It may seem unAmerican, but I’ve never truly wanted to own a Corvette. I’ve respected them, cheered for their LeMans-winning race teams, helped my neighbor work on his ’65 roadster, and driven a 2015 Z06 on the banks of Michigan International Speedway, but I’ve never had much of an inkling to sign the title to one. My tastes skew Corvair rather than Corvette, and the C2 especially is perfumed a little too heavily by its “every third car” status at Barrett-Jackson for my inclining-toward-quirky tastes. Plus, Corvettes are usually expensive, and I’m cheap. Last August, however, I found the perfect Corvette for a guy who’s never wanted a Corvette, and somehow, it’s the most iconic Corvette of all time.
Every car show in the world has a “best of show.” For me, it’s the one that makes me abandon my lovely bride mid-conversation, making a beeline to get a better look. It’s odd that it would be a Split-Window Corvette, but it was the color that hooked me first. It’s my favorite color on a car, Silver Blue in this case. Midyear Corvettes are so ubiquitous that I rarely even notice them anymore. After all, I don’t often rush toward early Mustangs (even though I own one) or ’69 Camaros or SS Chevelles. Upon my first glance toward this ‘Vette, however, I saw the image you see here. It really is a beautiful car.
It also didn’t emit the common Corvette vibe. Normally, Corvettes are so rarely used and so car-covered and so waxed with a diaper that they’re unrelatable. This one had older paint, a few chips, and the general aura of a car I’d own. Plus, the owner was a super nice guy who was happy to explain the work he’s put into it (a new frame, if I’m remembering correctly) and how long he’s had it (1980s, I believe). He was the kind of guy who could singlehandedly dispel the typical “Corvette guy” stereotype. OK, so we have a gosh-darned American icon in a perfect color and in used-but-loved condition. That can’t be enough for a weirdo’s best of show, can it?
Nope. As you might have inferred by the title of this work, this is the only Corvette I can remember seeing with this particular driveline.
It’s a three-speed Split Window! As I said, the owner was a really nice guy, and he explained to me (and I’m sure I was overly excited) that it’s one of 900 ’63 Corvettes built with a three-speed transmission. This Corvette also had the base 250-horsepower 327, although the 1963 Corvette brochure claims that one could order any engine with the three-speed.
Here’s is a screenshot of that brochure, and the 1964 brochure shows similar transmission availability. I spent some time combing internet forums, and from what I can tell, the three-speed transmission used up through the 1965 model year was a Saginaw three-speed with an unsynchronized first gear, the same type of three-speed they used way back in the 1955 Corvette. Our own Vince C wrote an article on Corvette transmissions that verifies the usage of the Saginaw in Corvettes; I heretofore assumed that Corvettes used a Borg-Warner of some sort, since Saginaw transmissions seem to have a reputation of being a far more fragile transmission than their later Ford and Muncie counterparts.
I would imagine that many three-speed cars have been converted to a Borg-Warner or Muncie four-speed (or a Tremec five or six speed, considering the trend toward restomods). That the current owner has kept it stock for so long shows you how cool he is.
Even from the front, a 1963 Corvette is easily identified; the silver trim on the hood is, like the split window in the rear, a one-year-only identifying trait. To recap: We have arguably the best-looking Corvette, if not the best-looking American car of all time, with a neat trick up its sleeve, and its owner seems to regularly give it lots of exercise. You can keep your 427/435-powered ’67 for which you just paid 200 grand – I’ll take this base ’63 all day long. What a neat car.
Postscript: As we jumped into my Acapulco Blue T-Bird to drive home, a thought crossed my mind. Based on my screen name, it may not come as a surprise that 1965 is my favorite model year. On the other hand, 1963 might be a close second. Ponder the cars of 1963: C2 Corvette, Grand Prix, Riviera, Avanti, T-Bird, Porsche 356 (with disc brakes, if I’m not mistaken), 409 Impala, Super Duty Catalina, Max Wedge Dodge and Plymouth…Is 1963 the best year? It’s something to think about.