Jim Ray is my neighbor. Despite health issues, he’s always friendly and likes to talk. Especially about cars, motorcycles, and tell crazy stories from days long gone. Jim brought over a CD with scanned images of a few Corvette car projects from the ’60s. And started telling stories.
He liked Corvettes. His dad scoffed at the idea of him ever having one. But one day his dad put a Matchbox Corvette in the top of his toolbox and told Jim that if he wanted one to think about it every time he opened his toolbox. And he did.
It was a warm Phoenix evening in 1965 when Jim, barefoot, entered the showroom of Courtsey Chevrolet on 12th Street and Camelback. None of the salesmen paid him any attention. Except one who finally came over to the young man as he kept walking around the white big block 396 4-speed coupe. Henry Mandiez.
“Ever ridden in one?”
The salesman decided to take him for a ride. They opened up the big glass doors and pushed the car out of the showroom. The salesman got in the driver’s seat as Jim enthusiastically got in as the passenger. In those days Phoenix was a lot less congested with plenty of places for a proper test drive. The salesman got on it, pushing Jim back into his seat with the torque of the 396. Then the salesman turned the car around and parked. It was Jim’s turn. Jim eased out in first, shifted into second, and got on the gas wanting to feel the power come on. Instead, the car went sideways and almost kissed a curb.
“You almost bought yourself a Corvette, kid.” They traded places for the trip back to the dealer.
When they got the car back to the dealership, Jim asked the salesman how much the car was. With tax and license, it was fifty-six-hundred-something. Jim told the salesman not to put the car away. He’d be back. Yeah, right.
But Jim did return. They were getting around to put the car back into the showroom when Jim got back that Friday evening. No longer barefoot, Jim and his buddy were both wearing engineering boots stuffed with rolls of $100 bills, enough for the car.
“It hasn’t been prepped.” Jim didn’t know anything about being prepped and didn’t care. He wanted it right then. He drove the car off the lot and straight to Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix for some cruising. There was a restaurant on Central called the Rainbow Tavern where everybody hung out. Jim wasn’t old enough to go inside. But if you had a cool car you could park in front. Jim pulled in, popped the hood, and promptly emptied the restaurant as everybody rushed out, straining to get a glimpse of their first porcupine big block.
Nothing turns heads like that anymore. Nothing.
If you left your hood up it meant you were looking for a race. Racing took place out in farm country on 67th Avenue and Bell Road. Not much out there. There was a farmer that lived about a half mile from where they raced, and he’d take a bucket of popcorn and his kids to go watch the races.
Jim was on street tires and had to be really easy off the line. Most of the racers has slicks.
Those days are long gone.
Jim worked for Honeywell and had a body shop. He rebuilt Corvettes; the wrecks were plentiful and cheap. Jim and a buddy build this funny car out of Corvette pieces, but by the time he got the car finished, funny car’s morphed into something quite different. The roll cage was built out of seamed black pipe. They just didn’t know any different, and in those days the tech inspectors let it by. Check out the driving position in this home made race car.
Jim drove it only once. Forward visibility was extremely restricted by the injector stacks and the driving position. Since drag racing is all about forward, it’s nice to be able to see where you are going. One drive was enough for him. His partner was crazier. He ran the car in the high 9’s at nearly 170 mph. Then they put a blower on it and went almost 190. They raced it at Beeline Dragway.