When Robert Redford and Paul Newman paired together in The Sting, it was a resurrection of sorts after their untimely demise in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Surprisingly enough, these legendary movies have a few parallels with Scott Mercer's 800-horse '69 Stingray.
As in The Sting, the story involves an assortment of colorful and shady characters, and like those western outlaws Butch and Sundance, Mercer's Corvette turned out to be one fearsome quick-draw gunslinger on the track. Mercer isn't what you'd call a hard-core Corvette guy from central casting, though. True, he once owned a '67 Tri-power convertible back in the early '80s, a car he sorely misses. But his main thing is Porsches, those big-dollar Teutonic turbo machines with engines of smaller displacement mounted in the wrong end. So his initial thoughts of a Bow Tie beast were not enthusiastic-at least until he witnessed some late-'60s endurance racers in action at the Monterey Historics.
"I fell in love with that 'form factor,'" he admits. "[Those cars] were just fantastic."
Bitten by the Corvette bug, Mercer had Campbell Auto Restoration-a high-end SoCal resto shop run by Mark Scwartz and Tom Dillard-scout around for a suitable platform to modify. And just like Redford's con-man character from The Sting, the results of their search were a bit scruffy when they showed up at the Campbell shop.
Not only was the root-beer-brown '69 Stingray in horrible shape, with funky shag carpeting and the triple-carb induction system sitting on the rear seat, but the car's owner appeared to be on the lam. Having diverted his financial reserves into some socially unacceptable pursuits, he was willing to part with the car for a song. Fortunately, this was not some sort of elaborate scam.
Mercer approached Campbell with a build script, as the shop had previously done resto work on his Chevelle and GT350. (It seems he hasn't always been a Porsche fan. We hear he also has a Boss 302, a '69 Camaro, a '44 Woodie, and a '58 pickup once owned by Steve McQueen).
All the performance aspects of the plotline were familiar material for the Campbell crew, but there was just one small problem. Well, actually, a big one: Mercer didn't fit the part. At six feet, five inches tall, and with legs as long as an L88 hood, he just couldn't fit comfortably in the C3's cabin.
The Campbell team went to work, not realizing what a multi-year project the buildup would become. To make more room in the cockpit, the team moved the pedal box 4 inches forward and dropped the floorpan. The bottom of the driver seat is actually built into the frame of the car to maximize headroom. The result is that if anyone of more typical size tries to drive the Vette, seat cushions have to be added to achieve a correct driving position.
A rollcage was also installed, but with an interesting twist: The upper section for the doors is recessed, allowing a portion of the cage to swing open but eliminating the side windows in the process. As a concession to tradition, the gauges were kept traditional, with no digital readouts.
The exterior mods included not one, but two pairs of fender flares on each side, in order to overlay those massive Michelin meats (measuring 345/30-19). The width of the car is now nearly 10 inches more than stock, and the rear spoiler 1.5 inches taller. The front spoiler and cowl piece are original-spec items patterned after the James Garner Corvette racers, and the headlights are FIA-style with yellow high beams.
A C4 setup was initially planned for all four corners, but Mercer later opted for hlins custom-valved coilovers with Eibach springs. (The rearend had a C4 configuration from Newman Car Creations, but that's now being upgraded after the third member grenaded on the track). Stoppers are a combination of Alcon and Baer components, with six-piston calipers and 13.5-inch rotors. Kevin Long of Campbell admits that the brake bias was one of the trickier aspects to address, partly because the car isn't suitable for street driving and really needs to be opened up on the track to sort out the chassis.
Which leads us to the next act: that wild-ass, deafening monster under the strobe-striped hood. (By the way, the color scheme pays homage to those patriotic-looking endurance racers, but in a fresh way, using blue instead of white as a basecoat.)
The Keith Black block measures a whopping 540 cubes and is topped by a Kinsler cross-ram induction on AFR heads. The brain for this insane, fuel-injected mill is an Accel Gen 7 system. The 806 horses it produces pummel a Quaife sequential six-speed, but without the paddle-shift feature. Using the clutch on this $20,000 unit is optional: "You just wham it and go," says Campbell's Kevin Long.
All of which makes for a serious threat on the track. On one outing at a road course (the Optima Street Car Invitational, sponsored by our sister magazine Hot Rod), it took Second Place overall running on street tires, while manned by a driver who normally only competes on straight-line courses. (First place went to a '69 Camaro running on racing rubber.)
Mercer admits he hasn't been able to enjoy his Stingray as much as he'd like, but says the result is highly satisfying. "It ended up an animal," he says. "It should not be driven on the street. It's bred for the track." And when he heads out to the road course in his patriotic Corvette, his fellow Porschephiles don't quite know what to make it of it. They just shake their heads, and run for cover. The Sting has arrived.