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Top Spin

A warm-weather appreciation of the 1967 Corvette Sting Ray convertible — the best ragtop ever made

BY A.J. BAIME

TO A 6-YEAR-OLD BOY, it was like the key to all the mysteries of adulthood there in my uncle’s garage: the attitude, the suggestion of performance, freedom, even danger. Most of all, boundless amusement. It was a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray convertible — tuxedo black, gleaming side mufflers — a car my uncle drove until the floorboards had rusted so severely that you could reach your foot down and touch the pavement, like Fred Flintstone. The day he let me sit in the cockpit and wrap my fingers around the wheel was the day I became a lifelong car freak.

Now is the season for top-down driving, and though the list of great roadsters and cabriolets is long — Jaguar’s Series One E-Type convertible and Ferrari’s 250 GT California come to mind — the ’67 Corvette Sting Ray still stands out as the single greatest ragtop model ever to catwalk down a road, not only for its beauty and agility but for what it stands for. New cars can send email and microwave popcorn; many practically drive themselves. What they lack? Rawness and the kind of iconography that comes only with time.

The Corvette was originally intended to be topless. It was unveiled at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on Jan. 17, 1953, a roadster in an automobile stylist’s version of a wedding gown — pearl white paint, white steering wheel, whitewall tires. Chevy executives rigged secret microphones around the car to record viewers’ impressions. They ended up with reels full of expletives.

By 1967, the car was at the end of its second generation, and the model was something special: a perfect pairing of exotic Euro styling and hard-nosed American muscle. It was the last of its generation and came with an optional all new 427 Turbo-Jet V8 (a $437.10 addon), the most powerful production engine money could buy. The convertible was either a removable hardtop or foldable vinyl ragtop. “No need to ask whether Corvette for ’67 is a luxury car or a sports car,” the brochure read. “You can see for yourself it’s both.” The ’67 ’Vette was the second-highest-selling model ever and marketed itself beautifully on racetracks, grabbing checkered flags all over the globe.

None of which really gets at why it’s the greatest ever. The year 1967 is remembered for the Summer of Love, but the cultural movement that gripped America even more than filthy hair and beads was muscle car mania. International racing would never again be so popular. Icons like A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney (who won Le Mans that year in an “All American” victory for Ford Motor Company), were demigods. Nobody cared about the price of gas (it was 33 cents a gallon); all that mattered was how fast a car could go, even if you had no destination. “Never before has a romance between man and machine blazed so strongly,” commented an L.A. Times columnist.

In other words, this was youthful American spirit at its pinnacle — before the Vietnam draft, before the death of Jimi Hendrix, before extensive emissions regulations and Watergate paranoia. No automobile captured the moment more than the convertible Corvette did 44 summers ago. It is an emblem of optimism and adventure, of a time when the right thing to do was what you weren’t supposed to. It is the endless summer on wheels.

Good luck finding one today that you can afford, though. Especially one with floorboards.

A.J. BAIME is the author of Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans. He drives a dirty Subaru.

DOIN’ THAT RAG

Mess up your hair in one of these 2012 so tops

Chrysler 200
$24,175
The old Sebring has been replaced by the 200. It’s not speedy and it’s no Gisele Bündchen. But if you want a new, affordable convertible runabout, this is it.

Shelby Cobra
$69,995
To mark the 50th anniversary of Carroll Shelby’s Cobra, Shelby will make limited-edition Cobras that look just like the originals. Order now; they’ll hit the streets next summer.

BMW 650i
$90,500
BMW’s 6-series reboot, in showrooms right now, is a serious piece of machinery. The twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 is sure to get the engine in your rib cage pumping.

Saab 9-3 Aero
$44,080
Based on the Saab Aero-X concept, this ragtop — which received a significant overhaul for this model year — is tougher than you’d think.

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