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Outtakes from Motor Trend's 1961 Road Test of the '61 Corvette

Full Range Road Test - From the Archives

Drew Hardin Mar 10, 2015
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“It matters not whether someone wants a two-seater merely for transportation or an all-out racing machine—there is a Corvette to fit his desires, no matter how extreme.”

That’s how the editors at Motor Trend kicked off their review of two ’61 Vettes in the magazine’s September 1961 issue, “identical except for color and engine option.” Digging through the photo archives we found plenty of pictures of the “sedate appearing white test car” and its fuel-injected small-block. The “bright red, both inside and out” model with the single-four-barrel-equipped 283 proved more elusive. Which, actually, reflected the coverage the cars got in the magazine. There were four big photos of the white fuelie in the story, just two of the red car. The photos you see here are previously unpublished outtakes from the editors’ day at the track, during which they also put a new-for-’62 409-powered Impala to the clocks.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Engine View 2/3

Comparing the two Vette engines, they pointed out that their differences go “far beyond the single area of carburetion. Though all Corvette engines have a displacement of 283 cubic inches, there is much that is done in the way of altering breathing ability to produce variations in output.” The 230hp single-carb version was fitted with a hydraulic cam with 250 degrees of duration and 28 degrees of overlap, making the engine “behave like the best-mannered passenger car.”

On the other hand, the 315hp fuelie—up from the previous year’s 290 thanks to bigger intake and exhaust ports—wouldn’t idle “under 700 rpm and is most consistent in the 800-to-900-rpm range because of the combined effects of 66 degrees of valve overlap and the inability of the fuel-injection system to maintain pressure within its lines at low rpm.” The cam in the fuelie “provides both valves with 287 degrees of opening.”

Comparing low- and mid-range performance figures wasn’t a good yardstick to differentiate the two engines, they said, “because there really isn’t a large numerical difference. However, a time of 8.3 seconds 0-to-60 for the mild engine as compared to 7.4 seconds for the hot version will impress those that have experience in the field of acceleration testing. A quarter-mile run would show a very large difference between the two.” Sadly, the story’s test data did not include that quarter-mile comparo.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette Interior 3/3

Outside of the engine compartment, the two Vettes received similar reviews. Both were praised for their “plush” interior appointments, which included “tufted carpeting and considerable use of chrome trim.” But “when you grasp the steering wheel and negotiate a turn at high speed, and when you shift the four-speed gearbox, you completely lose sight of your luxurious environment and realize that you are driving a true sports car.”

That four-speed got especially high marks: “No matter what you pay for a sports car, whether it be in the four-figure or five-figure bracket, there is none that shifts more easily and more consistently than the Corvette four-speed box.” (Speaking of which, the 230hp Vette’s base price was $4,109, the fuelie $4,636.)

The car’s cornering ability was also “in the superior category,” thanks to its low center of gravity, firm suspension, and front stabilizer bar. “Engineering wisely sacrificed softness of ride for safety in this machine.” The car’s rear sway bar, though, “has a detrimental effect on rear wheel adhesion,” the editors felt. “In a hard corner it has a tendency to take weight off the inside rear wheel, causing the outside rear wheel to be called upon to offer the majority of the resistance to side thrust. This is not good racing practice for power-on cornering. In actual driving, though the back end wasn’t uncontrollable, it did start drifting earlier than the other characteristics of the car would indicate.”

Two years later, of course, the Sting Ray’s IRS would change all that.

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