Driving back to basics and joy with a 1969 Corvette Stingray Convertible
The 1969 Corvette Stingray Convertible was the top car of its day. This classic model has had an almost complete restoration done to it. (Brent Jamieson / CTVNews.ca)
Published Sunday, November 25, 2012 8:00AM EST
Cool breeze, shining sun, clear skies – the perfect fall conditions to go out in a convertible. But not just any convertible, either. This day was a day to drive a classic convertible: A 1969 Corvette Stingray Convertible.
Built 43 years ago, the Stingray was the car to have, and at almost $6,500 with taxes, it cost practically a year’s salary at the time.
The owner of this classic car bought it brand new in 1969. He just recently got it back to near-showroom finish with an almost complete overhaul and restoration, and I was just handed the keys for the day.
This ‘69 ‘Vette is powered by a small block 350 V8 engine, which according to the original sale ticket, gave 300 horsepower and was paired up with a 4-speed manual transmission. Both of which were never touched in the restoration.
I’ve owned and driven manuals for close to 10 years, and this car is like nothing I’ve ever driven.
Originally, this car had no power steering, but the owner had the optional power steering from 1969 installed as part of the restoration. Another option he had put in was the manual choke – because, as he said to me, “…the automatic chokes were junk.”
Airbags? Nope. Power Windows? Costly option back in 1969, and why would you have it on a convertible? Air conditioning? Much too pricey. ABS? Wasn’t even a thought back then. Traction Control? Stability Control? These were options you might have found on a Mercedes back then, but not on the Stingray. This car didn’t even come with power brakes.
Sitting in the driver seat was like sitting on the ground - the car is so low. And because there is absolutely no back seat, you’d have one heck of a time getting in if you were any taller than five-foot-eleven.
The Corvette’s steering wheel itself was like holding onto a tractor’s steering wheel – it was so big for such a small car in comparison to what we have now.
But that was because back in 1969, power steering was just becoming an option, so to turn a car without power steering, you needed as much of a wheel as you possibly could have to turn. Did it make it awkward to get into the car? At first, yes. But once you were in, you were in.
Starting the car was a ceremony of its own. After being given a bit of a lesson on how to start it – from pumping the gas pedal a few times due to its carbureted engine, to using the choke, to revving the engine a bit to build the oil pressure up, to driving around a bit to build the water temperature - I was almost ready to go. There were just two lessons left. Shifting and Braking.
You might think that these things are second nature, but not on a classic car. These things have to be handled with care – you can’t just shift like you don’t care.
That doesn’t mean it was hard to shift. I just had to remember to get the rev line up to at least 2,000 RPMs, and then move the gear to neutral, then into the gear I needed. The transmission was not designed for quick shifting, so I was told to never expect to suddenly take off.
The last lesson was the braking. Because the Stingray didn’t come with power brakes, it felt like I was the brakes – pressing hard on the pedal with my foot to apply as much pressure at each wheel as possible. And that meant that I had to always keep more than double the standard braking distance between me and the cars ahead.
Thankfully we started out in a quiet residential zone before we got onto the main roads so that I could get the hang of the beast before it was too late.
Now I was ready.
And how far did I go on my first try to drive the Stingray? Two feet. A very quiet two feet.
Sadly, I have to admit that I stalled the car, with the owner right beside me in the passenger seat. But once I had it going again – did she ever go.
With the burble of the V8 we were off. A quick look at the speedometer told me that in second gear, I was already up to 30 mph. Because the car was built back when everything was in Imperial measurements, the speedometer was in mph rather than km/h.
That was something else to remember as we got onto the main roads.
The car’s ride was surprisingly smooth for its age, even riding on the original shocks. Driving through the back country roads of Southern Ontario, you did feel each and every bump, but it didn’t break your back. Each bump reminded you that you were driving in this car.
Like some modern performance sedans, the Corvette was quite happy to shift at 2,000 to 2,500 RPMs, and setting off, I have to admit it was like learning to drive manual all over again – a bit of a hop on the shifts.
And the clutch is like nothing I had ever driven – very heavy – which meant that you had to really press down to engage it. So this is not a daily driver car, in this day and age of traffic jams.
Visibility in the car wasn’t a problem. Even with the top up, and a heavy fall jacket on, there was more than enough room to move inside the car and see outside.
Despite having a long nose, I was hard pressed to find a blatant blind spot.
Even with all that – from almost relearning how to drive to keeping in mind the little quirks a classic car can have - the Stingray was a fun car to drive. It responded when I wanted it to, went where I wanted it to go when I wanted it to go, and let you do the driving, rather than drive you.
I was a bit sad to go back to my regular car after having spent the afternoon behind the wheel of this piece of automotive history.