The legend of the Corvette Sting Ray was born in 1963 “down on the strip where the road is wide” by The Beach Boys who “tached it up” in Shut Down, one of that decade’s great rock and roll car songs, to immortalize this hot new generation of Chevrolet’s sports car.
Fast-forward half a century and that iconic – and still very cool – nameplate has been resurrected to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Corvette and the launch of its seventh generation, the 2014 Stingray, at this year’s Detroit auto show. Lenny Kravitz set the musical tone this time with a full-throttle rendition of American Woman.
The new Stingray – the original used two words – will arrive later this year, tasked with renewing flagging Corvette sales, which had idled down to less than 12,000 in 2012, after nine years of the previous model. And equipped to shutdown not only any “Superstock Dodges” it comes across, but any other “cool shorts” the world’s car companies might want to line up beside it to run for bragging rights pink slips.
Coincidentally, those were also the hard-act-to-follow roles written for the 1963 Sting Ray, which appeared a long decade after the original Corvette made its debut in 1953. That Sting Ray accelerated the Corvette into a new era that saw its checkered flag badge survive – with a few close calls along the way – for another 50 years.
The original Corvette was built in response to rising enthusiasm for sporting roadsters initiated by returning Second World War GIs, and fostered by a new generation of college boys. This two-seater trend caught the eye of General Motors’ legendary styling pioneer Harley Earl, who decided America needed its own home-grown sports car.
The Corvette made its debut at the GM Motorama car show held in New York’s’ Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1953 and was a sensation. Huge numbers lined up for a first glimpse of this radical-looking car that was actually a mix of old and new bits. It had a stiff chassis that allowed the “stovebolt” six, originally a truck engine but tweaked to a racy-enough 150 hp, to be mounted low and rearward, with independent front and live axle rear suspension. Over this was draped a neat roadster body made from a then-newly created material called glass-reinforced-plastic, better known as fibreglass.
That was pretty much the formula for the next decade, with additions such as the 265-cubic-inch V-8 in 1955 allied to handling upgrades, and those signature side scallops. It was a car that readily filled the roles of stoplight dragster and boulevard cruiser, with option such as air conditioning and automatic transmission. One magazine ad touting its luxury features even carried the headline, “Why do they call this a sports car?” But it was also slowly becoming a useful road racer in the hands of a band of Corvette brothers at GM, led by engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, and a growing group of keen privateer racers.
It was the GM group’s efforts in the late 1950s that eventually led to the birth to the Sting Ray, which owed its genesis to a number of development projects.
These included the Q-Corvette of 1957, a smaller, high-tech design featuring a rear-transaxle, independent rear suspension and four-wheel-disc brakes. Arkus-Duntov and the boys were also looking at mid- and rear-engined designs, and concocted one employing a Corvair air-cooled-six engine and transaxle.
The first car to be given the Stingray (back to one word) name also appeared in 1957 and was based on the Corvette SS, a racer created with the 24 Hours of Le Mans in mind. It only ran once, briefly, in the Sebring 12-hour race, before falling foul of an industry-wide ban on involvement in racing. But Juan Manuel Fangio had hopped in to give it what proved to be a quick try, and promptly set a new lap record. And production ’Vettes finished one-two in the GT class, a harbinger of racing successes to come, to save some face.
The SS became the basis for the Stingray concept that would lead to the Sting Ray itself in 1963.
That first Sting Ray was available in traditional convertible form, but also for the first time as a coupe. And it was a complete departure in almost every way, starting with a look that began with hide-away quad headlamps up front and, on the coupe, a unique tapered rear-roofline with distinctive split rear windows (which only lasted a year).
It was smaller and lighter (although still 3,150 pounds) and, underneath its fibreglass body was a new chassis, now equipped with an independent rear-suspension – novel for the time in the United States – although it still had drum brakes.
Providing propulsion was a choice of three 327-cubic-inch V-8s with power ranging from 250 hp to 360 hp (the latter the fuel-injected version referred to in the Beach Boys’ song) fed to skinny-looking today, 6.70 by 15-inch rear tires, through a three- or four-speed manual, or a two-speed automatic. With the 300-hp motor and four-speed, it could get to 60 mph in about six seconds.
You could buy a convertible for $4,037 (U.S.) and a coupe for $4,252 and 21,513 did just that year, with sales split about 50/50 between the two.
The Sting Ray finally got disc brakes in 1965, just ahead of the 425-hp, big-block 396-, 427- and later 454-cubic-inch V-8s that arrived over the next few years.
The “Sting Ray” nameplate wasn’t affixed to the third-generation Corvette that arrived for 1968, but was used in “Stingray” form from 1969 to 1976, when it was dropped, the sting in its tail reduced to 210 hp, after 13 model years. Its reappearing after 38 years on a model whose success will likely once again determine the long-term fate of America’s favourite sports car.
|Back in 1963|
|It was a breakthrough year for The Beatles, who released I Want to Hold Your Hand, I Saw Her Standing There, Twist and Shout, From Me To You, She Loves You, Thank You Girl, Ask Me Why, My Bonnie and the single and album Please Please Me. Bob Dylan fans were snapping up copies of his album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.|
|Farm equipment maker Ferruccio Lamborghini, after becoming fed up with Ferrari, launches his own brand to build grand touring automobiles. Lamborghini, now owned by Audi, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Porsche introduces the 911.|
|The Bell telephone system launches the push-button phone in a couple of Pennsylvania towns. It had been created in 1941, and would go on to replace the rotary dial phone invented in 1891.|
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