With lack of real seasons in southern California there are very few days out of the year when cruising Pacific Coast Highway with top down is out of the question. The weather, the sights, and the atmosphere all combine to make SoCal a car lover’s paradise, at least as long as you can avoid the congested LA superslab. An enjoyable cruise out of Ventura County for the Temecula Rod Run was enough to tempt Rick Smith and his family out for the Friday night cruise and car show on Saturday.

Smith is the proud owner of a 1969 Stingray convertible that attracted plenty of attention at the show thanks loads of chrome and glossy black paint job. Black is an unforgiving color when it comes to hiding any sort of body flaw or sub par bodywork, and yet the ‘glass on Smith’s C3 is as perfect as the surface of a mountain lake. Smith admitted that he would much rather drive his Corvette than sit all day at a car show; his ’69 is remarkably clean and features a few custom touches that make it truly personal for him and his family. Certainly the show cars that are kept in a climate-controlled bubble are breathtaking, but there is something to be said for a beautiful car that is actually driven on the streets and enjoyed.

The classic Cragar rim adds just enough flash against the black canvas.

Smith completed most of the work to his ’69 himself, which just adds to the cool factor of this Stingray. Everyone has a few things that they would rather send the car to a professional to do, either because they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the work, or simply don’t like doing it themselves. Smith completed the majority of the labor himself with the exceptions of the upholstery, rebuilding of the rear end, transmission and the engine.

Can a four-year-old really build a race engine? Or is Mr. Smith just pulling your leg?

A Family Affair

Custom valve covers on the 350 proudly display the engine builder’s name; Victoria Racing Engines. Victoria is actually his daughter, who was 4-years-old when she started into the engine building business. Before anyone gets too excited about the prospect of child engine building prodigy, it is merely a snarky joke Smith made to a competitor. Smith had been involved with a stock car racing team sixteen years ago and when he took over as the engine builder for the team, it subsequently became more successful. “One day a competitor asked about our improved performance and asked who did our engines; I replied, ‘my daughter Victoria does them.’”

Smith’s ’69 is powered by a healthy 350 CID Chevrolet engine featuring TRW pistons that create a respectable 10:1 compression ratio, and with a Comp Cams hydraulic roller cam, the combination provides a little extra power for the street driven ride. Additional power is created through a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads massaged by West Coast Racing Cylinder Heads in Reseda, California. Smith selected the Edelbrock Air Gap intake manifold crowned by a Barry Grant 750 CFM carburetor to complete the engine. As for ignition, a stock housing equipped with Pertronix Electronics handles the spark for this combo.

Smith added plenty of chrome and polished aluminum pieces under the hood to up the eye candy factor. The combination of black paint and oodles of chrome is a universal recipe for visual success. A closer look under the hood of the Corvette exemplifies the importance of attention to details; the entire top the engine and surrounding accessories have been treated to extensive polishing and/or chroming.

Smith elected to continue the yarn about his daughter the four-year-old engine builder by giving the fabricated aluminum valve covers a special touch with pink script to prominently display his daughter’s name. The fanciful pink script is followed by block lettering to play up the masculine nature of the “racing engines” verbiage. Carefully thought out and seemingly simple touches are part of what make this car personal, and in the end, what makes it stand out from the crowd.

Black is an unforgiving color that refuses to hide even the slightest flaw.

On the exterior of the car the complimentary combination of black and chrome continues. A set of chrome Hooker Side Pipes gracefully emerge from each side of car and provide a throaty exhaust note. Near the end of cruise session, Smith fired up the Corvette allowing bystanders to listen to harmonious sound of a healthy 350 with an enjoyable exhaust rumble. Shortly after letting the ‘Vette warm up, Smith hopped in and took the car out for a couple laps up and down Front Street in Old Town Temecula. With the streets crammed with spectators, classics, hot rods and muscle cars, it was the perfect venue for Smith to showcase the ’69 Stingray.

Getting The Experts Involved

Despite doing much of the work to car himself, Smith decided to utilize the services of Bill Sedgwick when it came time to rebuild the Muncie 4-speed transmission. Transmissions can be complicated, and despite having experience in a stock car racing team Smith felt it was better to enlist the assistance of a specialist. Along with the rebuilt gearbox, Smith chose to add a RAM clutch to the car instead of an OEM replacement. RAM builds quality clutches for a variety of vehicles, and with the additional power added by the 350, a stronger clutch was a safe bet.

Once the power is transferred from the engine through the 4-speed it is up to rebuilt factory style IRS to distribute the power to rear tires. Ron’s Rear Ends in Mission Hills, California, completed much of the rear end work.

As for the suspension, Vette Brakes & Products Inc., was Smith’s choice for replacing, rebuilding and enhancing the front and rear suspension on the car. In the front a set of tubular A-Arms from VBP were added, and a VBP Mono Composite leaf spring set-up went in the rear. The mono composite leaf spring, provides a weight savings over the original style springs without being susceptible to corrosion like the OEM counterparts. Faster reacting suspension components help the ride and handling of the car on street; even though Smith does not race his Corvette it would be safe to assume that the car is capable of handling the twists and turns of the local highways when needed.

Along with the suspension and performance improvements, the braking system was not ignored. Wilwood 4-piston calipers grip the rotors providing more than adequate stopping power. Although the braking upgrades are hidden behind a set of classic Cragar rims, the chrome 5-spoke design accentuates the glossy paint and robust chrome side-pipes.

Albert Lara added Sting Ray hides to the seats and used Sting Ray tail sections on the center console and door panels.

Smith continued with the trend of adding subtle accents throughout the entire car and the interior was no exception. Although the cockpit has a relatively stock appearance when compared to an outrageous roadster or the sparse nature of a true racecar, the workmanship and quality make the ’69 stand out.

A Sting Ray With Actual Sting Ray Inside

When Smith got to around to redesigning the interior, it was again time to recruit assistance from an expert. After researching various shops, Smith selected Albert Lara of North Hollywood, CA, to create a personalized interior that epitomized understated personal accents. Cerullo seat frames were wrapped in black leather and accented with Sting Ray hides.  The natural coloring and texture of the real Sting Ray hides added detail and color to the basic black leather. Lara also added Sting Ray tail sections to the door panels and center console. PETA may cringe at the thought of leather, let alone leather accented by Sting Ray hides, but a touch of String Ray on a Stingray seems fitting.

Sure, Smith’s ’69 may not be an in your face orange or red with crazy dubs, but it is tasteful while featuring personal touches that reflect its owner. While flawless restorations are amazing, there is an art to creating a car that shows creativity and can still be enjoyed on the streets without fear. Building something that you enjoy trumps building a car to impress fickle car show judges; and when you have done much of the work yourself as Smith has, then the sense of accomplishment and pride in your endeavor is more rewarding than a trophy.