As we hear about the captured test fleet C8 Corvettes rolling off the line at Bowling Green these past few weeks, take a moment to go back to a much simpler time when the first of the iconic 1963 Sting Ray prototypes, also known as pilot line and pre-production cars, were being produced in the fall of 1962.
In this 12-minute YouTube video just released, Corvette journalist/enthusiast Michael Brown has captured the mood some 58 years ago with archival videos and photos that show dedicated workmen using their plentiful skills at the beginning of the Mid Years second-generation run of Corvettes.
But most important of all, Brown has interviewed a Louisiana general contractor named Pete Vicari, who just happens to own one of the coolest and rarest collections of C2 Corvettes in the world.
Only seven of these pilot line 1963 Corvettes (out of 23 believed to have been produced) are known to exist today, and Vicari not only has three of the red convertibles, but he also has sequentially numbered VINs – #15, #16, and #17!
Announcer in the archival video: “With the prototype rapidly reaching its completion and evaluation date, skilled assemblers work round the clock to meet pre-determined build schedules. Soon, the prototype interior is completed.”
Just as the assembly plant does today with the overlapping of the C7 and C8, these ’63 prototypes were tweaked while sharing the line with the last ’62 models ever produced. Indeed, Brown shares a photo showing workers painting the body of a ’63 prototype, with the double headlights of a ’62 clearly visible on the production line in the background.
Vicari points out that his trio of prototypes are built “totally different” from the production models. “All the body panels are built on a mahogany wood block where it would be the male or female, depending on what the panel is, whether it’s an inner fender or an outer fender,” he says.
Instead of using tooling, workers laid fiberglass directly on a piece of wood shaped like a fender, for example, and “that’s why (the prototypes are) so crude looking,” Vicari says. Several of the ’63 pilot line cars, including Vicari’s trio, were produced as red convertibles, not necessarily a choice made because that color looks so good on any Corvette but because it easily shows any imperfections in the body.
“But what might have been seen at the time as imperfections or other differences, either in the exterior appearance or the interior of the car, now lend credence to the uniqueness of each car being a rare pre-production vehicle,” Brown narrates.
Indeed, Vicari can point to many differences from production Corvettes. “You know, the consoles are different,” he says, for one. “The hand brake is a ’62 Nova hand brake; it’s not the chrome T-handle. I mean, I can go on and on and on. But when you start looking at it, there are a lot of features that are not in the production cars. The clock’s different, the glove box door’s different, they used ’62 carpet, the gauges – the bezels are real thicker. Where I think the production cars are half inch, these are ¾ inch bezels. You know, bolder, bigger.”
Another difference, the fuel injection unit lacks the iconic Corvette crossed flag emblem on top of it and also shows roughness around the seams indicative of using sand-cast molds to make the outer cover of the unit. “The (fuel injection) housing is really crude looking because it’s not real smooth because it was done in sand,” Vicari says.
Vicari’s collection started with #16, which he describes as “a nice driver” when he bought it, “but I wanted it perfect so I did a body off on that.”
He followed up with the purchase of #15, which had already undergone a similar restoration, and then located and did another extensive restoration job on #17.
Vicari says he’s been able to determine that two pilot line cars are still in California, including VIN #3, another is reportedly located in North Dakota, #18 is believed to be in Alabama, and a split-window coupe is in England, believe it or not!
Vicari’s trio dates back to a special time in Corvette history when engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov himself spearheaded the testing on a track by legendary drivers Dick Thompson and Dave MacDonald.
Announcer on archival testing video: “Their purpose – to evaluate a Sting Ray convertible and a Sting Ray fastback – two prototypes which reflect a full decade of sports car experience.”
Vicari is obviously proud to be the caretaker for three cars that helped start the legendary Mid Year generation, but now with the chase, acquisition, restoration and pride of ownership under his belt, he feels it’s time to pass this important historic collection to another owner.
Note owner, as in singular.
“You know, I would really hate to see these cars broke up,” Vicari says. “I mean, the last time they were together, it was in September 1962 in St. Louis. You know, to sell ’em to three individual people would just be devastating to me because I’ve worked so hard to put ’em together. But one person should step up and buy ’em all.”
As Brown points out, placing a value on these incredibly rare automobiles is “at best difficult.”
“While the marketplace will ultimately determine value,” Brown says, “it must be said that of late the very limited production L88 Corvette has reached stratospheric prices at auction and private sales. The 1963 Vicari pre-production Corvettes were roughly 1/10th of the L88s manufactured over a three-year period.”
If you’d like more information about the collection, contact Vicari at Vicari Auction Company LLC, 1900 Destrehan Ave., Harvey, LA 70058 or call 504-347-1196, ext. 3564.
Michael Brown / YouTube
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