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      Car History: Car History Year 1963
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 00:29:16 UTC by Cars
     
     
      Cars During the life of the Corvette there have been some highs and lows along the way, but ten years after the model's first introduction came one of the truly great ones - the 1963 Sting Ray.

    What makes an automobile great? In this instance it is a perfect combination of styling and performance. And the plaudits for achieving such an outstanding example of the automotive art must go to two men -Bill Mitcheil and Zora Arkus-Duntov. Mitchell, as vice president in charge of design for General Motors, regarded the Corvette (and especially the Sting Ray) as very much his own baby, even to the extent of warning off other in-house designers from attempting to come up with new ideas for styling the car. Engineer extraordinaire and successful racing driver, Arkus-Duntov was responsible for transforming the Corvette's handling and giving it the horsepower needed to perform. Motor racing played a key role in the evolution of the '63 Sting Ray. To begin with, Bill Mitchell acquired the test vehicle from the abandoned Super Sport project (a factory-backed program developing a Corvette for endurance racing) and had Larry Shinoda design an open-top body for it. Shinoda took a lot of his inspiration from the Q-Corvette, an experimental rear-engined sports car that was the creation of Bob McLean - the designer who had laid out the very first Corvette. Mitchell christened his racer the Stingray Special and got Dr Dick Thompson to drive it in the SCCA C-Modified class where it quickly proved to be a winner, taking the championship. At the end of the 1960 season, Mitchell decided he couldn't afford to keep funding the race car and so sold it back to GM, where it was rebuilt as a show vehicle. By that time, progress was well in hand for what would become the sensational 1963 Corvette. Mitcheli made no secret of his love for knife-edged styling and used it to great effect on the final production design which also incorporated the "triple hump" feature seen on the fenders and hood of the Stingray racer and Mako Shark concept car. But while the '63 Sting Ray was just about all new from the ground up (apart from engines and transmissions) Mitchell was careful to ensure some continuity of styling from the preceding years, and to this end had introduced the "duck-tail" rear on the *61 Corvette to give everyone the chance to get used to the theme. At the Sting Ray's leading edge, the aggressive appearance was emphasized by the use of hidden headlights - the first time this device had been seen on a Chevrolet, and not used on any other US car since the 1942 DeSoto - but it was the rear window in the fastback "boattail" coupe model that would prove to be the most contentious feature of all. Bill Mitchell was adamant that the split rear window should stay and he argued long and hard to get his way saying "...if you take that off, you might as well forget the whole thing." Mitchell won the day, but criticisms in the press about restricted rear visibility and further pressure from people like Zora Arkus-Duntov saw the central spine removed for the '64 models, giving the 1963 Sting Ray a unique identifying feature and instantly turning it into a highly collectible item. It has to be said, however, that some '63 models subsequently had their split rear windows replaced with a one-piece window and, after the 1964 model became available, Chevy dealers even offered a factory conversion - which immediately destroyed the car's value and it's certain that many Corvette owners today regret their actions. As well as the split windows. Bill Mitchell also included several other non-functional styling ideas that met with disapproval and were dropped in '64. Dummy metal inserts in the hood copied lift-reducing vents used on Mitchell's Stingray race car and were deleted, and fake ventilation outlets behind the coupe door pillars were replaced with functional grilles. Another feature removed after the first year was the stainless steei trim on the windshield pillar. But apart from stunning looks, a sports car is all about performance and the Sting Ray had that too, thanks to Zora Arkus-Duntov who stated: "For the first time I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe." His starting point was a simple, but highly effective, steel ladder chassis that proved so good it remained in Corvette production for 20 years with only minor alterations. Coupled to the channel section frame was an all-round independent suspension system which endowed the Sting Ray with a cornering capability equal to the best of the competition. The most ingenious part of the suspension was the rear set-up which used a single transverse leaf spring and rugged, almost crude, construction to provide the equivalent of more sophisticated designs at a fraction of the cost. Getting around corners efficiently is all very well, but the speed on the straights linking those bends is mighty important to the sports car enthusiast too. Once again, Arkus-Duntov had worked his magic and the Sting Ray could be had with horsepower aplenty. Standard was the 250bhp 327 cu.in. V8, but you could also order the optional 300bhp L75 version, 340bhp L76 or the fuel injected, 11.25:1 compression, Duntov-cammed L84 specification, which produced 360bhp at 6000 rpm. Car Life tested a 300bhp version with automatic transmission and recorded a 0-60mph time of 7.2 seconds which they reckoned compared favorably to the 5.9 sees achieved by Road & Track driving a 360bhp/4-speed manual car. Top speed was put at 130mph - fast enough for most, but there was potential for more if needed. From the start of the Sixties, Corvette sales had begun to climb from an average of around ten thousand a year, but so well was the '63 Sting Ray received that a second shift was taken on at the St. Louis assembly plant to fulfil the growing demand. Even so, there was a two-month waiting list, and buyers could expect to pay the full sticker price as dealers weren't interested in offering any discounts. At the end of the model year, the Corvette Sting Ray had sold more than 21,500 units, split almost equally between the coupe and roadster, and virtually double the 1961 sales. However, one event overshadowed 1963 and anyone who was alive back then can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on November 22 when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Measured against such a tragedy, all other events paie into insignificance. It is impossible to say how differently things might have turned out had Kennedy not been shot, but the dynamic spirit of America survived and, in some small way, the Chevrolet Corvette can be viewed as a symbol of US determination to overcome all obstacles and produce something that is as good as anything manufactured elsewhere in the world - but at a price affordable by the majority. All Corvettes are great, but some are better than others and the '63 Sting Ray is undoubtedly one of the greatest. Specification CHEVROLET CORVETTE STING RAY Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 327 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.00x3.25 ins. Horsepower 250-360 Body styles Coupe; Convertible coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 2,859 Ibs-2,881 Ibs Price $4,037 - $4,252 Produced 21,500     Specification PLYMOUTH SPORT FURY Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 318 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.91 x3.31 ins. Horsepower 230 Body styles Hardtop coupe; Convertible coupe No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,235 Ibs-3,385 Ibs Price $2,851 - $3.082 Produced 15,309     Specification BUICK RIVIERA Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 401cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.19x3.64 ins. Horsepower 325 Body styles Hardtop coupe No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3,988 Ibs Price $4,333 Produced 40,000  
     
     
     
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