What guy my age hasn’t wanted to take a 327/350 4-speed Corvette Sting Ray convertible out for a brisk drive, never mind own one? Well, it was a long wait, but well worth it. CC reader Rob Tessier showed up at our Nashville CC Meet-Up last June in this pristine Elkhart-blue family heirloom bought by his dad, sporting the desirable 350 hp L79 327, and the four-speed. We all ogled it at the parking lot of the Lane Motor Museum in the morning. And as we were leaving to head to our dinner in downtown Nashville, Rob asked if I wanted to drive it there? My response to that question was even faster than the 327’s response to a stab at its throttle.
Since my iphone ran out of memory from the hundreds of shots in the Lane (which I have still not written up), Rob sent me these additional shots to go along with the one of me in it after our arrival at the restaurant. I’m also quite sure Rob sent me some more written info on his Corvette, but I can’t find it now, so I’m going on memory (my apologies if I got some of it wrong). That says his dad bought it in 1980 (or so), and that the Sting Ray has been treated to love, attention and some upgrades, like a fiberglass transverse rear spring, and…? I’m also quite sure the paint was redone not that long ago, as it is exquisite and just glows and sparkles in the sun.
Based on the wrinkles, I’m also quite sure this is the optional leather upholstery. Or maybe it was redone. Maybe Rob will show up and fill us in on any other details, but then my memory banks were apparently a lot more receptive to the experience at hand than its story. Every detail of that is as fresh as my impressions back in 1963, when as a ten year old the new Sting Ray graced our lives. I’ll never forget the first pictures I saw of it…wow! I must admit I was more of a fastback fan, but then this is a balmy June evening in Tennessee, so who wants to be ensconced in a coupe?
I slid behind the big steering wheel and buckled up. It’s big for a reason, not just because it looks so damn good. There’s no power assist (it was optional), which makes this one exactly like I would have ordered up my ’67 ‘Vette. The rear seat backrest was rather upright, but that was the way it was done back then. Otherwise, I felt very much at home.
After all, it was a familiar place, given how much time I spent gazing at this superb interior as a kid. I even got to sit in one once back then, thanks to an unusually generous salesman. I guess after all of my many Saturday morning visits to the local shrine of GM, he figured I was worthy. I’m not so sure; then and now. But when someone hands you the keys to the ultimate dream car of a ten year old kid, what are you going to do? Slide it in its place and turn it to Start.
The 327 started instantly, and settled into a mildly-lumpy idle, which eventually settled down to about 800 rpm. The mechanical-lifter “30-30 Duntov” cammed versions of these Corvette engines had a lot of overlap to achieve those stellar outputs, and idled at 1200-1300 rpm, and rather lumpishly at that. These peaked at 375 hp for the ultimate fuel injected version. But with that mechanical-lifter cam, keeping them in optimum tune required regular ministrations.
The 350 hp L-79 version, as installed here, was a new variant that arrived in 1965 in an effort by Chevy’s engineers to find the maximum output with a hydraulic lifter cam. It was a screaming success. In addition to the new high-performance hydraulic-lifter cam, other components included a 585/600 cfm Holley four-barrel carb, aluminum intake manifold, open-element air cleaner, 11.0:1 compression, forged crankshaft, and the new 2.02″ intake heads. Except for that camshaft, it was identical to the 365 hp L76 engine and the 375 hp version, except of course for its fuel injection.
Its power peak (350 gross hp; approx. 300 net) came in at 5800 rpm (compared to 5000 for the 300 hp version), it would cleanly run to well over 6000 rpm, and max torque was 360 lb.ft. at a rather high 3600 rpm. Its peakier pwer band made it unsuitable for use with the Powerglide, so it was 4-speed only, a choice of wide-ratio or narrow-ratio. The narrow-ratio box necessitated a high numerical axle, and was best for racing or very serious sporting use. Realistically, the 300 hp version was the better choice for normal driving, with its lower torque peak, which made it feel more powerful below 3600 rpm. But the 350 really came alive when it exceeded that.
Installed in a light (and cheap) Chevy II, the L79 was a consistent hemi-killer in stock tune. And in the hands of tuners like Bill Jenkins, it became a drag racing legend.
The two mechanical-lifter 327s had fallen off the Corvette’s all-star power train roster after the arrival of the big-blocks in mid-year 1965. A close look at this Power teams chart shows a somewhat curious anomaly: the 390 and 400 hp versions of the 427 were available with the venerable two-speed Powerglide automatic and not the new THM-400, because it wouldn’t fit in the Corvette’s fiberglass transmission tunnel. We covered that odd-ball here, which could hit about 100 mph in Low gear.
Back to the matter at hand: this L79 327 has often been called the very best of the classic small block Chevy engines. Yes, the best 350 cu.in. versions made more torque and a bit more power, but they never ran quite as sweet as the exceptionally-smooth 327, with its short 3.25″ stroke. In its day, there was just no better and smoother-running all-round performance engine than the 327. Did this example live up to its legendary billing?
Absolutely. Given how spoiled we are with our hi-tech engines of the modern era, getting into a fifty year-old car with a big carb and an aggressive cam, such smooth running, without ever a hesitation, hiccup, or flat spot, was rather amazing. It could have been fuel-injected, given how it sweetly it ran.
Although it starts to comes to life at about 3000 rpm, and does its magic at 4200 rpm, when the secondaries kick in, it is not really deficient in the lower speed range except perhaps in direct comparison to the 300 hp version, and is utterly tractable throughout it very wide rev band. Which makes it an absolute a joy to drive.
The same applies to the Muncie transmission, that is, once I realized that it was essential to push the rather heavy clutch absolutely fully against the floor. I’m not used to that, and I had a bit of trouble shifting and one embarrassing bit of minor gear clash, but once I realized what I was doing wrong (and Rob politely pointed it out), it too was a pleasure, snicking off the shifts through its short shifter topped by the iconic chrome ball.
The steering is of course a bit heavy at parking speeds, but then I’m used to much worse in my F100. As soon as the speed exceeds a jog, it quickly lightens up, and provides that classic mechanical feel that has become increasingly an artifact of the distant past. It’s not the ultimate in steering, as its not a rack and pinion setup, but it makes for very pleasurable driving and one feels exactly what the front tires are up to. The experience of piloting the ‘Vette with its big wheel and mechanical steering was a delight, and makes one realize that although this car is capable of modern acceleration (0-60 in about 6.8 seconds) and speed, its tiller feels very much from another era, in a good way.
While I had the chance to enjoy some short on-ramp runs through the gears (which required slowing down to merge) there obviously wasn’t much opportunity to explore the Corvette’s lateral acceleration, which undoubtedly has been enhanced some by the modern and somewhat-wider radial tires. It certainly felt well-planted, as we scooted by slower traffic on the freeway, the mild early-summer wind whistling in our hair. It was a moment to savor, and the memory is minty-fresh, despite the intervening year (I promised myself I would write this up before the next Meet-Up).
The Corvette’s fiberglass body, which sits on a classic frame, has often come in for criticism for creaks and such. The ’67 model, being the last year of its generation (C2), is considered to be superior to most, especially the early C3 generation. Yes, there was the occasional little thunk, but its integrity exceeded my expectations. A Corvette inherently can never equal the structural integrity of the better unibody cars of its time (think: Porsche), but this well-cared for example felt more cohesive than I was anticipating.
The ride, on our mostly good surfaces, was also quite decent. The after-market fiberglass rear transverse spring undoubtedly enhanced that to some extent. Brakes? I didn’t really need (or want) to use them much, but the four wheel non-assisted discs certainly felt like they could arrest whatever the L79 was capable of.
In every way, this was a dream drive of a dream car: a Corvette spec’d exactly as I did in my mind back in its day perusing the brochure endlessly (no heavy big block to spoil the handling), in perfect condition, on a splendid and balmy Nashville summer night. Thank you Rob, for making it possible.
Note: a more complete look at the design and development of the C2 Corvette is coming, one of these days, having recently shot a ’63 split-window fastback.