1958-1961 Hands-On Corvette History
Most of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties remember what every new Corvette was like as well as every option. In the 1958-1961 time period, the 1956 and 1957 Corvettes were now affordable to many as used cars. The Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission arrived in mid-'57. Positraction was also a new '57 factory option. The optional 2x4 induction was the hot set-up along with Edelbrock and Offenhauser 3x2 tri-power intake manifolds. Hedman tri-y headers were now on the scene. Nothing in the new car scene could run with a solid-lifter V8 Corvette. My youth from 1956-up was consumed with nothing but sports, rock & roll, motorcycles and fast Corvettes and Chevrolets.
Within a 30-mile radius of my rural northeastern Illinois town were a dozen or more '56-'61 fast Corvettes-plus a few dozen potent 283 and 348 Chevys. Late in 1960, my Dad decided to shop around for a Corvette. His employer in Chicago had a fleet discount program with General Motors. We visited almost every large dealership in Chicago but nothing struck his fancy. While he checked out the new Corvettes, I scanned the used car lot. I'll always remember a white '59 270 hp, four-speed. It was without a radiator fan. A salesman told me it had a "special" radiator. Right. We then visited Doane Motors-a small dealership about 25 miles from home. Its owner, Dick Doane also owned Meadowdale International Raceway-an SCCA road race track. I had gone there many times in 1959 and 1960 to watch the Corvettes race but never knew Doane owned it. When Mr. Doane heard that my Dad was a WWII B-29 veteran, a bond was created. Sitting in the center of his showroom floor was a new Sateen silver '61 Corvette with red interior, 270 hp engine, 4-speed, 4.11 Positraction, with serial number 100438. Doane's used car lot had a few fuel-injected Corvettes. When I mentioned them to my Dad, he sternly replied, "What do you want to do, kill yourself"? He obviously thought that fuel injection was far superior to the 2x4 WCFB Carter carb induction. It would prove to be just the opposite. A short time later we were heading home in the new '61-with me at the wheel. I've never forgotten the thrill of that day!
Losing Then Winning
My Dad liked horsepower and performance but speeding and street racing was totally out of the question. If my grades in school were good, we'd go up to Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin (45 miles away) on the weekend. Our first-ever time-trial race was on a Saturday night in early 1961 against a D/Gas '56 Chevy. Our rear tires spun badly off the line and we ran a 15.45 ET at 90 mph. We got down to the 15.20s but lost in eliminations. Weeks later, our first modification was a set of $29 Traction Master traction bars. Then came a set of Hedman tri-y headers with short lakes pipes welded on. All work was done at a friend's Skelly gas station in nearby McHenry. Soon, Dick Doane and his service manager, George MacKendry were telling us all about engine "super tuning". We also purchased a set of six-inch recap slicks for $15 to replace the Atlas Bucron softer tread rear tires. With a quicker timing curve, Packard 440 copper core spark plug wires, extended-tip spark plugs and short velocity stacks on the carbs, the car dropped from its 14.90 - 15.00 ET's to 14.60s at 98 mph with 4.11 gears. Immediately we began winning every time out. There were usually 10-20 other Corvettes in our class. Unbelievably, we never ever broke anything. Our quickest and fastest was a 14.45 ET at 100 mph with 4.56s-at night.
The Doane Chevrolet mechanics were whiz's with Rochester fuel injection. For a 1961 test bed, they took a new Honduras maroon fuelie and dropped in a bored and stroked 352 cubic-inch small-block. With slicks and some fuel injection tuning, it ran 12.50s at 112 mph and was a terror. I also learned that factory injection was generally tuned on the lean-side-evidently for better fuel economy and overall drivability. Over two summers at Union Grove, U.S. 30, Cordova, Illinois and Kahoka, Missouri drag strips, we never lost to a fuelie. Most understandably were factory tuned. From 1961-on, I too got interested in Rochester fuel injection and rebuilt and tuned them from then 'til now.
We raced some during the summer of 1962 but I was now a freshman in college. Our racing continued over the summer of 1963 in CM/SP. Modified Eliminator was unbelievable. Stay tuned.