested a 1963 fuelie with 3.70 gearing and got 0-60 in 5.9 seconds, the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 95 mph and a top speed of 142 mph. Then in 1967, Motor Trend tested a 1967 L71 427/435 Corvette. The Corvette with 3.55 gears ran 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 104 mph and had a top speed of 143 mph. Fuel mileage was 9-12 mpg. Shorter gears and a hot tune would have had the Corvette into the high 12s.
Playing “what if,” had there not been such a rush to get the Mako Shark II body into production, the Sting Ray model could have carried on to 1969. This would have allowed time for structural improvements, fixing the squat and front lift issue and provide a more substantial front spoiler. Sting Rays were selling well and didn’t need to be fixed.
Today, some 1963 split-window coupes command very high prices. Only 199 Z06 Corvettes were built in 1963, making restored versions extremely valuable. And only 20 1967 L88 Corvettes were built, putting them close to the top of the most expensive classic Corvettes list. In the 1970s, some C2 Corvettes could be purchased for as little as $3,000, even split-window coupes and big-blocks. Who knew? Yes, the C2 Sting Ray came in like a badger and went out like a monster.