What It’s Like To Drive A Mid Year Corvette Convertible26
Some months back, I wrote a series of articles about buying my dream Mid Year Corvette, more specifically a 1965 Sting Ray, and driving it from California home to the Midwest. The drive was a bucket list item for me, allowing me four days to ponder car-related thoughts and lament I couldn’t do drives like this more often. However, since I was so focused on making it home in one piece, not driving the car too hard, and trying to watch out for all the loons on the highways, I didn’t get to really consider what it was like to drive the Corvette.
For the uninitiated, Mid Year Corvettes are what most people refer to as C2s. The C2 moniker didn’t come about until the C5s debuted. Prior to that, Corvette generations were referred to as Solid Axles, Mid Years, Shark Bodies, and the “new ones.” Once the C5 bowed, people were trying to figure out what to call them, and the whole C-whatever-generation thing came about, but I digress.
I’ve had the Chevy Corvette home for a little over five months. In that time, I have been able to address some of its mechanical and cosmetic needs, had to search high and low for parts, and gotten to know the car better. The Mid Year Corvette is a remarkable leap forward in engineering and design compared to my 1960 Solid Axle Corvette. When parked next to each other, it is difficult to fathom that these two cars are only five years apart. The Small Block engines are not all that different, aside from the 283 versus 327 cubic-inch displacement and the matter of 120 horsepower.
The best part about writing this article was I kept telling myself, “You need to take the Corvette for one more drive. Find some new roads with more curves, wring it out, listen to the side pipes.” I’ve taken it on nearly a dozen drives preparing to write this, and the end result is always the same: I have a big grin on my face, and I wish I’d bought a Mid Year Corvette years ago. I should have had this article written a week ago, but I kept giving in to “just one more drive.”
You sit down in the ’65 Corvette, as it is low to the ground. It has a decent sized glove box, and plenty of headroom with the soft top up. The seats are comfortable, and the cabin seems roomier than other Corvettes I have owned.
The accelerator pedal requires a single push to the floor and release on a cold start (maybe two if the car hasn’t been driven in several days), then you turn the key clockwise in the dash-mounted ignition. The 327 fires to life, and you are greeted by one-half of the exhaust note in your left ear. The right side pipe won’t be audible until you put your foot down. The Corvette needs about a minute on the choke before a throttle blip settles it into a lumpy idle.
Aside from power steering and brakes, the Sting Ray is still raw and visceral. It has a 350-horsepower 327 Small Block, close-ratio four speed manual, knock-off wheels, and side-mount exhaust. You feel everything that is happening with the car. The 327 is fed by a Holley four-barrel carb that could probably use a bit of adjustment. You smell the gas and the rich exhaust. With the side pipe just a couple feet from your ear, you certainly hear everything that is going on. The Mid Year has four-wheel power disc brakes, and independent rear suspension. Its ride is nothing like modern cars. You still feel most imperfections in the road, and undulations make you feel a bit like a dolphin. But when the road is smooth, especially curvy and smooth, it shines.
Press down on the somewhat heavy clutch, pull up on the shifter T-handle, and slide the gearshift fully left and up to engage reverse. The driveway has a bit of downward pitch, so backing out is really just overcoming resting inertia. Once in the street, just slide the shifter over until the T-handle drops back into place, push it into first, and let out the clutch as you give it a bit of throttle. It doesn’t take much, and a quick shift to second will let you roll out of the neighborhood in a sedate manner. Hearing only half the exhaust note makes it sound a bit like something is amiss, but it also encourages you to run the revs up once out of the neighborhood so you can get the full song from both sides.
When I wrote the series about driving this Mid Year Corvette back from California, I said the sound from the pipes and the feel of the car was like that of a vintage race car, and it made you feel a bit like a public menace. None of that has changed. The close-ratio gearbox means you can keep the revs in a range that gives you that raucous sound without the risk of unwanted conversations with Officer Friendly.
Rowing through the gears means you are truly involved in driving the car, not messing with your phone, drinking coffee, eating a burger, practicing witchcraft, building a birdhouse, putting on clown makeup, or any of the other myriad things you see people doing instead of driving their cars. The shifter is smooth, not notchy. The steering is tight and direct, with just the right amount of power assistance. Brakes work quite well, with no sign of fade even after a few hard stops.
On the highway, the Sting Ray runs reasonably smooth, but it is loud. With the top up it is loud, and with the top down, it is louder. If you intend to drive very far, bring earplugs. The side pipes are fun for about the first thirty miles, then you are over it. That said, I have driven a Sting Ray with traditional belly exhaust, and it was too quiet for my taste.
The Mid Year tracks arrow straight, rides like a vintage sports car, and just feels fun. It is impossible to spend time behind the wheel and not smile. You’ll never see a Sting Ray convertible outside a therapist’s office unless it belongs to the therapist.
I have done one long trip in the Mid Year, and I want to do more. Luggage space is surprisingly good, certainly adequate for a weekend trip with the wife. The Sting Ray gets around 14 mpg on the highway running 75 miles per hour, which isn’t great, but look what you get to drive?
People notice the Mid Year, but don’t seem as compelled to talk about their Corvette stories as when they see the Solid Axle. I’m not quite sure why that is, but I have yet to have a half-hour long gas stop. I like talking to people about their stories, but people seem to approach me less often in the ’65.
Being able to own a Mid Year Corvette convertible is a dream come true for me, every bit as good as I had hoped. It is far from perfect, it will make your clothes smell like old car, gas, and exhaust, it has some creaks and squeaks, it is not yet rain ready, and not one of those things makes me want to leave it in the garage. I look for excuses to drive it, reasons to spend time working on it, and skip watching TV or goofing off so I can polish it. I will freely admit I am damn lucky to own a car like this. Now, I just want to spend every moment I can behind the wheel.
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Guess I read all the wrong Corvette books growing up. I’ve been a fan since 1978, when my father leased the first of three consecutive ‘Vettes, and today’s the first time I’ve read the old nicknames for the C1s through C4s.
Feel in love with Corvette when my Dad took me to 1953 auto show in Chicago.Have owned one since I was 23.Now 80 and still love driving my Vette.Nothing else puts a smile on my face like a ride in that car.Great story and I know exactly how he feels about his car.
Owned a 64 “roadster” ( not a “convertible” ) w/ 300 hp 327, a ’66 roadster with both tops & the Porcupine-head 427/425 hp with side exhaust, M22 tranny and 4:11 rear end, a ’68 coupe (ugghh), a ’72 (bought to race in SCCA and then the sponsorship deal fell through), and an ’81 coupe (also ugghh) and was a member of the Corvette Club of St. Louis based at Barford Chevrolet in Clayton, MO and the NCCC. Drove almost every year to the 1st day of Indy 500 qualifying where we had the Corvette corral ( and at Road America too) and NEVER ever heard these nicknames this guy wwrites about.
Someday there will be stories like this about EVs. Just kidding.
Well done and spot on.
What’s a “Mid Year” Corvette? Or any thing, for that matter?
I had a ’65,same color without the side pipes. BUT it didn’t have backup lites.What’s going on?
Back up lights was an option back then.
Thanks for providing some real journalism and experience buying and driving your Corvette. We need more articles like these instead of the latest Chinese turd or what color the valve stem caps are on the Geo Invasion. I need to go back and read your previous articles of your trip.
I recently sold my 1966 Corvette coupe, similar color, PB, 4 speed, air, red stripe radial tires with bolt on knock off style wheels. A beautiful car and I loved it. Had a 1965 Glen Green (dark) coupe a few years prior. I had both cars purchased to enjoy and drive frequently and I did. If I can make some suggestions to improve your enjoyment of the drive. Remove the side pipes and replace them with out the back, with a chambered exhaust system. It will sound great and will not punish your ears as the side exhaust does, and it is very reasonable in price. Also replace the rear spring with a fiberglass one, standard setting. It reduces weight but most important greatly improves a smoother ride and maintain or improve the handling. I further installed gas shock absorbers, radial tires, If it doesn’t have them already (i perferred red lines that didn’t arrive until 1967). I also had in the distributor electronic ignition installed. That way you never have to adjust or replace the points again. Best wishes with your beautiful ride but most important, drive it. It will always put a smile on your face and others you encounter.
I’m a Vette Guy. The classics like the ’65 are cool BUT technology for the C7 & the new C8 have changed everything.
I agree. But having owned a C3 – C7 there is a reason there is a C3 project in the garage and I am on the waiting list for the C8 – they fill two different wants in my life.
Just a quick note to the idiots who downvoted my post. As I stated, I am and always will be a Vette Guy. After owning a total of 15 Vettes since ’89 and currently drive a ’19 ZR1 ragtop, I simply stated a personal opinion based on my own experience. How that rates a downvote is laughable and to you downvotes I say since you don’t like my opinion you can lump it.
I have a C2 and a C7, both of which are awesome rides but worlds apart. Your article is dead on . . . The C2 is a complete immersion driving experience, no room for distractions and very rewarding. The C7 allows you to drift out of the driving experience or back in as you choose. I guess, that is considered “progress”. In both cases, if you own it, you must drive it otherwise, you are not experiencing the true beauty of the vehicle and you are wasting your investment.
Too bad the author couldn’t locate a ’65 C2 Fuelie or 365hp engined car for sale. The solid lifter engines were so much more fun with their higher Red Line than the hydraulic-lifter engined cars. At least he got to experience what us older farts have such fond memories of.
Loved reading all your stories wish more owners would share theirs:) I’m the second owner , bought it fall or 69 , a 67 , 327 -350 HP ,side pipes ,leather ,two tops , Milano maroon , so after 53 years of being the cars care takes nothings changed it’s beautiful ,more so now had a frame off total restoration, to me whatever I felt down or a bad headache I’d hop in the Babe and go for a ride top down always , the sound if fantastic , my headache etc. goes away and lifes great:)
Thanks for bringing back so many wonderful memories of my 1963 roadster. 340 hp. 4 sp. side pipes real knockoffs. I couldn’t have described the idiosyncratic pleasure of the exhaust notes through those side pipes any better.
On the sad note many will never know what it is like. On the other hand many will never face a split rear end cover with a broken spring.
There is good and bad to all. But hat is what make these cars interesting. They are different and that is what makes them fun no matter the C number.
My first Corvette was a 1967 roadster purchased when I got out of the Air Force in 1967. Mine was a 327/300 with a 4-speed manual. Like yours, it had PS & PB. I recall it riding and handling quite well. I managed 19mpg on the highway on my longest road trip. I loved the styling of that car and the interior was comfortable, although I did get rain leaks during heavy rains. I have had three other Corvettes since, and currently own a C6 Grand Sport convertible. I would love to be able to drive my C2 back-to-back with my C6 to truly feel the improvements made since them.
I think the one sided exhaust has to do with the thermally operated manifold heat damper. It should stay open when it warms up if it is working right.
Never heard it called mid year. That style may have been introduced late 63, doesn’t seem valid for 65.
Brett, I loved your drive-home series and today’s piece really hit home for me. I purchased my 1st ‘Vette about 8 weeks ago fulfilling a 25+ year dream (a very original/driver ’72 LT-1 coupe). Indeed, these old cars are “work” to drive, but I use that word in the most positive sense – the sounds, the smells, the attention required of the driver. And I look for every opportunity I can to take mine out. Even a 20 minute outing puts a huge smile on my face. I’d not driven an old school American V-8 + stick in 4 decades prior to acquiring my ‘Vette. It was worth the wait. Thx for writing your series and thx for posting this update!
Congratulations on a beautiful car! My opinion, but C2s are the finest looking vehicles ever built. Biggest regret is not trading my 2008ZO6 ona split window!
My first Corvette was a 63 Coupe (split window). The ones I have now are a 71 LT1 Coupe and an 02 Z06, but you can never forget your first.
I owned a 1965 corvette. Was my dream car and my favorite of all time. Rally red, side exhaust, power brakes, knockoff wheels, 4:11 gears, close ratio 4 speed and a 327-365 engine. That car was fast and raw to drive. A lot of good memories driving that car and a lot of smiles.
Really liked your article on your trip, I have owned three corvettes 1972 , 1986, and just about a month ago purchased a 1964 hardtop convertible. Really looking forward to driving it around the great state of WVa. Keep posting your experiences with your car.