What Did We Get?
In 1966, just as in 2015, every Corvette was rear-wheel drive, V8-powered and available as a coupe or a convertible.
After much debate and about six weeks of research we decided to pursue a Nassau Blue (the most popular color in 1966) coupe powered by the base and most popular engine, a 300-horsepower, 327-cubic-inch small-block with a 10.5-to-1 compression ratio, and a four-speed manual transmission.
Chevy offered four engines in 1966: two 327 small-blocks and two 427-cubic-inch big-blocks. The other three are more powerful and more desirous, which of course means they cost more. We also knew that the higher 11.0-to-1 compression ratio Chevy used in the optional 350-hp 327 (L79) and top dog 425-hp 427 (L72) would make daily use of the car difficult on California's modern 91-octane gasoline.
After studying the market it was concluded that a budget of about $50,000 would get a good car in #3 to #2 condition, which means it's somewhere between a daily driver and a restored collectible. A car we can drive reliably and be proud of, but not such a perfectly restored example that was too precious to use. Remember, we want to have fun with the car; it's not a longtime investment.
With that mindset we began shopping.
The goal was to buy a car with a well done, but aging restoration. Pure originality and historical correctness weren't a priority; rather, a "stock" appearing car that would deliver a 1966 driving experience. Modified or modernized examples weren't of interest.
After a few weeks of late-night Internet searches a car popped up at Mershon's, a family-owned and -operated classic car dealer in Springfield, Ohio. Mershon's deals in Corvettes mostly and has a solid reputation.
After exchanging phone calls and many photos, the dealership sent us a video of the car starting and running. It looked good. Sounded good. And checked all the right boxes: the right motor, the right transmission, the right color and the right body style. It also wore the optional cast-aluminum knock-off wheels we wanted. Its black interior was a bonus.
Asking price: $59,000.
Due to the fact that that the car was still equipped with its original "born with" numbers matching engine and the rare option of air-conditioning, the price was a bit over our budget but we knew this was the one.
After more than a few phone conversations with salesman Shelby Mershon we agreed on a purchase price of $55,000. But we also commissioned Mershon's to replace the Corvette's standard full-length exhaust with the optional side pipes, or the "Side Mount Exhaust System" as Chevy called it in 1966. We wanted side pipes and were willing to pay the $2,500 to have a reproduction set installed.
Driving the car from Ohio to Santa Monica was briefly considered, but winter was still hitting the Midwest with the white stuff so we instead forked over $1,700 to have the car trucked in.
Cut to three weeks later and we were driving our sidepiped Sting Ray (two words from 1963 to 1967, dropped for 1968 but reappeared as one word Stingray in 1969) around Southern California. And trust us, you can hear it before you see it.
What Options Does It Have?
Of the 27,720 Corvettes Chevy built in 1966, 9,958 were coupes. Base price was $4,295. Not chump change in the day, but far cheaper than a Ferrari 275 GTB which cost about $14,000.
How our car was originally equipped beyond its drivetrain, color and body style is a mystery. Almost everything was an option back then, and our car now has a smattering of them; air-conditioning, which we believe to be original to the car, being the most unusual. Just 3,520 Corvettes got A/C in 1966, probably because it was the most expensive option at $412.90, even more expensive than the big-block engines.
Other options now on our car include power steering, the side pipes, the knock-off wheels, AM/FM radio, an M21 close ratio transmission and a Positraction (limited-slip) rear axle. It uses the standard 3.36-to-1 gears.
Notable options it is not equipped with are power brakes, shoulder belts (it has lap belts only), power windows and a Traffic Hazard Switch.
And then there are the tires. First of all, they are bias ply, which was state of the art in 1966. Radial tires did not appear on GM cars until the early to mid-1970s.
Black walls were standard. Whiteline tires were an option for $31.30 and almost 18,000 Corvettes left the factory in 1966 with the whitewalls. For $46.55, however, buyers could step up to Goldline tires and that's how 5,557 Corvettes were built.
Our car you'll notice wears redline tires. They become an option in 1967. We like them. So we have them. The plan is to stay with this rubber for a while but we may switch to a set of radials to see how much they improve the drive.
Why We Bought It
In 1966, a company named Edmunds began to fuel the consumer-driven automotive information age by publishing an automotive pricing guide. A book that helped you decide what to pay for your next car.
Forty-nine years later we've decided to travel back in time and experience an automotive icon from Edmunds' very first year. We, of course, wanted a car that not only defined that era, but is still in production today. It had to be a nameplate that has navigated, evolved and thrived over the same five decades as our company, through nine presidencies, three wars, two oil embargos and of course the transition from an analog to a digital world.
The list was short. Cool and sexy performance cars (not trucks) in continuous production from 1966 to 2015 can be counted on one hand. There's the Porsche 911, the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Corvette.
The Porsche was considered for just a few seconds. We're an American company and wanted to buy and experience an American automotive icon.
A fastback Mustang, maybe even a Shelby GT350, was seriously discussed. But, as iconic and special and desirable as it is, it's not a midyear Corvette Sting Ray, which is universally considered one of the top five most beautiful cars of all-time.
Built from 1963 to 1967, this generation of Corvette is considered by many to be the finest example of the sports car Chevrolet has ever produced. Besides being simply beautiful inside and out, they were the third American car with four-wheel independent suspension (1963), and the first with four-wheel disc brakes (1965), aluminum wheels (1963), hidden headlamps (1963) and a long list of other innovations that secured the Corvette's reputation as an affordable two-seat sports car that had the chops to run with and even outrun Europe's best, both on the street and the racetrack.
How deep is the love for these cars? We once saw a guy at a car show wearing a T-shirt that read, "Sure Chevy has made Corvettes after 1967, but who the f@#& cares."
Honestly, we're not sure how long we're going to keep it. We'll see how it goes, commuting in and living with a 50-year-old car with side pipes and bias ply tires (for now). And there's already talk of a road trip.
So follow along on our long-term blog as we enjoy the summer in our classic Corvette coupe.
Best MPG: Not Good
Worst MPG: Laughable
Average MPG: If you really care you don't get it.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.