In the long history of America’s Only True Sports Car, some offerings are known as “First and lasts,” thanks to features that made their sole appearance during a single model year.
Such is the case with Don Harrow’s ’61 Corvette, one of 1,462 built that year with the optional 315-horsepower, fuel-injected 283. Harrow found the car stored not far from home back in 2005. “This one hadn’t been on the road in about 12 years,” he recalls. “The owner didn’t take it out because the fuel-injection unit was very unreliable. It was a diamond in the rough, since it was a numbers-matching car.”
“Diamond in the rough” may be too charitable a term for a car that needed more than a good cut and polish. “It had had a general, body-on restoration back in the early ’80s,” says Harrow of the ’61’s history. “Everything pretty much needed [restoring], and the paint also needed freshening to make it original looking.”
Once he got the car home, he began taking it apart, starting with the Rochester mechanical fuelie that topped the original 283. To his dismay, he discovered the FI unit had more than a few mismatched parts in it. “I sent it down to Ken Hansen in Tennessee, and he found out that it was not all correct,” Harrow says. “It had parts from a ’60, a’61 -- all kinds of parts on it.” Fortunately he found an original ’61 FI unit on eBay, complete with the parts Hansen needed to make the fuelie factory correct for its year of manufacture.
That was one of just a few areas where Harrow sought outside help. “I like hands-on [work], and I don’t like to give somebody else money if I can do it myself,” he explains. He did have Sedlack’s Auto Body in Monticello, New York, refinish the original body in the correct Tuxedo Black/Sateen Silver two-tone, and Precision Stereo Repair in New Hartford, New York, brought the RPO 102 signal-seeking AM radio back to operating condition.
But before the radio went back in, one big problem needed solving: the car’s wiring. “I didn’t look under the dash when I bought it, but when I finally did, there was a yellow 10-gauge wire to a red 14-gauge wire to a black 10-gauge wire,” Harrow says of the “disaster” he took out and replaced with a new repro harness from Lectric Limited.
He credits Emery Campbell with returning the 283 to its original 11.0-compression form for the ’61’s previous owner. Harrow now fuels the engine with aviation gasoline. “Today’s gasoline starts percolating, and the fuel-injection unit can’t handle it,” he says. “All of a sudden, it spits, sputters, and dies, and you have to let it cool off.
“When we take it out, we do it mostly on cool nights, even with aviation fuel in it,” he adds.
Al Knoch supplied a reproduction seat-cover and carpet set, B&M Classic Clock & Gauge redid the gauge cluster, and Paragon Corvette Reproductions came through with a lot of other needed parts. “They were my number one source for parts to make this car right,” says Harrow of the Michigan-based resto-parts seller.
The entire two-year restoration “made it right” enough to win an AACA Senior award, and to be selected as one of the featured Corvettes in the 50th Anniversary tribute display at Corvettes at Carlisle a few years back. The car has also nabbed more than a few First Place and Best in Show awards at local events closer to home. Still, Harrow is looking to make his ’61 even “righter:” “I’m replacing things that are not correct by NCRS standards, putting in things like the right bolts and split washers, so it can go through NCRS judging.”
Even though Harrow limits his driving time in the car (thanks to the 283’s 11.0:1 compression, av-gas requirement, and 4.11 rear gears), it’s still an invigorating companion when he does. “It handles beautifully, and it tracks beautifully,” he notes, before sharing a story of when his son drove it for the first time.
“We got [on] a stretch of highway that I knew was clear from Point A to Point B. I said, ‘If you want to see how fast it can go, do it now.’ He punched it, and you could see the smile on his face as it climbed past 100. Then, I was waving to him saying, ‘Alright, that’s enough, now!’”
As it turned out, that 315-horse 283 option (and the other four 283s) disappeared from the Corvette’s parts roster after ’61, replaced by a line of 327-inch small-blocks -- but none with dual quads, and no hydraulic-lifter fuelie option either. Also making their final Corvette appearance that year were wide-whitewall tires (replaced by the new industry-standard one-inch whitewalls for ’62), and two-tone paint and chrome trim around the body-side coves went away when 1961 production ended in July.
But ’61 was the first year for the Stingray-inspired rear styling, an aluminum Harrison radiator, and the “toothless” front grille, and it drew 10,939 buyers -- plus thousands more who were drawn by it to their Chevy dealers’ 1961 “Greatest Show On Worth” promotion.
This particular ’61 is a proud addition to Harrow’s collection of Corvettes, which now numbers three -- including a numbers-matching ’67 and a ’72 he bought after completing a Vietnam-era tour of duty with the Army. “I’ll never get rid of this car, and I’ll never get rid of the ’67 or the ’72,” he says. “Those will stay in the family until I pass away, and what they do with them [after that] is up to them.”
| Spec Sheet |
|Owner||Don Harrow; Livingston Manor, NY|
|Block||Chevrolet SBC iron (casting #3756519)|
|Heads||RPO 354 iron (casting #3782461)|
|Camshaft||RPO 354 solid lifter|
|Pistons||Stock forged aluminum|
|Crankshaft||Stock forged steel|
|Rods||Stock forged steel|
|Oil System||Stock with mechanical pump|
|Fuel Injection||Rochester mechanical (PN 7017320)|
|Ignition||Stock AC-Delco points-type|
|Exhaust||Restored ’61 Corvette, with cast-iron exhaust manifolds and dual exhausts|
|Transmission||Stock Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual|
|Rearend||Stock Positraction with 4.11 gears|
|Suspension||Stock coil springs, sway bar, and tubular shocks (front); stock leaf springs and tubular shocks (rear)|
|Brakes||Stock manual drums|
|Wheels||Stock 15x5-in stamped steel with chrome “Spinner” covers (front and rear)|
|Tires||Reproduction BFGoodrich Silvertown bias ply, 6.70-15 (front and rear)|