Midnight Madness: Ron Champe's 1965 Corvette Sting Ray
Is it crazy to put a lipstick-red interior in a dark blue car? Some of Ron Champe’s friends thought so, but that was before they saw his spectacular 1965 Corvette Sting Ray. “I built this car 1,000 times in my mind before I ever picked up a wrench” he says. “I visualized a midnight blue body, and my buddies, well, they said a red interior would kill the car,” he adds with a chuckle.
It took Ron about 2 1/2 years to work his magic and turn a well-worn vintage ’Vette into a show-stopping Sting Ray. But like his car, Ron’s story really gets going a few decades back.
“I grew up in the ’60s, and was into cars in a big way, Camaros and Firebirds mostly,” says Ron. As the years went by, it seems there was always an older F-body in his driveway. Around 1993, Ron decided to change things up and buy his first Corvette. “It was a 1980 with a ZZ430 engine. My friend restored that one for me,” explains Ron.
More time passed and Ron started making plans for the retirement looming several years in his future. As it turns out, Ron’s wife had a plan of her own. “She said it was time for another Corvette, and this time it ought to be a mid-year coupe,” says Ron with a big smile.
Always the dutiful husband, Ron began prospecting for the perfect project car. “Of course, everyone wants a ’63 split-widow coupe, but they’re pretty scarce. To make things worse, guys used to chop out the center pillar to make their cars look newer,” says Ron with a laugh!
Sifting through hundreds of cars at the annual Corvettes at Carlisle show, Ron finally hit pay dirt. He unearthed a substantially complete, and relatively untouched 1965 Sting Ray coupe. “The body looked good and I was told the frame was in great shape,” he recalls.
Ron brought the car home with plenty of time to plan the build. “I still had about two years left at my job, so I thought a lot about the design in the meantime. I wanted any changes to enhance the strong character of the car and they had to be timeless, not trendy,” says Ron. “I also decided to do most of the work myself!”
The big day finally came and Ron exchanged his business suit for some comfy garage attire. He grabbed a digital camera and began the painstaking process of dismantling and inventorying every nut, bolt, piece, and part from the Corvette. “I think I took over 1,000 digital photos while I was taking this thing apart,” he says.
Ron borrowed a cherry picker, and with a little help from his friends, lifted the Sting Ray’s fiberglass body off of its frame. He sent the frame out to be stripped, and got the kind of news that no car guy ever wants to hear. “The frame was a mess. It was full of body filler and had to be rebuilt,” he explains with a shake of his head. “That was a real shocker.”
Once the frame was repaired, Ron filled and smoothed all of the welds and seams. He also decided to paint the frame, aftermarket suspension, and driveline components himself. “I thought it’d be a walk in the park,” laughs Ron. “I pulled the trigger and man, the paint started to run. I didn’t have enough light, the frame was too low to the ground, and I even had the wrong side up. I learned the hard way that the bottom of the frame is the part you actually see.”
With the rookie mistakes corrected, Ron turned his attention to the mid-year’s 396 big block. “When you buy a car like this, the motor is usually trashed, so I let a buddy haul it away,” says Ron. A few days later, Ron’s friend returned with some pleasant news and the big block in tow. “I told him that I didn’t want that boat anchor and he told me, the engine was virtually new! That sure took some of the sting out of the whole frame debacle,” he adds with a smile.
Although the cylinder heads had to be reworked, the .030" over engine came with Crane pistons and rods, plus a new COMP® Cams Magnum camshaft. To complement an eye-popping assortment of polished billet engine accessories, Ron gave the block a PPG Argent Silver base coat followed with clear. “You, see, the engine doesn’t really run hot enough to need high temp paint,” explains Ron.
Before reassembling the Sting Ray, Ron shaved the door handles, removed all of the exterior emblems and trim, and repaired some fiberglass damage. “You can cure fiberglass with a heat lamp or direct sunlight, so I had the car’s body parts scattered all over my yard,” says Ron. “I’m glad my neighbors didn’t get upset!” Ron then blocked the body to perfection and sent the entire shooting match out for paint and interior work.
The mid-year made its way back home wearing a breathtaking Twilight Blue Pearl paint job, expertly applied by Ken Zikelli of Zeke’s Street Machines. At Ron’s request, Ken also added a ghosted rally stripe—a modern tribute to the Vette’s vintage sports car roots. A set of Intro Radicalli aluminum wheels, a custom billet grille, and polished side exhaust covers add some star-like shine to the deep twilight background.
Open a door, slip inside and your senses are immediately kissed by the Corvette’s lush, lipstick-red leather interior. The two-seat cabin also sports a tasteful collection of polished accents including a Billet Specialties Chicayne steering wheel, Flaming River steering column, and a custom billet dash that carries a collection of Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges.
“I wanted to take this build to the limit of my ability and I’m really happy with the way the car turned out,” says Ron. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, you’d have to be crazy not to love a Corvette this cool!
Photography By: Todd Biss
Art Direction By: Lance Nemes
Story By: James Millar
Frame: Stock, reinforced, seams welded and smoothed
Rear End: Richmond Gear 3.55:1 ring and pinion, GM Positraction limited-slip differential
Suspension: Vette Brakes & Products Performance Plus independent suspension system, Bilstein Sport Series shocks, Addco Anti-Sway Bar kits (1 1/8" front/3/4" rear)
Brakes: Wilwood 4-wheel disc brakes, Power Stop cross-drilled rotors, SSBC master cylinder
Wheels and Tires: Intro Radicalli 17" x 7" aluminum wheels; Nitto NT450 tires, 225/45R17 front, 225/50R17 rear
Engine and Transmission
Engine: Chevy 396 cu. in., bored .030" over, COMP® Cams Magnum camshaft (.520" lift, 230° duration)
Induction: Demon Carburetion Speed Demon 650 cfm carburetor, Edelbrock Performer intake manifold
Ignition and Electrical: Taylor Vertex Billet HEI distributor, Taylor 8mm ignition wires, Powermaster alternator, Tilton Super Starter, Billet Specialties wire looms, Optima Yellow Top battery
Exhaust: Jet-Hot coated stock exhaust manifolds and 2 1/2" exhaust system
Other Items: Be Cool aluminum radiator, Concept One serpentine pulley system, Meziere water pump, ARP fasteners; custom air cleaner and Billet Specialties valve covers painted by RPM Motorsports
Transmission: Borg Warner 4-speed manual transmission, Hurst Competition/Plus shifter, RAM 11" clutch
Body: 1965 Corvette Sting Ray, door handles shaved, trim and front bumper removed
Paint: Sikkens Twilight Blue Pearl with custom-mix ghost stripe
Paint By: Ken Zikelli of Zeke’s Street Machines
Other Items: Alumicraft billet grille, Trim Parts lights and hardware, Vintage Glass green-tinted windows and windshield, 1980 Corvette mirrors
Upholstery: Lipstick Red leather upholstery, Daytona Weave carpet
Upholstery By: George Yago of George Yago Auto Trim
Other items: Billet Specialties Chicayne steering wheel; Flaming River steering column; Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges; Lokar floor mount emergency brake; Pioneer stereo system; custom dash, door panels, kick panels, and rear compartment; Vintage Air Sure Fit air conditioning system
2012 Goodguys Nashville Nationals, Nashville Tennessee: Cool Corvette
2011 Goodguys WIX Speedway Nationals, Indianapolis Indiana: Meguiar’s Magnificent Masterpiece
2010 Goodguys Nationals, Columbus Ohio: Homebuilt Heaven
2008 Corvettes at Carlisle, Carlisle PA: Chip’s Choice
Special thanks to: Ken Zikelli for the over-the-top paintwork and my lovely wife Donna, for putting up with 2 1/2 years of dust, dirt, grease, and fumes