US & OUR VETTES:
TOM & LIZ BENFORD
1963 & 1967 COUPES
ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN "ME & MY VETTE"
While on vacation in Cape Cod in 1995 we came upon a street rod that we really liked and, on a whim, bought it. This was our entrée into the "collector car culture", and we participated in numerous car shows and cruise nights every week throughout that summer and fall. While the street rod was fun, it had a rough ride and wasnt practical for long drives, so Liz and I both started to yearn for a more civilized classic car. We perused the pages of Hemmings, AutoTrader and other such publications frequently, particularly the Corvette sections. I always liked the Mid-Year coupes, while Liz had a penchant for "cove sides".
I told her that, in my opinion, the Corvette to own was the 1963 Sting Ray Split Window Coupe, since it was only made for one year and it is the most singularly recognizable Corvette for that reason. She immediately started showing me ads for 63 coupes, and thats when I gave her my full wish list: first and foremost, it had to have matching numbers; having been deprived of my creature comforts with the street rod, I now wanted such amenities as automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, power windows, and even air conditioning. A tall order, to say the least.
But, Liz and I have always believed that if something is meant to be, it will happen. We went past a magazine shop while on our way to lunch a couple of days later, and Liz said we should check to see if the new issue of Hemmings was in yet. We went into the store and the shopkeeper was just cutting the wrapping straps off the new issue, which we promptly scoffed up. While I drove, Liz turned to the Corvette section and said, "Youre not going to believe this heres a 63 coupe that has everything you want in it plus original knock-off wheels." It sounded too good to be true, so I called the number in the ad as soon as we got back to our offices. The car was located in Upstate New York, about a 2-hour drive from us. Max, the fellow selling the car confirmed that everything in the ad was true. I told him I wanted to know what was wrong with the car before I wasted 4 hours going back and forth, and he said the fuel gauge only reads half-full even with a full tank and the radio gets some static, but aside from that the car was perfect. He stated his reason for selling it was that he wanted a "driver" - this car was too nice to drive around, and he had only put about 4,000 miles on it since its frame-off restoration 10 years ago. We made arrangements to go and see the car.
When we arrived at Maxs house, the Riverside Red coupe was sitting in his driveway and it was absolutely gorgeous. Max drove the car up the ramps that I had brought so I could inspect the undercarriage and check the engine and VIN numbers and other important date codes. He then took me for a ride in the car, wherein we negotiated the price and he made a slight concession. We shook hands and sealed the deal that included delivery of the car via trailer as soon as our check cleared.
The car was delivered on a Thursday afternoon in the first week of June to our office. We passed a local car show that evening on the way home that we entered immediately and the Sting Ray garnered a trophy for "Best in Class - Corvettes". The Vette quickly became Lizs favorite ride, while I continued to drive the street rod. Over the next few months, however, I became more attached to the Vette as well, and I understood what Max said about wanting a driver; the 63 was much too nice to drive to work or just go cruising with on a whim. The only solution here was to get another Corvette! That, hopefully, would also eliminate the bickering that had arisen over who got to drive the Corvette in our family!
Now that we had the "alpha" of the Mid-Years - the 63 - I wanted to have the "omega" as well - the 67. But I still liked the lines of the coupe more than the roadster and, of course, I wanted the big block with the distinctive "427" stinger hood. Back to the magazine store for another current copy of Hemmings
Opening to the Corvette pages, lo and behold, there was a 67 Coupe with a 427/390HP that was "extraordinarily documented, reasonable, needs work" available in - where else? - Upstate New York. I called the number and spoke with Jon, the cars third owner. This coupe had matching numbers as well as the original build order, window sticker, owners manual with protecto-plate and a complete history of every oil change, nut, bolt and part that had ever been changed. Jon assured me that the car was mechanically sound but the exhaust system was rusting away, the original carpets were sun-faded and there were some minor pebble nicks in the paint on the nose, but nothing major. We made arrangements to go see the car and he gave us directions. Ironically, Jon lived less than 20 miles away from Max, but neither knew each other.
The Marlboro Maroon 67 coupe was sitting in Jons driveway when we arrived, but his mother told us he had gone to the local auto store to get some detail spray. This gave me a good opportunity to get a close look at the car and feel around the inside of the fender wells, inspect the engine compartment at length and go over the body thoroughly. Jon arrived and retrieved all of the cars documents from within the house. Indeed, the history of this car was absolutely meticulous. It had originally been built for a Chevrolet employee who used the car for road racing and time trials.
The only options the car was equipped with were the shoulder harness, transistorized ignition and 3.08:1 positraction rear. The cars manual steering, manual 4-wheel disk brakes and manual 4-speed trans provided a stark contrast to the cushy luxuries of the 63 coupe, yet it was a sensible layout considering the original owner of this car drove it in competition. The black stinger hood with the 427 insignias stated that this was a no-nonsense Sting Ray, and the lack of options bore this theme out.
After confirming that the engine and VIN numbers matched, Jon took me for a test ride and really "got on it" to show me the engine still had plenty of pep. However, there was a disturbing noise coming from the rear that sounded like a bad u-joint. He also said he had had the headlight motors rebuilt, but they werent installed yet. I used these points as leverage to get some price concessions, and we shook hands on the deal. Jon also had a brand new set of bolt-on wheels still in boxes to replace the Rally wheels on the car that he let me have for an additional $700, and he had a spare 427 short block with the correct date code that he threw in as well as delivery to our home in New Jersey.
Since getting the 67, Ive replaced the right rear u-joint, master cylinder, calipers on all four wheels, a fuel pump and the left headlight motor (the one Jon gave us was DOA). I also opted to replace the standard, rusted mufflers with side exhausts, and I replaced the original AM/FM radio with an FM stereo cassette unit. I decided not to repaint the car or replace the carpeting at this time - after all, it is a driver.
We enjoy cruising in both of our Vettes, and we frequently bring both cars to shows and cruise nights. Admittedly, we use the 67 a lot more than the 63 - I drive it to my office at least twice a week, and weve taken it up to Cape Cod and other long trips - its a fun car that we thoroughly enjoy and it turns heads, too. Liz grabbed Second Place for the 63 at the prestigious New Hope Antique Automobile Show last year (some extra chrome under the hood and radial tires kept her from getting 1st place). The 67 usually does well at regular car shows, but sometimes gets passed-over for trophies at Vette shows; that doesnt bother me, however, because Im enjoy driving this piece of American automotive history on a daily basis.
Weve met lots of nice folks that we like to cruise with over the last couple of years, including an older couple with a 67 Vette TriPower Roadster and another couple around our age with a new C5 that weve "taken under our wings". Liz and I have both gotten over the "trophy fever" that we had our first season with the street rod, and we realize the best trophies of all are the two Mid-Year Coupes sitting in our garage. Judging by the "thumbs up" people give us while cruising and the crowds that gather when we park these classics, other people obviously agree.
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