By Brian Earnest
OK, raise your hand if you’ve heard this tale before.
Old car lover finally breaks down and buys the car he’s always lusted after. Car is a little rough around the edges, so car guy figures no problem, we’ll fix it up “just a little bit,” and make it a nice driver.
Car guy takes dream car into shop, one thing leads to another and, boom, a simple new paint job turns into a total restoration.
Sound like anybody you know?
In this case, the car guy is Jerry Barding of Delray Beach, Fla., and the car is his glorious 1963 Corvette Sting Ray “Split-Window” coupe. Barding is dead serious when he insists he was only planning to spruce the car up with a little fresh paint after finding the Corvette for sale online in Texas a few years ago. That plan changed so quickly, all he can do is laugh about it now. Barding enjoyed the car “as is” for only one day before he parked it. Two years later, the car had been turned into a stunning near-perfect specimen that has been the toast of its class at some prestigious venues.
“The truck came in with the car on a Saturday night, I drove it around and had some fun with it on Sunday with my wife [Dorothy], and on Monday I took it over to a place called Cruisers [Motor Works] — they are a shop that does a lot of work for me,” recalled Barding. “It was such a nice car. I thought if I just had it painted, that would be all it needed. But then we started thinking about it, and I thought about how I’d like to have something that was really super, super nice.
“They had it for two years working on it. I didn’t really mean for it to take that long, but I just wanted to have it done right. The guys there really had to do a lot of research to get everything we needed for the car, and it was a really long process. It was a really neat thing to do, but I don’t know if I ever want to do it again [laughs].”
Of course, if there is a short list of cars that probably deserve to be “done right” down to the last chalk mark, the beloved Split-Window ‘Vette of ’63 would probably be on it. Few American-made automobiles have had such universal and enduring appeal. It would be sacrilegious for many Corvette lovers to give such a car anything but the full restoration treatment. There were only 10,549 of the one-year-only divided-window coupes built, and about a zillion car lovers who wished they would have somehow forked out the $4,257 it took to buy one new and then hung onto them all these years.
Barding was one of those guys, although he did get himself a 1962 Corvette that he had plenty of fun with. “I had a friend who had one , basically when he was in high school,” Barding said. “I always loved them and thought, ‘Someday I’ve got to have one of these.’ I just fell in love with it. It was a fun car, but all Corvettes are.
“The thing that got me is I found out later that a lot of guys didn’t like that split window and in ‘64 of course they had the straight window … and a lot of guys took those windows out and put straight window. The car really lost all its value when they did that.”
No such fate had befallen Barding’s car by the time he became its third owner. The car had been appropriately pampered by the two previous owners and showed only about 54,000 miles on the odometer. Barding didn’t get all the details of the car’s history, other than the previous owner had owned it for a long time. “I think it had a pretty easy life,” he said. “The guy pretty much babied it, he just didn’t put a lot of money into it. He liked it the way it was.”
The best news for Barding was that the Sting Ray was correct and numbers-matching, it’s original 327-cid-/340-hp V-8 was strong, and the car was rust-free underneath. “I wanted to find one that was in fairly good shape and was a numbers-matching car, and that’s what I found,” he said.
The acquisition of his Sting Ray made Barding almost as giddy as he would have been had it happened in 1963. At that time, the major redesign of the Corvette was among the biggest headline-grabbers in the American car building industry. Rarely has a car changed so radically — and for better or worse, the split window idea has never been copied since. But the twin-window look was far from the only things that were new on the 1963 Sting Rays. The front fenders, behind the wheel openings, feature two long, horizontal “wind split” louvers that mimicked cooling ducts, although they were not functional. On the hood were recessed fake hood louvers. The roof sides had vents and there were ribbed rocker panels below the doors. The dual side-by-side headlights were hidden in an electrically operated panel.
The interior had circular gauges with black faces. Among the standard equipment was windshield washer; carpeting; outside rearview mirror; dual exhaust; tachometer; electric clock; heater and defroster; cigarette lighter and safety belts.
Buyers could order their new Sting Rays in a choice of Tuxedo Black, Ermine White, Riverside Red, Silver Blue, Daytona Blue, Saddle Tan and Sebring Silver. Interior color choices included Black, White, Silver, Silver-Blue, Daytona blue, Red and Tan.
The base engine was the 250-hp 327, but the options menu included 300-, 340- and 360-hp versions of the 327 — the latter featuring Ram Jet fuel injection. A three-speed manual was standard, with the two-speed Powerglide and four-speed available. Other popular options included leather seat trim, tinted glass, power windows and brakes, air conditioning, Positraction rear axle, highway gears, Signal-Seeking AM radio, 36-gallon “Big Tank” fuel tank and sintered metallic brakes.
Barding’s Corvette was a fairly Spartan example. It carried the 340-hp engine and a four-speed, but little else in the way of options. Not much was really wrong with it when it arrived in Barding’s driveway, but once Barding decided to start replacing a few things, he didn’t stop until every inch of the car had been addressed. That meant replacing and/or refreshing the C2 suspension, four wheel disc brakes and dual exhausts. The engine got new aluminum valve covers. All original GM pieces were used to re-do the interior. Bob Housley Interiors of Delray Beach did the upholstery work. Cruisers gave the car a second coat of Riverside Red paint.
Barding says he learned a lot about the high-end restoration business during the two-year project. The importance of the correct date-coded parts was foremost among those lessons. “If you get a part for the car, that part has to be [made] within six months of the car being sold to be right, so searching the United States for parts was really a hunt,” he said. “You’d find something for a ‘63, but when you investigate, it would be the wrong month for my car … Finding it wasn’t too terribly hard, it was just finding the right one for it.”
“Everything [original] that could be used we used. I was lucky that a shop not too far away does stainless steel work for boats … The window frames had chips and needed some work, and he just made them look so nice, you just wouldn’t believe it … It was basically just frame-off. We started with just a frame just sitting on concrete blocks. If things looked warn or something, we just replaced them as we went. It was just kind of hit-and-miss proposition. We just kept going until we could get it all back together. We started with just a bare frame and went from there.”
Almost as soon as the car was done, Barding began showing it. His goal wasn’t to turn the Split-Window Sting Ray into a trailer queen or trophy chaser, but it’s been fun in the short term. The car was at “Top Flight” winner at the National Corvette Restorers Society event in Kissimmee, Fla., and has won Best in Class awards at the Boca Raton Concours and the Ocean Reef Club’s Vintage Weekend in Key Largo.
“I have had so much fun owning this car, but I hate to fix it all up and be afraid to drive it. That’s what you buy the cars for, to go have fun with them, and that’s what we’ll do. I’m sure proud of the car. It’s a very good-looking car,” Barding concluded.
“I’ve had other cars that I didn’t want to drive and mess them up, but that’s kind of silly, because when you sell them, you don’t get any more money for them. If you have them you might as well use them!”
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