1961 Chevrolet Corvette - Cranberry Cruiser

Once an earth-toned driver, this '61 restomod is now sweetened with a 427 small-block

View Full Gallery

Can you believe that this righteous cranberry-red-and-white '61 Corvette was, at one time, painted brown?

That—with gold-painted coves—was what Gary Dempze's C1 wore when he bought it from a friend in 1984. But aside from that, the car was actually in pretty decent condition, especially considering that it was already more than two decades old at the time.

"It was driveable, but not original,C says Dempze. "It had been worked on…and it didn't have its original seats or engine. But I could drive it, and I was happy just being in a Corvette, because I'd wanted one ever since I was a little kid. I drove it for a few years before putting it into storage."

There the earth-toned C1 stayed for two more decades, until a trip to its storage site finally revived Dempze's interest. "My cousin, Jerry ‘Butch' Prusynski, and I were looking around and saw the car," remembers Dempze. "We got to talking, and he agreed that he would do the restoration, as a restomod."

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Gary And 2/11

He adds, "Our intention was always to keep it looking as original as possible, but make it as good a driver as we could with the suspension, engine, and steering. Right from the start, we wanted to make it a good, driveable, cruising car."

Fortunately, they had an intact body to start with. "It wasn't horrible, but it definitely needed bodywork, and to be totally repainted" says Dempze.

They also chose to reuse one other major factory component. "We used the stock frame, but we went with a Jim Meyer Racing Products suspension, which bolted right up," notes Dempze. "We did have to reinforce the frame and patch it up where it wasn't good enough." Once properly reinforced, that frame was ready for the new JMRP suspension hardware at both ends, as well as a replacement for the replacement for the original 283.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Front View 3/11

Gary Dempze's '61 Corvette was stored for decades, then treated to a four-and-a-half-year restomod overhaul.

Our intention was always to keep it looking as original as possible, but make it as good a driver as we could—Gary Dempze

At first, they installed another iron small-block Chevy V-8. Then, last year, the present powerplant went in. Based on an iron Dart SHP block, with Edelbrock Performer RPM heads, the 427-inch stroker fits right where the OEM 283 once sat. With Edelbrock's chrome 2x4 intake and a pair of Thunder AVS four-barrels, it's a nod to the last of the factory dual-quad-engined Vettes, which made their appearance in '61.

The project's requirements also meant that the gearbox, interior trim, tach, and auxiliary gauges all made their final appearances as they were replaced by a Tremec five-speed, AutoMeter instrumentation, and a custom-stitched pair of C1 buckets.

The brown and gold on the body were blasted off and replaced by a House of Kolor cranberry red-on-white color scheme, which—along with the interior colors—was chosen by Dempze's wife, Sue. (Gary's a cranberry grower for Ocean Spray, so the selection was more than simply artistic.) In all, it took about four-and-a-half years to transform the C1 into the gem seen here.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette 7/11

What's it like to drive? "It's a blast," Dempze says. "It cruises nicely at 70. When I go through the first three gears, it's got a lot of power, and it's a lot of fun."

That fun came at the end of a long project, and even longer-term storage. If you've got a Vette that's hidden away like this one was, and you're itching to make it into something special, Dempze offers this advice: "Do your homework, because there are a lot of companies, restoration shops, and custom shops that do good work," he says. "Plus, there are lots of sources for upgraded parts, including the suspension and everything [else] you need to make it drive like a new car.

"If you're not going to do the work yourself, find a person you trust, someone who does good work," he continues. "Butch and I were on the same page from Day One. We threw our ideas back and forth, and we came up with the same idea on everything. Four-and-a-half years is a long time to be working on a car, so you need to get along with whoever you're working with."

Do that, and you're bound to end up with a restomod Vette ride that can be driven and enjoyed with pride, just like this one.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Rear 11/11

A special House of Kolor cranberry red graces the original 'glass body, the rear of which boasts the first Sting Ray-influenced Corvette styling.

Spec Sheet

1961 Corvette

Owner Gary and Sue Dempze; Rudolph, WI
Block Dart SHP iron
Displacement 427 ci
Heads Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum
Valves Edelbrock 2.02/1.60-in stainless steel
Camshaft Custom-grind Howard Cams hydraulic roller
Rocker Arms Scorpion 1.5-ratio roller
Pistons Icon forged aluminum
Compression 10.1:1
Crankshaft SCAT forged steel stroker
Rods SCAT Pro Sport H-beam forged steel
Oil System Melling high-performance mechanical pump, 7-quart pan
Carburetion Twin Edelbrock Thunder AVS
Intake Manifold Edelbrock aluminum
Ignition Mallory electronic
Exhaust Custom-fabricated stainless steel with 2.25-in pipes and ceramic coating
Transmission Tremec TKO600 five-speed manual
Clutch Centerforce Dual Friction
Driveshaft Hurst Driveline Conversions
Rearend 7.5-in GM with Auburn Positraction and 3.42 gears
Suspension Jim Meyer Racing independent with QA1 coilovers and rack-and-pinion steering (front); Jim Meyer Racing four-link with QA1 coilovers (rear)
Brakes Power four-wheel discs with 11-in slotted/drilled GM rotors (front/rear)
Wheels American Racing Torq-Thrust II, 17 x 8 in (front/rear)
Tires BFGoodrich g-Force T/A, 245/45ZR17 (front/rear)
Weight 3,867 lbs
Fuel Octane 93 (minimum)
Current Mileage 3,867 miles
Miles Driven Weekly Approximately 50

MORE PHOTOS

VIEW FULL GALLERY

COMMENTS

TO TOP