Corvettes are obviously not practical cars and for many owners, when life gets in the way, sometimes the “dream car” becomes a memory. “Seller’s regret” is very common in the Corvette community and New Jersey native, Jonathan Settrella had just that when he let his customized 1963 Sting Ray split-window Coupe slip away. But rather than just regret the experience, he did something about it – he built a replica, and made it better!
I met Jonathan Settrella in 1975 at an art show in Moorestown, New Jersey. We struck up a conversation and it turned out that we both had C2 Sting Ray Coupes. Mine was a stock ’65 model with factory side-pipes and Jonathan’s was a ’63 street custom. We hung out occasionally and used to see one another at various art shows. But as the ‘70s and ‘80s wore on, we got busy with life and I lost touch with my artist/car friend.
Decades later, in September 2009, at the Weaton Village “Vettes At Glasstown” car show in Millville, New Jersey, I spotted a car I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years! I said to my wife, “I know that car!” Sure enough, it was my old pal Jonathan Settrella’s custom 1963 split-window coupe – looking as gorgeous as ever! After catching up a but, I said, “Jonathan, I can’t believe you STILL have the ‘63 Coupe.” He replied, “It’s not the same car, this is a replica of the car you saw way back when.” Sensing a story, I said, “Okay, what happened?” It turned out to be quite a story; one filled with regret, heart, family, and love. But first, lets back up about 65 years!
Settrella grew up in rural Glassboro, New Jersey, a sleepy town famous for its college and wineries. A product of late ‘50s and early ’60s, his passions were cars, girls, racing, and art. After completing art school, Jonathan settled into a career as a commercial artist, got married, and started a family, but not before sowing some wild oats in the raucous world of dirt track racing.
Settrella’s dream Vette was the futuristic-looking, ‘63 split-window coupe. Compared to the bread-and-butter cars of the ‘60s and you’ll see what why “futuristic,” is the key word here. By the time Jon was able to buy one, ‘63 models were reasonably priced and an artist friend sold him an Ermine White ‘63 Coupe with a four-speed.
His children grew to love the Corvette almost as much as their Dad and by 1968, the artist in Settrella started gradually customizing his Corvette. What started as a simple de-chroming project gradually became a full-out custom road car. Jonathan and his family thoroughly were into this car. His daughter, Donna used to love to lie in the back cargo area and watch clouds roll by. Jonathan Jr., dreamed of one day owning the car.
Through the ‘70s, Settrella was very active in the Corvette community and won many car show trophies with his custom Sting Ray. Then came that fateful day at a car show when Jon was showing his ‘Vette. A young fellow kept hanging around – obviously he liked the car a lot and eventually, he asked Settrella, “How much for your car?”
“It’s not for sale.” Jonathan replied. But the guy kept asking. In hopes of putting him off, Settrella answered, “$15,000!” (A new Vette in 1980 had a base price of $13,140!) And to his shock, the young man said, “Sold! Can I pick it up tomorrow?”
Much to Jonathan’s surprise, the next day, the young fellow showed up with $15,000 CASH! Jonathan said, “It felt like a dope deal from the movie Scarface!” Jonathan asked him, “Do you have tags and insurance?” The young fellow said, “No, I’ll be okay!” “And off he went and that’s the last time I ever saw the car or heard from the guy.” said Settrella.
The remorse was instant. It took a long time for the kids to get over it and there was a part of Jon that never got over it. Years later, after a prestigious career in commercial art, Settrella retired in 2005. With plenty of time on his hands and a nice retirement nest egg, he sketched out his plans to correct an old mistake by building a replica of his custom Corvette.
By this time, Jonathan, Jr. was an accomplished painter/car customizer and was totally on-board with the project. With lots of photographs of the original car, the project was started in early ‘07 and completed by September of that year. Split-window coupes cost a whole lot more in ‘07 than they did in the late ‘60s. The hard part was finding a ‘63 Coupe that was complete enough, but not so special that it shouldn’t be modified. The best he could find was former drag car that had been parked on a trailer for 14 years, for “only”, $35,000!
Jonathan Jr. did the body work and paint to replicate the de-chroming look from the ‘60s. The “shaved look” included the removal of the door handles, the windshield wipers, and gas cap. The windshield cowl vents were customized to eliminate the opening for the wipers and the stock gas filler cap was removed and relocated behind the rear license plate. The classic 1967 Stinger hood was too beautiful to leave out so it was incorporated as well.
Without door handles, how do you get into the car? This is a “drive and don’t leave unattended” car, as the windows must be down to open the doors. Also note the total absence of any badges on the body.
Another classic ‘60s custom touch is the extra set of rear taillights. More subtle details include black accents where vent openings should be on the front fender and B-pillar vents and a thin red pinstripe to accent the horizontal body crease. The front grille is blacked out and chrome caps cover the front turn signals for show purposes. And lastly, the side window vent frames are painted flat black.
Under the hood, the 327 engine is a visual mix of red and chrome parts with anodized red and blue fuel fittings, and red ignition wires. At first glance, one is compelled to say, “Wow! Look at those six Stromburg ‘97’s!” But this is no vintage carb setup from 60 years ago. What looks like Stromburg carbs atop the Offenhauser aluminum manifold are actually fuel-injection throttle-bodies with twelve electronic injectors, driven by a computer mounted in the interior’s glove box. Jon admits that it was very difficult to setup, but worth the effort. Ignition chores are handled with an MSD ignition and a 50,000-volt Blaster coil mounted in the glove box. Exhaust manifolds are stock cast iron with side-mounted exhaust pipes mated to Cherry Bomb mufflers under the ‘65-’67 side-pipe covers.
The Sting Ray’s suspension was in good shape and only needed refreshed shocks and bushings. Settrella lowered the car 2-inches by clipping the front springs and installing longer rear shackles. Since the differential was deemed in good condition, the 4.11:1 gear-set, and stock anti-sway bar were retained.
Settrella installed all new carbon-metallic brakes and brake lines for proper stopping power. Astro Supreme mag wheels, shod with modern 205/70R15 Uniroyal whitewall tires give the car a distinctive 60s, custom feel.
The Sting Ray’s interior is chock full of custom touches. Stock seats were replaced with Carrera bucket seats for more lateral support. The dash features new gauges, the shifter is stock but with a Hurst linkage, and the steering wheel is a custom billet piece.
Settrella substituted the glove box button, center dash controls, and driver’s seat adjuster with custom chrome balls. And lastly, the unusual-looking cylinder atop of the dash is a mock-manual fuel pressure pump, a throwback to Jon’s old dirt track racing days. Once a racer, always a racer.
Jon and his son completed the car in six months, just in time for its first outing in September 2007. Settrella’s daughter, now all grown up with a family of her own, did not know about the ‘63 custom rebuild. When she saw the car for the first time she cried. “You got it back?” “No, we built another one.” her Dad replied.
We mentioned that Settrella is a serious artist/car guy. For most normal guys, a car such as this would be “it.” However, Settrella also owns a ‘33 Alloway Speedstar street rod, a ‘37 Wild Rod street rod with a 454 Chevy engine, a ‘95 Pontiac Trans-Am, a stock ‘69 SS/RS Camaro, a ‘76 Greenwood wide-body Can-Am Corvette, as well as a ‘78 Silver Anniversary Corvette.
As with all custom cars, they are never really “finished.” But Jon’s “to-do” list for his ‘63 Sting Ray is indeed short. However, Jonathan did promised his family one important thing, “I WON’T SELL IT!”
Photos by: K. Scott Teeters