(first posted 12/7/2012. updated 4/17/2022) If you were ten or so like me in 1963, these two were likely the most memorable (good) things that happened that year—provided you either had the kind of parents who’d let you see Dr. No or had an older sibling/accomplice willing to sneak you in via the fire escape door in the alley. All of which was still easier than seeing a new ’63 Sting Ray in the flesh, at least in Iowa City. Of course, once one had finally arrived at the dealer I could actually run my hands over it, check out its innards and even slip right inside it. Ursula ‘Undress-ing’ Andress would have to stay in the realm of imagination.
Sitting in a split-back ‘Vette and fondling the stick shift knob wasn’t exactly the real thing either, and for most young adult males, the Sting Ray was almost as unattainable as Ursula. Still, they could strive for a ‘Vette, even though it might take forty years to attain. And given the Sting Ray’s immense popularity (and high prices) nowadays, especially with guys around my age, I’d say quite a few of them were planted with the Sting Ray seed in 1963. Ursula might be more attainable now.
In 1963, America was certainly ready for a new object of automotive lust. The 1962 Corvette’s familiar face was looking mighty tired and outdated, never mind the modified 1952 Chevrolet sedan frame and suspension that cowered in embarrassment under its mid fifties-Motorama skirts. The sixties had taken root, bringing with them new sensibilities and expectations; some would make the transition, others not.
Zora Arkus-Duntov would make sure the Corvette did despite the obstacles thrown in his way. Duntov joined the team shortly after the original Corvette was cobbled together; now it was his mission to make it a world-class sports car. The C1 may have been his adopted child, but he would father not only the 1963 C2 Sting Ray, but also a series of brilliant racing and sports-racing cars to test his leading-edge ideas, including this magnesium-body 1957 Corvette SS.
While his next stroke, the CERV I, looked for all the world like a 1964 Indy racer, it was actually built in 1959. If it hadn’t been for GM’s frustrating racing ban in 1957, the CERV I would have demonstrated the advantages of a mid-rear engine at Indianapolis five years sooner. The experience gained with its independent rear suspension was put to good use on the Sting Ray.
The origins of the Sting Ray’s styling go back at least to 1957, with the very ambitious but still-born Q Corvette, intended to replace the primitive and aging C1 in 1960.
It featured a rear transaxle and IRS, an aluminum fuel injected 283, a Porsche-like platform frame/body structure, and a target weight of 2,250 lbs. This would have been Duntov’s dream come true, and it had the backing of Ed Cole, but the 1958 recession killed it. The actual C2 would end up significantly less advanced technologically, but maybe that was for the best. The fruits of Ed Cole’s technical ambitions (Corvair, Vega) often came back to bite him.
Calling Bill Mitchell the mother of the Sting Ray is a bit of a stretch, but Duntov and Mitchell certainly fought like lovers. Obviously, Mitchell had found inspiration in the sea for his series of Corvette-based one-offs and show cars, including his 1959 Sting Ray (left) and the Mako Shark.
Unlike the big tush and soft contours of the C1 Corvette, which reflected Harley Earl’s style, Mitchell’s ocean creatures looked lean, muscular and certainly more aggressive. Can you imagine Marilyn pulling a knife?
Larry Shinoda—doing Mitchell’s bidding—brought his pescatarian vision to life. Shall we call him the midwife, or surrogate mother? In any case, the birth was not an easy one, marked by epic battles between Duntov and Mitchell over the Sting Ray’s body design.
By this time, Duntov envisioned more of a genuine sports-racer look with a lean, wedge-shaped body–perhaps something along the lines of his 1964 CERV II sports-racing car. Colorful expletives rang out in the Design Center. Ultimately, Mitchell pulled rank and Shinoda’s showy Sting Ray prevailed.
Their final spat was over the split-rear window. Mitchell obviously intended a sting ray’s tail in the raised rib; Duntov saw only a lack of rear visibility. By 1964, the window was a single pane. Sometimes an engineer’s logic is just overwhelming.
Although the Sting Ray was a giant step forward from the C1 Corvette, it still contained plenty of compromises. The chassis wasn’t exactly leading-edge, using a traditional full frame to carry the fiberglass body. More surprisingly, it used drum brakes all around. Discs would have to wait until 1965, for some inexplicable reason. Every proper new sports car in 1963 had discs; the Jaguar for almost a decade.
Here’s what a truly contemporary state-of-the-art chassis looked like. Several decades later, the C5 Corvette would take a similar approach. Enough; we’re here to wallow in the Sting Ray’s bosom, not criticize.
Which is of course where the Sing Ray’s greatest assets resided. 327 cubic inches of sublime world-class goodness, regardless of which state of excitement they came in: 250, 300 and 340 hp with carburation, or the 360 hp fuel-injected crème de la crème. Nothing from Europe could top—or come close to matching—a 327 in terms of performance per dollar. Which is why it found itself under the hood of a number of exotics there.
On the streets, the Sting Ray was nigh-near unbeatable. With a modest 3.70 axle, it still clicked off the dive to sixty in under six seconds, and the quarter mile in 14.5 @ 102 mph. If that wasn’t fast enough to stay ahead of the pack, one headed for the curves. In ZO6 form, the Sting Ray acquitted itself well enough on the tracks, at least until the significantly lighter Cobra appeared and bared its deadly fangs.
For most Corvette drivers, the race for the opposite sex was the most important one. And in 1963, this was as good as ammunition got. She wonders, “Does he actually have Ursula or me on his mind?”
Although imperfect, the C2 Corvette Sting Ray was the best-ever Corvette for its given time. Yes, a current Corvette makes the C2 look antiquated; then again, many of today’s emaciated gym-addict stars make Ursula look a bit less than perfectly-toned. But in 1963, when both were about as good as it got, the Corvette’s features were unparalleled for its cost. Only a man with a heart of stone could resist temptation like this! I was happy to know that I didn’t have a heart of stone. I didn’t even make the slightest effort to resist its charms. I obsessed on the Sting Ray like no other car in my youth.
That interior, on the very rare occasions I could get into one, was utterly sublime (one of my mechanic “friends” in the service department let me in one Yes, as a kid I used to hang around the mechanics while they were working on cars, and nobody cared.
Finally, GM could build a truly world-class sports car, and I knew it from just sitting and staring at that wheel and dash. Cars like the XK-E were exotic abstractions in Iowa; with a bit of change in one’s pocket, one could actually go to any Chevy dealer and buy a Corvette. Or at least sit in one and dream. That was the true brilliance of the Corvette back then.
Every minute detail of the Sting Ray was analyzed and absorbed, endlessly and repetitively. OCD: Obsessive Corvette Disorder. And a sighting on the streets was a major occasion; like seeing James Bond and Ursula on the street.
And if James Bond had been an American CIA agent, we all know what he’d have been driving…with Ursula at his side.