1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible - Sugar Rush

Dick Kvamme’s show winning ’61 is built for the road

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The way some Vette owners act you would think their cars are made of sugar. They polish and fuss over their cars in an almost manic fashion. Drive in the rain? Suggest it and you’ll get a look like you’ve lost your mind. In some cases the cars spend their pampered lives barely getting up to running temperature as they slow-crawl from cruise night to car show. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. Our Vettes, and any truly “cool” rides, need to be driven to be enjoyed. Rock chips should be viewed as badges of honor, and the goal should be to wear out the tires before they rot with age. After all, they were built by GM for the road and there’s no reason even the nicer ones can’t hit the highway.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Front Quarter Left 2/20
1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Front Quarter Right 6/20

Take Dick Kvamme (Owner of Best of Show Coach Works, in Escondido, California) for example. He’s the typical owner of a hot rod restoration shop. He has spent years crafting beautiful show cars, but nothing nice for himself. There was a ’65 Chevelle and a couple of “worn” C1 Vettes waiting patiently for restoration but he never had time to work on his own cars. Eventually, he managed to find enough time to get the ’61 Vette running. Sure, it was a bit beat down, but it was more fun than driving his truck to work. The only problem was it would just spontaneously shut off at random intervals; usually in the middle of a busy intersection. At some point Dick became fed up and decided to go through the drivetrain. Well, we all know where that leads. Pretty soon the Vette was nothing but a pile of parts and a full-blown, frame-off restoration was underway. The Chevelle and other Vettes were sold off to fund the project and the only stipulations were that the car had to be drop-dead reliable and fun to drive.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Zz4 Engine 7/20
1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Forgeline Wheel 11/20

The anemic small-block was yanked and a reworked ZZ4 350 GM crate engine was slung in place. Filled with a COMP valvetrain and topped with Summit aluminum heads and a Holley induction system, it made 413 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of twist. More than enough grunt to sling the ’61 down the highway and, since the compression was kept on the low side, it can gargle the cheap gas. Hey, when you plan on logging a ton of miles saving a few bucks at the pump really adds up. The gasses are expelled through a custom system whittled together by Jimmy Warner at Warner’s Exhaust, while a Ron Davis radiator keeps it all running cool. Backing up the small-block is a TCI Automotive 700-R4 transmission spinning back to a Currie 9-inch positraction rear. To tame the curves the front suspension was retrofitted with a Total Cost Involved (TCI) suspension kit while the rear received a host of parts from Myers Racing. JRi shocks and springs temper the bumps and add to the handling prowess. Wilwood brakes ride inside the 17-inch Forgeline wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich rubber.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Low Front Grille 12/20

The body was worked over by Dick and his lead painter Jon Lindstrom. Once every gap was perfect and every panel as smooth as glass, Jon mixed up a custom hue of blue BASF paint and attacked the body in the paint booth. Once buffed to perfection, a 40-plus-hour operation, the body was mated to the frame and sent over to Elegance Auto Interiors where Mark Lopez stitched up the grey leather and custom crafted the various bits like the door panels. Long road trips make a good audio system mandatory, so tunes were added by The Art of Sound in Upland, California. The Corvette also features a full Vintage Air system, gauges by Classic Instruments, and new wiring courtesy of American Autowire.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Interior 13/20
1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Speedometer 17/20

All the fancy parts are nice, but the real test came once the Vette hit the road. Its first journey was a local jaunt to the Del Mar Goodguys show where it won “Best Bitchen” award. Since then it’s been logging miles and winning car shows all over the place. How many miles? Well, over the course of the summer Dick and his wife, Nancy, ran up over 14,000 miles on the odometer! First was a trip up the coast to San Francisco to visit their daughter Kacey, followed by a “slightly” longer drive to Colorado. As Dick told us, “This time things didn’t go as smoothly. Heading out of the Rockies we had the top down, but soon we got into rain sprinkles that quickly turned to snow! There wasn’t anywhere to safely pull over on I-70 to put up the top, so we just motored on. We can only imagine what the local drivers thought of the crazy couple in the California Vette.” Later, the extreme altitude caused a fuel system vapor-lock issue, but a local hot rodder towed them to a shop, Pinky’s Hot Rods, where the problem was fixed and they made some new friends. After attending the Goodguys show the couple turned around and drove the ’61 home. Later, the Vette was back on the road, this time all the way to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, for a wedding. The biggest problem on this trip was figuring out how to pack light enough to fit everything in the space-challenged trunk. A wheel bearing issue on the way home was fixed at Rydell Chevrolet in Grand Forks, North Dakota, but little issues are a small price to pay. After arriving home, a close friend asked how the trip went. Nancy answered, “He didn’t get socked in the eye and I didn’t get stuffed in the trunk, so I think it went well!” Since then, the pair have driven all over the western United States and most of the issues have been sorted out. Dick and Nancy are doing what we all really want to do, build the car of their dreams and just go enjoy it. Some have actually given him grief for building such a nice car and then running it so much. As Dick told us, “If you don’t drive your car, you’re missing the whole point.”

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Front Top 18/20
1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Rear Quarter 19/20

Spec Sheet
Vehicle: 1961 Chevrolet Corvette
Owner Dick and Nancy Kvamme; Carlsbad, California
Engine Modified GM ZZ4 crate engine
Displacement 350 cubic inches (5.7 liters)
Heads Summit 200cc aluminum, 64cc chamber volume
Valves Stainless, 2.02-inch intake, 1.60-inch exhaust
Camshaft COMP Thumpr 227/241 on a 107 LSA, hydraulic lifters
Carburetion Holley 770-cfm Ultra Street Avenger
Ignition MSD billet distributor, MSD coil
Exhaust Custom fabricated headers and exhaust by Jimmy Warner
Transmission TCI 700-R4 with mild converter
Frame Original ’61 Corvette
Suspension TCI control arms and rack system (front); Myers Racing four-link (rear)
Brakes Wilwood 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers, front; four-piston, rear. Manual
Wheels Three-piece 17x8 Forgelines, polished hoops with brushed centers
Tires BFGoodrich g-Force Sport 255/45R17, front; 275/45R17, rear
Mileage 15,462 and counting

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible Rear Driving 20/20

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