LS7-powered 1961 Chevrolet Corvette - Total Transformation

No concours Corvettes were harmed in the making of Larry Allman's incredible, radical '61 Vette-Rod

Tom Shaw Feb 3, 2010 0 Comment(s)

What if you could transplant the heart and soul of the sizzling Z06 Corvette into a vintage Corvette with its classic style? Larry Allman pondered the same thing and decided to find out. He says, "The real inspiration for the project were two things: my love for the timeless styling of the C1 series Corvettes, and the wealth of world class components available today from which to re-engineer the car." He studied every early Corvette he saw with an updated chassis. "I thought about this project for a year before I started," he says.

Finally, Larry was ready to swing into action. He used to drag race a '62 back in college, but began looking for a '61 because he liked the two-tone body/cove color combinations that weren't available on the '62s. A friend and fellow Corvette aficionado had a '61, but it had issues. "It was wrecked in the front, apparently in the '70s, and left unattended until the mid-'90s," Larry says. "It was a total wreck." The current owner had made some repairs to the front end and then lost interest. It had been sitting in his garage for five years when Larry looked it over.

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"The original 283 engine was seized. There were scores of parts missing, and all the trim parts that were there were in rough shape," Larry says. it looked like just what he needed. "I purchased the car specifically for this project in June 2005 after hearing that the LS7 engines were going to be released by General Motors Performance Parts," he says.

He sold the frame and engine and kept the body, then had SRIII Motorsports in New Lenox, Illinois, construct a custom tubular-steel frame. Up front, a C5 suspension was installed. A C4 power rack updates the steering, and the column is from Ididit. For the rear suspension, SRIII installed a C4 setup from a manual-trans '89 Corvette, which has the tougher Dana 44 differential. Gearset is a 3.89:1, and the axles are stock C4 units. QA1 shocks and coilover springs were used all around instead of the factory leaf springs. Wheels are by Intro, and are 18x8-inch front and 19x10-inch rear. Tires are 235/40 ZR18 front and 275/30 ZR19 rear. Rock Valley in Nashville fabricated a stainless steel fuel tank that incorporates the in-tank pump and EFI return line, and even mounts the sender in the stock location. The finished chassis was then powdercoated a color complementary to the exterior.

After placing deposits at several GM dealerships across the U.S., Larry was fortuate to receive one of the first LS7s delivered, which turned out to be a good-news/bad-news thing. With a level of power unheard of in a '61, the LS7's 505 hp definitely put Larry's roadster on the cutting edge, but many of the supporting parts had not yet been released. Again Larry turned to the specialists, in this case, John Spears at Speartech Fuel Injection Systems in Anderson, Indiana. John's background as a GM electrical systems engineer made him the ideal guy to sort out the brave new world of LS7 engine management, which he did with medical precision. Inside, the LS7 was left stock, but the block and oil pan were polished; the engine covers/intake were painted to match the body/cove colors; a 12-quart oil sump from Peterson Fluid Systems was added. The accessory drive system is from Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas. Behind the engine is a McLeod 11-inch clutch and Tremec six-speed transmission with Hurst shifter. Sounding good so far, right?

The same attention to superior performance with vintage flair also extends to the body. No radical departures that might jar the eye were made, but a subtle change was made to the rear. To accommodate the 10-inch wheel/tire package, Larry had to either cut into the convertible top well or extend the wheels out past the body, neither of which was an acceptable option. Larry chose another course, which called for yet another expert-Keith Russell Custom Bodyworks in Bremerton, Washington. "We hand-made new rear fenders to avoid having to cut into the top well," Larry says. "We were extremely careful to preserve the exact look and lines of the original fenders, yet move them out 2 inches. We first modeled the fenders from foam and bondo, then made molds from that, then the fenders pieces from the two molds. Last, we grafted them onto the body and refinished the inside where they attach so it looks stock from underneath as well."

The trunk lid was shaved and converted to a keyless latch.

Up front, Larry wanted an update too. He says, "I decided to give the car a little more Z06 identity. After securing the front air scoop and grill from the new Z06, we modified the stock upper fascia and hood to resemble the new Corvette. The new air scoop drops fresh air above the throttle body-mounted air cleaner." After carefully tweaking the body panel gaps and straightening the panels, Keith sprayed the bodywork in '06 Chrysler Silver Steel and '05 GM Sport Red for the coves.

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Inside, new door panels were made. The original seat frames were reshaped to add extra room between driver and steering wheel, and were fitted with custom foam and covered in Claret Red leather by Parkland Upholstery in Parkland, Washington. The convertible top fabric matches the cove color. The steering wheel was also modified consistent with the theme. No longer needing the leverage of the large-diameter stocker, Larry ordered a reproduction wheel from Corvette Central that's only 15 inches. "It makes getting in and out of the car much easier," Larry says. "Corvette Central also offers to leather wrap the wheel if you supply the leather, so that's what I did." To keep the gauges stock looking, Corvette Clocks converted the tach to electronic and the ammeter to a battery gauge. A small motor box converts the transmission's pulse output to cable drive for the speedometer. Other interior features are Specialty power windows, custom pedals, quartz-movement clock, Kenwood DX8017 stereo with GPS navigation, and Kicker 3.5- and 6-inch speakers. A Vintage Air A/C keeps it cool on hot summer days.

Even with all the mods, it weighs a slender 2,990 pounds. Needless to say, it's a superb place to spend Corvette seat time. "I really built it to create a top performing C1, at least to the limits of what the aerodynamics will allow," says Larry. "Driving it is phenomenal. It has so much torque, and it corners like it's on rails."

After 14 months of intensive construction and a cold winter, the spectacular '61 is finally hitting the road. In fact, the first outing was a road trip to SEMA in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Jerry Heasley photographed the car in the desert setting you see here. Since then, public reaction has been amazing. It's already taken Best in Class wins in the three shows it's been in to date, as well as winning Best Engineered and Best Frame.

Larry says, "I would like to think that were he still alive, Zora Arkus-Duntov would be pleased to see a '61 Z06." We bet he'd be even more pleased to drive it.

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