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1965 Chevrolet Sting Ray


Realisation dawns on you why this not an ordinary car when you set your eyes on it in real life. It may look awesome in the pictures, but when it’s in front of you, you forget the heat, your hunger, your thirst. Stunning seems too trivial a word to use, but I can’t think of anything better. For somebody like me who’s partial to European classics, the Corvette Sting Ray is like being walloped on the face by Mohammed Ali. Without the Everlast covering his fist. Then realisation that this is an extraordinary car hits high noon when you get behind the wheel.Fire her up, and the engine note at idle sounds like one of those steadily chugging diesel locomotives you hear in the middle of the night when you travel by Indian Railways. A strong, muscular sound that has ingredients of raw power smouldering inside. Even without revving the engine, the glass panes of the garage it was parked in were trembling from whatever was emerging from those twin exhausts. Crossing over the high sill, you sit low in the car and hold that superb deep-dish three-spoke steering wheel rather high. And then there’s the gear lever, a flawless metal sphere that your right hand just doesn’t want to let go. I snuck the lever into first and the Sting Ray inches forward. The engine note barely changes, yet I have to control the forward movement of the car using the heavy clutch pedal, rather than the accelerator. Okay, the road’s clear and I shift. The Sting Ray crawls around for a bit and when you press the pedal, the V8 seems to yank the car ahead by its collar. The second gear is vast, you can stay in second all day, and the Sting Ray does not exhibit any urgency to shift at all. 

Shift I must, because it’s addictive. The motion of snucking that gear lever is so positive, so firm and so muscular... heck, I didn’t know these Americans could put together a manual gearbox that’s so brilliant. The tacho needle climbs steadily as the revs build up, and the speedometer is showing the digits in mph. I make a note to remember that, because though the speedo needle is floating between 55 and 60 mph, I am actually moving at over 90 kph. The Corvette is not the least fazed at that speed, and the reserves of the V8 are so humongous that I get a bit lead-footed on the pedal. And I am awarded by the sheer surge of power that can come only from a relaxed, generous V8. It really is like a locomotive engine in nature – at any speed, at any gear, it simply propels forward without hesitation. The amazing torque is available at any point, and as Rohin says in his RS4 drive in this issue, why the hell are people trumpeting diesels when you can have petrol engines like these.

The answer to that is this is too is a bloody V8. The Sting Ray was available with the 327 cu-in in four different outputs, including a hot 375 bhp fuel-injected option and later, a 427 cu-in big block that was a fine match to the Ford-engined 427 Cobra on the drag strip. But this small block motor, displacing 5360cc, develops about 240 bhp at 6000 rpm and over 47 kgm at 4000 rpm, which was not too bad either. The engine was actually a carryover from the first ‘Vette towards the end of its life in 1962, and it was the best ever decision General Motors would have done in the career of the Corvette, shifting from an ancient straight-six to a muscular V8. The 327 motor, as I gleaned, simply changed the way the Corvette moved, and made it a serious contender in the forthcoming musclecar stakes. Plus the four-speed synchromesh manual gearbox which made its appearance in 1963, which did an effective job of extracting all that power from that motor and sending it to the rear wheels. 

So it looks indecently gorgeous – this car deserves to be the centre-piece four-colour pullout in a car porn magazine – and its drivetrain is amazingly strong, flexible and seems to be a bottomless reservoir of torque. But there’s more to the Sting Ray. And that, according to me, is its finest feature. The way it showed the middle finger to the best from Europe when it comes to ride and handling.Poor Yankees, corner carving for them never meant anything more than slicing up a juicy portion of turkey during Thanksgiving. So when they defined sports cars that does the quarter-mile drag in the shortest possible time, it was perhaps laughable to the Europeans, who believed that power is not everything. But the Sting Ray proved that you can have your cake and eat it too. It may not be as integrated and light as those British roadsters of its era. It may not have a jewel of an Italian engine. It may not even have the ready-for-a-nuclear-war kind of construction like those German sports cars did. Yet, for a car that was built using whatever was available in the Chevrolet parts bin, it could take on the very best from Europe.

But I’ll have to admit that it was a European that made it happen. Zora Arkus Duntov, a Belgian-born Russian immigrant, knew what were the right ingredients for a superb sports car. First, the chassis of this second-generation Corvette shifted from an old cross-member format to a ladder chassis, which had a 50 per cent more torsional stiffness than the old format. Duntov was clear that it needed the lowest possible centre of gravity. Using whatever he could from existing GM assembly line parts, he developed a five-link independent rear suspension and added a transverse leaf spring for additional support – and not coil springs as one would imagine. The front had a tweaked independent setup with coil springs and wishbones. And with the engine and transmission set as low down and as back as possible, he managed to give the Sting Ray a front/rear balance of 47:53 – for an American car, it was pretty revolutionary.
Which is why as I push the Sting Ray on the twisties, it doesn’t feel as if it’s going to lose the rear end too soon. Despite the heavy engine in the front, it’s directionally stable for a car with this kind of output. Still, it may not be the kind of car you’d flick around, yet it is surefooted and stays planted. I think over time, whatever pairs the fibreglass body to the rest of the chassis has become tired – I don’t know how it would have been over 40 years back, maybe it could have been possible for the driver to feel one with the car.

No, I am not complaining, experiencing a machine like this is still something else. It is completely, absolutely involving to drive. Seriously, nothing can replace that mechanical feel that comes from shifting those strong gears, enjoying the raw surge of torque across the range, using that wooden steering wheel to direct the front wheels where you want to and your butt experiencing the unique feel of a convertible that has a body bolted on to a chassis. The amazing part of the Sting Ray, according to me, is that it can be a drag racer when you want to prove a point and a grand tourer that can effortlessly match equivalent European machines from its era. And it was not expensive, though you would be tempted to load it with a host of options. 

Driving the iconic Corvette Sting Ray is huge dream come true for me. I have driven two subsequent generations of Corvettes earlier, but this is something else. It looks like nothing before it and drives like nothing after it. Surprisingly, what to me seems to be the best Corvette ever, had a very short life,
being produced only between 1963 and 1967. I think America has never got it right since.

We’d like to thank Abbas Jasdanwala for allowing us to drive and photograph his brilliant Sting Ray