By Patrick Smith
The mid-year Corvettes are those produced from 1963 to 1967. They had incredible style and offered something for everyone. The 1963 Corvette is famous for the split rear window on the coupe. Designer, Bill Mitchell, said the lines were inspired by observing sting rays while on vacation. The original Sting Rays were always desirable cars and certain options make them very expensive. If you're purchasing one of these classics, here are some valuable tips to consider. Our focus is on a hobby grade car, not one destined for Bloomington Gold or NCRS awards. We will cover some of the essentials, but there are many resources that cover documentation and number matching codes in more detail than we can do here.
1963 coupes are expensive Corvettes. We're checking everything from drive train codes to body integrity on this Sebring Silver project car.
Mid-year Corvettes debuted in 1963 with the famous split rear window on coupes. It was the first year for IRS suspension. They used many one year only pieces including dash gauges, hood, shifter console and steering wheels. Replacing missing parts will be expensive. Rare options include air conditioning, wood grain steering wheels and the Z06 package.
The 1964 'vette was stripped of trim including the split window divider and chrome hood grilles. A three speed ventilator fan was added to the rear compartment on coupes to improve air circulation. Rare options include A/C, knock off wheels, heavy duty brakes and transistor ignition. The '64 can be a good deal as it's not as expensive as a '63 or '67 model.
You might find a '64 fuel injection project but restoration will be expensive.
The 1965 'vette introduced the 396 engine and four wheel disc brakes. The front fender vents were operational and several rare options appeared such as the side exhaust pipes, power steering, AM/FM radio and fuel injection. Some parts are specific to 1965-66 such as the master cylinder. Missing originals aren't cheap to obtain. Many big block clones have been backyard built. Documentation is vital when paying big dollars for a 396 car.
The 1966 model replaced the 396 with a 427 option. The engine required a special hood to accommodate it. A square mesh grille and Corvette script on the hood identified the 1966 car. Rare options include power steering, heavy duty brakes, off road exhaust and teakwood steering wheel. Bargain hunters should consider a 327 powered car.
This 1966 small block coupe is affordable and fast.
The 1967 model is another high dollar car. It was the last year for the original Sting Ray design and the first for the L88 race engine. The most valued street driven model is the L71 tripower 427 car. The 1967 had five fender vents compared to three on the 1966. Only the 1967 had a back up lamps molded in the rear deck of the body.
Rare options include side pipes and 427 tripower engine.
The 1967 is another expensive model. Here a frame check is being done including the rear frame cage nuts hidden by dust covers in the rear wheel wells.
A person seeking an enjoyable fun driver should concentrate on finding a structurally sound body and frame devoid of rust and damage. The Corvette frame should be checked for rust in the rear axle kick up section. The car should be put on a hoist and examined from underneath as the metal often rusts starting at the top of the frame. Use your fingers to inspect the frame just ahead of the rear wheel wells. The side rails can also rot below the doors and even the front cross member has been known to corrode. Modified big block cars often suffer frame twisting. In mild cases it may only show up as inconsistent handling and cornering even with new suspensions. New frames are available, but you factor it in the price when making an offer.
Be sure to inspect the body as well for rust problems. Along with glass fiber panels, Corvettes use a metal "birdcage" structure that bolts onto the chassis side rails and includes door posts and a windshield frame. The hardtop also has a rear hooped section ending just before the rear window. Rusty windshield frames are common on cars from northern climes. The number one sign of this problem is damp carpets. Extensive body modifications may have compromised the birdcage if welding was performed. I wouldn't buy a Corvette without an instrument panel brace. It's a horizontal metal bar that runs underneath the dashboard and contains the cowl tag and serial number of the car. A missing or changed brace raises red flags.
Damp carpets could be a sign of rusted windshield frames. Check carefully especially on a coupe if mildew or dampness is found.
The trim tag also shows you the date code for the body and the body supplier. An "S" indicates a St Louis body, an "A" indicates an A.O. Smith body, another authorized supplier for 'vettes. The time built code is stamped under the "Chevrolet Div." header at the top of trim tag. It's a simple code with the letter representing month and the two numbers the date of assembly. The St. Louis cars start with "A" for September while A.O. Smith uses "A" for August as they didn't have a plant shut down period for retooling.
Suppose your frame inspection goes well and you want to go further. I would inspect the body for major collision repair work. Corvette bodies used double molded glass fiber panels that are held together with resin and bonding strips. Replacement single molded panels are rough on the inside with bits of fiber showing through the resin. It looks like a one piece body, but the 1967 Corvette uses fifteen parts to form the front clip. The rear of a Corvette ragtop has 36 body parts. Since customization and alterations were common, the key thing you should watch for is evidence of major damage. I would be checking the condition of the birdcage mountings to the frame. They are in caged nuts and prone to damage from severe collisions. A great check on unrestored cars is removing the rear wheels and opening the dust covers for the rear body bracket located in the rear wheel well. Four screws hold the dust cover. Once it's free you can check the caged nut for bent metal or rust.
Checking the drive train is your next move. The 327 V8 has a machined pad beneath the passenger side cylinder head. This contains the engine foundry machining date and engine suffix, a two letter code that names the intended use of the finished engine. They are stamped rather than cast and can be faked. Always check the block casting date at the top rear of the engine on the bellhousing flange. Your block casting date is also located there and uses the month, day, year format with letter for month. These numbers can be checked to verify the engine.
You may find a partial VIN number on some cars. Partial VINs have been found regularly on 1962 era cars. A Corvette four speed will consistently have the partial VIN on the passenger side of the transmission. It will start with a single digit for model year followed by the last six numbers of the VIN. From 1965 onwards, the letter "S" is included before the partial VIN.
Transmissions have identification marks as well. On Powerglides, look on the right side above the oil pan. The month uses a number code starting with "1" for January. Following that is a two digit date code from "01 to 31." This format was changed in 1967 to a letter code for the month with "A" for January and a two digit date code. The letter "7" preceded them to indicate 1967.
On Muncie four speeds, the transmissions were stamped with plant, month and date format from 1963-1966. A typical example would read "P0503" indicating a Muncie unit built on the 3rd of May. The year isn't listed. Starting in 1967, Muncie changed the format to a plant, model, year, month and date so that a stamping with "P70209" would be a Muncie built in 1967 on February 9th. The Turbo Hydra-matic transmissions have a metal tag on the right side of the case just above the oil pan rail, indicating application, date and serial number.
The rear axle code is stamped on the bottom of the differential case just forward of the cover. It gives you the axle type, ratio and date of manufacture. This basic number matching will protect you from taking a big hit. With patience, you can still find a great Corvette Sting Ray to buy to drive or for your classic car restoration project.