The Corvette Online C2 Buyer’s Guide

Mid-year Corvettes are arguably the coolest cars in the world. Even people who don’t like Corvettes, like this era of Chevrolet’s sports car. Some folks even say they stopped making ‘real’ Corvettes with the 1967 model. We could debate that all day long, but C2’s really do transcend time and space. They’re timeless beauties and capture the wonder and magic of GM’s glory days during the 1960s.

Built from 1963 to 1967, what began as a sophisticated, fairly lithe sports car morphed into a fire breathing, big-block beast. The market for these cars is hot and probably always will be. Rare optioned cars can fetch millions of dollars.

And in this corner, the mid-year Corvette Sting Ray. Weighing in at just over 3200 lbs and sporting a 179.3 inch body on a 98.0 inch wheelbase, the C2 featured all-independent suspension, hidden headlamps and killer styling.

If it’s time to jump on the C2 bandwagon as an owner, we’ve put together a cheat sheet that will help you navigate the joys and pitfalls of mid-year ownership.Within the C2 family there are five model years, each one more exciting than the next. We’ll start with an overview of this blockbuster second generation ‘Vette and how it evolved over the years and then take a look at what joy–and peril– await in choosing a mid-year Corvette.

A NEW BEGINNING

The C2 was the brainchild of Brock Yates, Bill Mitchell, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Larry Shinoda. GM Design’s legacy lives on every time you see a Sting Ray rolling down the street. The car was spawned from the Yates sketched Sting Ray concept racer of 1959 and made the jump to production mostly intact from the original. These mid-year models ushered in disc brakes, independent rear suspension, big-block power and a body style that (impossibly) gets better with each passing year.

From many iterations, the production C2 emerged as a 1963 model

HERE’S A CHEAT SHEET OF THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PURCHASING A C2 CORVETTE

FRAME RUST  Corvette bodies don’t rust but that doesn’t mean their frames don’t. Always insist that any car you’re interested in goes up on a hoist so you can poke around under the body and check for corrosion. Now is the time to check for damage as well as frame integrity. Be sure and check where the trailing arms of the rear suspension connect at frame kick-up. They can gather crud and are prone to rust. While the car is up in the air, do a visual check on the internal side of body panels, too.

BIRDCAGE RUST  The new for 1963 Corvette Coupe used a steel sub structure nick named the “Birdcage,” and looks like a steel windshield frame married to a roll bar. The roadster deviates from this and makes due with a metal windshield and cowling braces. Make sure you know the condition of this steel substructure, especially at the bottom of windshield posts.

Corvette have a fiberglass skin, but the C2 ushered in a new frame with independent rear suspension and an underlying steel structure called the 'Birdcage.' Be sure either isn't a rusting hulk of metal .

HIDDEN HEADLIGHTS – The first era of hidden headlights began in 1963. Make sure they operate in unison and don’t suffer from winking eye syndrome. C2’s have electric motors, unlike C3’s vacuum operated units.

INDEPENDENT REAR SUSPENSION  Corvette debuted an exotic independent rear suspension that  brought along with it added complexity and maintenance. There are U-joints, half-shafts and trailing arms that need to be tweaked, aligned and looked after to function properly and last under hard driving (which most Corvettes have seen in their lifetime.)

DISC BRAKES  ’65 and newer C2’s also pioneered the use of four-wheel disc brakes on domestic automobiles. The system is prone to corrosion in the lines and calipers, and a whole aftermarket industry sprang up to replace susceptible parts with stainless steel components. Make sure you check out the brake system as it is expensive to correct.

CHECK BONDING STRIPS  Corvettes are made like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces connected by lengths of fiberglass called bonding strips. If a car has been repaired you can easily see where the damaged material was removed. Also look for smoother finished interior panels as a sign that the car has been in an accident. Not really a deal breaker, but more important, the damage was repaired correctly.

CHECK ALIGNMENT OF DOORS, HOOD, TRUNK AND BUMPERS  Wide or uneven gaps in body panels, misaligned bumpers, and mismatched paint are signs a car has been repaired. Again, not the end of the world, but to fix a car that was repaired improperly can be expensive.

CHECK FOR STRESS CRACKS  Fiberglass ages differently than steel and all Corvettes of this era suffer from stress cracks. Look around windshield posts, panel cut-outs and wheelwell lip areas for tell-tale signs of wear-related stress cracks.

MAKE SURE THE CAR IS COMPLETE AND ORIGINAL AS POSSIBLE  A “matching numbers” car, i.e. VIN and the engine serial number match is worth roughly 20 to 30 percent more than an altered car. This number matching standard was birthed by very anal-retentive National Corvette Restorers Society judges and has been deemed to be the highest integrity a Corvette can have. We agree, but there might be a good buy with a non-matching number drivetrain out there that could be a great car to own and enjoy, so don’t let the matching numbers thing scare you. The good news is, there is a vast Corvette aftermarket supplier base out there that would love to help you restore your mid-year Corvette. Also, as a general rule, a color change is a deal breaker for a lot of folks, so find a car that is painted in a factory color that turns you on.

VERIFY MOTOR AND VIN NUMBERS This is fairly easy to do. Some research is required to get up to speed on VIN and engine codes, or hire a Vette guru to check it out.

What happened to this version of the “future?” Things sure didn’t turn out this way, but you can re-live it by owning a C2.

GET A USED CAR CHECK  The Corvette is exotic, but isn’t immune from mere mortal system checks. Check fluids, do a compression test, check the cooling and electrical systems, check the brakes, steering linkage and other common safety items so when you drive home you don’t end up in a ditch. If you can do this yourself, great, if not hire a reputable mechanic; preferably one who is familiar with Corvettes. While you’re at it, check every single light, knob, blinker, speaker, etc., to see what’s working and what isn’t. If you really want to be thorough, hire a ‘Vette guru who can give you a detailed report card on the car of your dreams. Money well spent, we think.

TEST DRIVE This is a must. Be careful not to let the owner run a monologue about the car as you do your drive. Turn off the radio and take the car on side roads and the freeway. Take note of any clunks, smoke, valve train noise, or sloppiness in the steering, transmission, or brakes.

TAKE YOUR TIME Chevrolet built over 100,000 C2 Corvettes! Most have survived. Take your time, look around and don’t buy the first car you see.

ANTICIPATE OWNERSHIP COSTS You’ve got to store, insure, and maintain a 50-year old automobile. Create a tally of what your monthly costs will be to participate in the ‘Vette hobby without going broke.

GET EDUCATED -The scope of this article is a broad overview of the mid-year Vette model run. We strongly suggest reviewing several Corvette “Bibles” to really educate yourself on rare options, colors and production numbers.  Corvette Online has researched the best of them for you here.

BREAKING IT DOWN YEAR BY YEAR

1963

The 1963 model is the closest to the original concept and we love all the chrome trim. It was the only year for dummy hood louvers. Chevy spent the next four years stripping all this excess bling away.

This Corvette turned the automotive world on its ear in the fall of 1962. The car was bristling with exotic hardware reserved for the high end sports cars of Europe, and was cloaked in the slinkiest bodywork anyone had ever seen. The outgoing C1 became positively archaic in comparison to the new C2. For the first time, a fully enclosed coupe was offered alongside the roadster and was a styling sensation.

Even though the overall shape could stand on its own, Mitchell added much jewelry per the norm of the day. Simulated hood vents, fender and roof scoops and blingy ribbed rocker panels. The cosmetic kicker was the coupe’s split window design. Although it killed rear view visibility, and caused a rift between Mitchell and chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, it went on to occupy the top of every Vette lover’s wish list.

The car featured many improvements over the C1. The center of gravity was dropped two inches by using a ladder type frame instead of the X-frame that had been used previously. This new frame allowed passengers to sit inside of the frame instead of on top of it. With five cross members, it was four inches shorter than the 1962 frame. In addition, the new coupe frame with steel “birdcage” was 90 percent stiffer, however the convertible didn’t fare as well with only 10 percent increased rigidity. This frame, basically unchanged, would be used until 1982.

By the end of 1963, Chevrolet had doubled the production shifts at its St. Louis plant. Zora was quoted as saying “For the first time I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe.” Chevy delivered 21,513 units,easily beating 1962’s 14,531 production.

Engines were based on the still new 327 CID smallblock introduced in 1962, and ranged from 250 hp all the way to 360 hp for the fuel injected unit. Chevy offered three or four-speed manual or Powerglide automatic transmissions.

1964

The refining begins for 1964. Indentations on hood with no louvers are tell tale signs of this model year.

The allowed split-window coupe which now featured a one-piece wrap around rear window. The cleaning up process continued on the exterior as well. The fake louvers on hood were gone but the indentations on the hood were left, which makes the ’64 model easy to identify. The left rear pillar vent in the coupe was now functional and used a fan to pull in fresh air for better ventilation in the coupe. A new “simpler” rocker panel trim was added, and the door release knobs were now finished in chrome.

The Corvette could be had with a myriad of engines, all smallblock 327’s ranging from 250 hp all the way up to 375 hp with the fuel injected monster motor. Sales remained strong with 22,229 units sold. Saddle Tan was the rarest color with Riverside Red the most popular.

1965

Functional three-slot fender vents are easy way to spot '65 and '66 'Vettes.

‘Vette fans were still getting their heads wrapped around the fantastic new Sting Ray when Chevrolet walloped ‘em again with the new 1965 model. Old rear drum brakes were replaced with discs, making the Corvette truly on par with the world’s best supercars. Drums were still available though, with a $64.50 buyers credit.

Even better, 1965 was the first year for the 396 CID, 425 hp motor. The motor was so big and brawny, it needed a bulging hood blister to contain it. The formerly non-functional horizontal louvers were now three vertical slots and fully operational, making ’65-‘66 cars easy to spot. The indentions on the hood were ditched as well. Knockoff wheels were now available from the factory, as well as telescoping steering wheel, new seats, and the M-22 ‘Rock Crusher’ four-speed transmission. The only year offered with the 396 would be 1965.

Sadly, this was also the last year for fuel injection, and Vette fans wouldn’t see this again until 1982. Nassau Blue was the most popular color this year with Tuxedo Black as the rarest. Engines ranged from 300 hp to the aforementioned 425 hp big-block. in total  23,562 units rolled out of St. Louis plant.

1966

Almost identical to '65, the '66 was the first 'Vette with a 427.

Chevy continued its roll in 1966 with the Sting Ray packing even more muscle with a 427 cubic-inch engine option that cranked  out 450 hp. The side vents on the coupe disappeared this year and backup lights were now a standard item that were incorporated into the existing tail lights. Holley carburetors were now standard on all engines.

Seats were updated for durability and the knockoff wheels were still available although the center cap now had a satin finish. Headrests were optional for the first time and the interior door pulls are bright metal. The headliner of the ’66 changed to foam and vinyl-an upgrade from the  fiberboard previously used.

Engines ranged from a 300 HP smallblock to a 425 hp 427 CID mill. Again, Nassau Blue was the most popular color this year with Tuxedo Black as the rarest. Chevy kept cranking ‘em out with 27,720 units built.

1967

Five-slot fender vent and Rally wheels are unique to '67's. A stinger hood scoop and Tri-Power also added to its popularity.

This was the last hurrah for the mid-year and some folks think it’s the best Corvette ever built. Visually, it is the cleanest of all C2’s with new smaller, five-slot fender vents, new Rally Wheels and doo-dad free fiberglass. The hood debuted a stinger scoop, replacing the earlier hood blister on big-block cars.

The parking brake was relocated between the seats, the first time for a Corvette. The passenger hand-hold above the glove compartment was removed this year. Knock-off wheels with snap-on center caps were modified  bolt-on units as a result of new safety regulations. The ’67 Stingray has dual taillights instead of the previous single light and an optional back-up light now mounted above the license plate

The first time a 427 was available with the Holley triple two-barrel carburetor set-up, christened “Tri-Power,” was in 1967.  The ultimate Corvette engine for 1967 was the aluminum L88 427, even more potent than the aluminum head L89 427, and was as close to a pure racing engine as Chevy had ever offered in factory car.

Sales numbers were slightly down in 1967, compared to 1966, with 22,940 units produced. A full range of power was offered from the base 300 hp all the way up to 435 hp. Only 20 L-88’s and 16 L-89’s big-blocks left the factory. Tuxedo Black was the rarest color this year, and Goodwood Green was the most popular.

WHAT ARE THESE CARS WORTH?

The collector car market fluctuates from year to year and is influenced by the economy and the whims of the hobby. The best way to ascertain what a C2 Corvette is worth is to find comparable cars for sale that are similar to a car you’re looking for. A keen buyer will scour Craigslist, Hemmings, AutoTrader and other publications to see what cars are bringing. Auction houses like Barrett-Jackson and Mecum’s are good resources to monitor the fluctuation of value. Pro-Team Corvette is always a good barometer of what mid-years are worth.

Joining a Vette club could be a valuable resource as well as online forums and chat rooms. The National Corvette Restorers Society is a great resource too. As always, keep your eye on Corvette Online as well.

As a general rule, air conditioning, fuel injection, big block motors (especially L-88’s and L-89’s) and rare RPO’s like Z06 bring a premium. Factory knock-off wheels are valuable as well. They were shown in factory photos in ’63 but only started to trickle out with production cars in 1964.  In ’65 they were officially available as a factory option.

Finally, the quality of the car is an  important factor in determining value, but color and options are critical factors as well.

Zora Arkus-Duntov was a key player in designing  the C2 Corvette. Considered the “Father of the Corvette” he’s pictured here with a 1966 model at the peak of his career.

Documentation can really add value to the car as well. Brochures, bill of sale, factory owner’s manuals and maintenance receipts can substantiate originality and provenance. Original cars are also worth a premium as many ‘Vette aficionados stand by the old mantra, “they’re only original once.”

We think the two-speed Powerglide isn’t well suited to the ‘Vette, but luckily most mid-years are manual transmission models. Some non-original, non-matching numbers cars cars would make good drivers and might be good values, so don’t overlook one in good condition.

Ultimately, the goal is to take your time, exercise due diligence by researching online, talking to Corvette club members, or hiring an expert to suss out good cars from bad. In the end, the hunt is almost as fun as the catch.

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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