Owner: John Ricci
Story and photography by Clive Branson
John Ricci is the former lead guitarist for the veteran heavy metal band, Exciter. The middle-aged rocker still has a menacing presence with his spiked, long black-ink coloured hair, thick arms and ‘hard life’ appearance. And though John’s motto is “the louder, the better,” he admits that after 35 years of music that could split concrete, he is going deaf. His character is more affable, polite and shy rather than obnoxious, egotistical and arrogant, but when it comes to music and cars, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal.
John’s hot red 1966 Corvette Stingray is at the furthest spectrum from a plain white refrigerator, but it took a long time to piece it together – literally. The car is made of hundreds of individual parts from various suppliers across Canada and the United States.
By making sure he acquired the correct numbers, John eventually got his dream car on the road only it took 25 years to do so. He deserves a plaque just for his perseverance to finish the project. The result is stunning, loud and powerful. The noise alone is worth the price of admission. Release the clutch and before the brain registers ‘go’, what was tire marks is now a cloud of smoke.
“When I decided I wanted to build this car, I started looking for parts and I came across a 1980 Corvette chassis from a tow truck company. I was aware that the 1963 – 1982 chassis is basically the same shape,” John gesticulates. “I had the schematics to convert it to a 1966 model, which I did by welding in the proper rear section and modifying the front horns on the frame so the bumper brackets would attach properly.”
This is from someone who was self-taught in mechanics (cutting and welding) engineering (electronics) and from years of observing mechanically-minded friends, reading automotive manuals, and a lot of trail and error.
“I did 90 per cent of the work myself on the Corvette except for the bodywork, paint and specific welding that was needed on certain parts of the chassis; otherwise, I did it all. Norm Desjardins did all the bodywork and paint with Dupont’s base coat/clear coat ’64 Riverside Red, a colour so intoxicating, it could make a virgin blush.”
John bought the body from a friend in Hamilton in 1992. The body was a firewall back body, but it was an “accident car,” so the fiberglass was pretty much a write-off. “I had to replace the rear quarters and firewall with number GM fiberglass that I was lucky to find from local vendors.”
The ’66 Corvette had always been a dream car for John and he was determined to own one eventually. “A lot of TV shows back in my youth, during the ‘50s and ‘60s, featured classic cars and were a major influence on me, but the car that truly stood out, was how exotic the Corvettes were.
Nevertheless, I didn’t think it would take so long and be so expensive to own one. Often, I felt like giving up. I still shake my head when I consider this car was built from a pile of scrap. All the parts I obtained had to be restored. Some of my buddies can’t believe the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of the car. It really was a resurrection.”
The seats, dash, door panels, headlight buckets, gauges, clock, front to back fuel lines, wiring, rear taillights, carpet, brakes and heavy duty, big block front suspension, shocks and springs – all recovered, rebuilt and replaced- including the radio with a re-conditioned Wonderbar model circa 1967. In addition, all the glass was replaced except for the hardtop glass.
The transmission was a 2-speed Powerglide, but John installed a 3-speed turbo transmission. “I bought this shifter adapter so I could use the 2-speed shifter with a 3-speed transmission without making the hole opening larger in the shifter console, and it works perfect.” All four bumpers are original and re-chromed. The wheels are restored original 1960 Fenton and Appliance Torque Thrusts.
“The car initially had no motor so it was either a 390- or 425-horsepower big block due to the then competition from foreign exotic cars and the emergence of muscle cars.” The 425 was originally specified as a 450 and the 390 was originally 400. “I picked up a 1970 Chevy 350 and brought it to the machine shop. I had it machined to .30 over with flat top pistons, high flow oil pump, a mild cam and a Holley 600 4-barrel carb. It also has coated headers and stainless steel exhausts from front to back.”
With 300 horsepower, there’s enough muscle to clean out your sinuses with a touch of the throttle. Hardly surprising that 1966 was another record-breaking year for Corvette with over 27,500 units sold, up some 4,200 over 1965.
“The body was the worst part to restore because it was so brittle and cracked. That took time to glue it all back together at the body shop. It took about a year just to restore the body.” Because John doesn’t drive the car that much, the hardest part to maintain are oil leaks and brake caliber leakage.
“The more the car sits, the greater the chances are for leaks to develop because all the gaskets dry up.” Regardless, when John turns the ignition on, there is no other music like a howling crescendo. “When I’m driving the car, I get a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, because I built the car with my own two hands.” John is thinking of another restoration project, this time, a 1961 Corvette and a 1927 Ford Coupe, but the ’66 is definitely a keeper. “This was my dream car I dreamt about when I was a kid, so now my life is complete!”
“I don’t know if the kids today have the same desire about cars. The classic car hobby is in jeopardy. The younger generation just doesn’t get it and the Baby Boomers are fading away one by one, so at some point, you may find beautiful restored cars and hot rods rotting away in someone’s garage, unclaimed by any younger family member because they are simply not interested. Sad but true.” I don’t know. How could you turn down a car like this?