Imagine an engine whose acceleration slams you into your seat every time you change gears. Imagine an exhaust note so loud you have to communicate with your passenger via sign language. Imagine a car so thoroughly outrageous it makes your jaw drop. Then double it. Welcome to the world of Paul Pavlou's 700hp Sting Ray.
Model year 1965 was one hell of a time to get a Corvette. For instance, it was the only year you could buy a Sting Ray with a 375hp fuel-injected small-block, disc brakes, and side-mounted exhausts. And starting at just over $4,000, the car was an incredible performance bargain. The buying public thought so, too: Sales reached a record (at the time) 23,564 units, 15,378 of them convertibles, according to the Corvette Black Book.
Jump forward 40 years and to a different country, where we recently came face to face with one of the 15,000-or-so '65 convertibles Chevrolet produced-albeit in a slightly different form than the day it rolled off the line.
We first heard, then saw, this '65 Sting Ray as it disappeared in a cloud of tire smoke outside the Ace Caf one summer night last year. To say the sight was impressive is an understatement. Although heavily modified, the car remained honest to the Sting Ray formula from the '60s: Small car; big, powerful engine-in this case, a really big, powerful engine. We had to find out more about this monster Vette and its creator.
A few weeks later, we met up with car owner Paul Pavlou at his house. Over a cup of coffee and a cream cake, we learned more about the blue Vette sitting in his garage among some cool-looking bikes and other toys. "It was in 1988. After having a number of fast cars, including a V-8-powered Capri and a nicely tuned Bauer BMW, I decided I wanted to get something different, something a bit special," Paul tells us with a wink.
After scouring hundreds of classified ads and driving a roughly equal number of miles, the 19-year-old Paul and his friend, Tony, finally came across an ad for two Corvette Sting Rays: a black '64 and a red '65. A phone call later, and the two friends were on the road to Aversham from North London. En route, the lads hoped they weren't going to find yet another of the "dogs" they had seen up until then.
As they pulled into the drive, the sight of a beautiful, shiny black Corvette greeted them. "We were so surprised to find something that good that we almost didn't bother checking out the other Vette," Paul says. "But we did, and were even more surprised when we clapped eyes on this bright red Vette with a huge hoodscoop and puffed-out wheel arches. It looked like nothing we had ever seen before," he says excitedly.
After a bit of negotiation, Paul and Tony jumped into the red '65, turned the ignition, and the 327 rumbled like distant thunder as they headed home. They made it, but not before suffering through a couple of detours, being caught in the rain without working wipers, despite the car's up-to-date MOT [short for "Ministry of Transport," an MOT is the UK's equivalent of a state-issued vehicle-inspection sticker], and twice being stopped by the police. It seems the bemused bobbies simply wanted to know what kind of car they'd just passed. "One of them even asked if it was an AC Cobra," Paul remembers, laughing.
More misfortune followed. A few years later Paul and Tony were belting down the road when the lefthand rear-wheel nuts sheared, sending the wheel careening into the other lane. "It bounced off the railings outside Winchmore cop shop and plowed into a Fiesta coming the opposite direction. Luckily, no one was hurt," Paul says, shaking his head.
One of the friends made a phone call, and another turned up in a Transit [a type of Ford van sold in Europe] to tow the Vette home. The only problem-they didn't have a trailer. After a few minutes of "lateral" thinking, the guys came up with the idea to "liberate" a shopping trolley from the nearest supermarket and substitute it for the missing wheel. The plan worked surprisingly well until the guys burned out the clutch on the van and were once again stranded. Finally, a passing Jeep owner took pity on them and towed the Vette home.
Once Paul got the car home, it became apparent it needed a major overhaul. First on the list were the rear arches, which had been held in place by pieces of plywood. Paul's friend, Chris, removed the arches, straightened and extended the bodywork by 3 inches, then pieced everything back together, this time sans roofing materials. The finished car was painted Azure Blue, and a set of billet wheels was added to complete the job.
Paul then replaced the original 327 with a 427 motor from another friend, Fodi, who had just upgraded his own modified Capri to a 502 lump. Luck was on Paul's side, and the 427 matched the Vette's manual gearbox. He added a set of Hooker headers, side pipes, an MSD LS6 ignition, and a custom aluminum dash with a full set of Auto Meter gauges.
A couple of summers later, while driving to North Weald, Paul "got a bit carried away" and blew the Vette's motor. "Naturally, I decided a full mechanical spruce-up was needed," he says. "I ordered a new custom-built 540-cubic-inch block from Smax Smith, with Edelbrock alley [Brit slang for "aluminum"] heads and a King Demon carb. Then the entire kit was sent off to Kenny Coman to be dyno tested."
So, what did it turn out? "It was producing 700 hp and 632 lb-ft of torque at 6,200 rpm, and at 3,500 rpm it pushed out 420 hp and 620 lb-ft of torque," he says, smiling like a Cheshire cat. Finally, Paul replaced the manual gearbox with a Turbo 400 equipped with a manual valvebody, also built by Smax.
With the powertrain modifications taken care of, Paul turned his attention to the rest of the running gear. He took his Vette to yet another friend, Clive, who works at Prism Motor Sport. There, the complete system was upgraded, starting with a 9-inch Mere's LSD and extending to Wilwood inboard brakes; independent shafts with billet hubs, crossmember, and coilovers; A-arms with a single leaf spring; custom-built Leda shocks; billet hubs; and Aerospace front brakes. The original steering column was also removed in favor of a power rack-and-pinion setup.
To cool the engine, Paul fitted a Mallory electric water pump and a Be Cool radiator with twin electric fans. An electric accumulator was added to prime the block with oil for cold starts. The engine's wiring was tidied up with aircraft hoses and fittings to better match the attention to detail Clive had maintained throughout the build. The last thing to do was fit an exhaust, which came in the shape of a modified 211/48-into-411/42-inch collector feeding a 5-inch side pipe.
Because of the tall block and King Demon carb, Paul was unable to find an air filter that would fit under the Vette's hood. To overcome this, he called on another friend, also named Paul, who fabricated a power bulge to accommodate the big-block.
Over the years, Paul has had a number of American cars, including a pink '56 Cadillac, a '68 Mustang notchback restoration project, a black '72 Road Runner that was destroyed by a lorry, a '71 T-top Corvette, an '87 IROC Z, a '73 Z28 Camaro, and an '00 GT Mustang that Paul owned for a total of five hours before it was wrecked by a friend.
We asked Paul if he will ever get rid of his Vette. "No, mate. I mean, you can see I've had a lot of cars, plus some I haven't mentioned. I've had the Vette for 18 years now, and it's here to stay."