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1961 LT1 Powered Corvette - A Fair Warning

Don't be surprised when you're passed by this LT1-powered '61

Kevin Shaw Apr 7, 2009

Pinning the term "sleeper" to a Corvette feels rather non sequitur, butwhen a once demur '61 roadster roars by you with all the rumble and roarof a tuned, fuel-injection modern powerplant, you'll think twice. A"sleeper," as defined by any car guy, is a stock-appearing, unpresumingvehicle brandishing significant power and punch without revealing itssecret until it's too late for the competition. Chevrolet was at theforefront of the "factory sleeper" trend as far back as the late '50swith the advent of the Fuelie 283 Corvettes and the "Black Widow" '57Chevy--a stripped-down '57 with the aforementioned injected 283, customram-air induction, and tall-geared posi-traction.

While Al Kapnick's red-and-white drop-top may not be as inconspicuous asa zero-frills, 409-powered Impala, this Corvette totes a couple oftricks beneath its curvaceous fiberglass skin. Al's fascination with the'61's styling came after a series of C3s: his first, a '75 he picked upin 1979; his second, a '77; and, ultimately, an '80. All weresingle-owner vehicles before Al took over the titles, and all "gateway"Corvettes into his final obsession--this '61. Lured in by the classicside coves of the late '50s and the addition of the quad taillampstyling that would survive even until today (the first year for the fourbacklights), it was love at first sight.

This '61 began life with a dual-carbureted 283 mounted to a nondescriptfour-speed transmission. While the combination in 1961 was impressive,especially given the roadster's power-to-weight ratio, by later thatdecade, the 283 would seem anemic compared to the rocketing horsepowernumbers the Corvette and its GM brethren would boast. By the time Al'ssearch for this Vette came to a close in 1997, the 283 was long gone,replaced by a worn and weary 350.

The fourth owner explained to Al the car had a repaint andquasi-restoration 10 years earlier and only required a light buffing anda reinstallation of the original emblems to bring the decade-longcosmetic restoration to a close.

The 33-year-old Chevrolet had received a new white top in 1996,complementing the re-upholstered and newly carpeted interior. anaftermarket in-dash AM/FM cassette player had been installed, and thefactory hardtop lid in the back of the owner's garage was included inthe purchase price. The taillamp bezels showed some slight pitting asdid the paint in select areas, but as Al put it, "cars are meant to bedriven, and Corvettes were built to be enjoyed." The remaining brightwork and chrome, along with the removable roof, were loaded up on thetrailer.

Dismayed with the paltry power output of the 350, Al began looking forother motivation for his roadster. Staying with the modified theme, hepulled the mouse motor and lowered in a LT1 pilfered from a '94 coupe.Surprisingly, the installation was nearly seamless--only the thread sizefor the temperature sending unit needed changed. Due to the drasticpower gain, he felt obliged to build up the remaining powertrain, andhave the four-speed rebuilt and rowed by a stout Hurst shifter, whichprovided a more positive actuation of the gears. The rear axle receiveda slightly steeper 3.70 gear ratio for the posi, and the rolling gearalternates between Cragars with modern Michelins while cruising and thefactory rims with throw-back bias-plies for the more sedate car shows.

But have no fear you numbers-crunching Vette-o-philes, Al's got adate-coded 283 fully assembled and ready to be dropped in if he everchooses to return the roadster back to its once factory-originalcondition, but until that time, this little red Corvette will happilypass you by with its modern plant thumping underneath the factory skin.Consider yourself warned.



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