All of us have a specific Corvette year or era of which we are most fond. But when you compare Corvette's early performance history, 1957, 1963, and 1965 really stand out. Imagine if you were a Corvette development engineer and were part of 1957's offerings: Rochester fuel injection, Borg-Warner four-speed full-synchromesh transmission, a hot solid-lifter camshaft and Positraction. 1963 unveiled the coveted Grand Sport lightweight Sting Ray road racer, an all-new Rochester fuel injection, a full-scale Z06 SCCA road racer, independent rear suspension and let us not forget the all-new Sting Ray coupe and convertible. 1965 introduced four-wheel disc brakes and the unbelievable Mark IV 396 big-block powerplant.
This 1963-1965 era saw thousands either updating or hopping up their early Corvettes with all of the factory Corvette high performance equipment from the 1957-1962 era. My Dad and I had raced the "*X@#!" out of his '61 270hp 283, and never blueprinted the short-block. In early 1963, we began hearing an internal knocking sound. In a matter of minutes, a piston fractured and took out a cylinder and a head. We replaced the long-block (short-block and heads) with a new "special high performance" Corvette 327 (340-360 hp), then reinstalled the '61 270 hp dual Carter WCFB carbs and the original, smaller 283 harmonic balancer. The C/Sports class was suddenly filled with 327-powered '57-'61 street-driven Corvettes. Almost all ran a lot quicker-in the 13.80s at 102 mph-with headers and slicks compared to our 283's past 14.40s at 99-100 mph. Not wanting to cheat, we entered the "CX" (C/Modified Sports) class. With new nine-inch wide Bruce slicks, 4.88:1 gears, Horsepower Engineering headers, S-W electric fuel pump, re-curved ignition and massaged carbs, we were in the 13.10s at 105 mph. We then did some head porting and installed a Racer Brown R39 roller cam and ran 12.70s at 108 mph. That was all she wrote. We believe to this day that the original fuel pump and stock fuel line would not feed enough gas to go any quicker and faster. When the '63 race season ended we were undefeated. We could run 7.70s in the eighth-mile which equated to 11.90s in the quarter-mile but our best was 12.28 due to more or less running low on fuel pressure and volume in 4th-gear. There were a few quicker Corvettes but we somehow always got to the finish line first.
Winning our class was certainly a thrill, but then we had to compete for Street Eliminator honors. I was 19 in 1963 and a sophomore in college. The class winners which ran each other for the weekly Street Eliminator title were class winners in all Gas classes, Modified Sports classes, plus Altered and FX classes. For me, competing and losing was simply the drag racing experience of a lifetime. At Union Grove, we never won more than two rounds. We usually got a 3-6 car-length "spot," then we drove like heck while betting ourselves if we'd get beat on the top-end. We did win Street Eliminator at Lake Geneva in lesser but still competitive competition. The next best thing about the summer of '63 was that we never broke anything.
In between our runs every Sunday, we sat in the bleachers and watched the races. We also walked the pits talking to other Corvette and Chevy racers. We learned a lot, but a funny thing happened. In the weeks ahead, they began paying attention to us, and soon some were asking if we could tune their engine and/or drive their car in competition-and be paid.
The summer of '64 was one of tuning more Corvettes and Chevys, taking a few classes in summer school, then working on and modifying a 12,000 mile '62 Impala SS 409 I ran across during the winter before for $1,900 and my college beater car trade-in. A lot of my working friends had '63 Sting Rays, and my super-tuning side-business kept rolling along. I also installed cams, heads, headers and did carb jetting and fuel injection tuning.
In 1965, I was employed at Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago. The very first 396 Corvette I remember seeing in for warranty service was a red roadster with piston noise. Seeing its huge rectangle port heads told me it was Chevy's engine of the future. A friend of a friend bought a Daytona Blue 396 coupe complete with 4.56 gears and Positraction. It ran good and had a great top-end. After a super-tune, it really ran good. We then installed a set of Bill Thomas headers, some Cure Ride 90/10 front shocks, and removed the front sway bar. With my old 8-inch recap slicks, the car ran 12.30s at 112 mph in A/SP.
My '62 409 was running mid 12s early in mid-summer. On the street through glasspack mufflers, it probably ran 13.30s-13.40s. A friend named Earl Moloney (presently of Illinois limo building fame) had a new Marina Blue 350 hp L79 327 Corvette roadster with 4.56 gears. One day we were messing around, and I gave him a three-car-length lead. He won by 1. Fast 'Vette! My valve adjustment was off (loose) but Earl didn't want to run me again. Another friend had a new '65 L79 Malibu SS that ran 13.80s with a factory four-speed, headers, recap slicks and 3.31 highway gears. He crossed the finish line in 3rd gear!
Perhaps the biggest owner doings nationwide during 1963-1965 were what all the '55-'62 Corvette owners were up to. Most were not drag racers and high performance fans like me. But many were. A neat '55-'59 Corvette did not cost that much during that time. A lot of dealership and private used car lots made a lot of scratch from pre-owned, high performance Corvettes and Chevys. This actually continued well into the 1980s, but that's another story. In short, guys bought used Corvettes, hopped them up, then went cruising looking for street digs and cool chicks. Many even married as a result of meeting at a Dog & Suds, A&W Root Beer, McDonalds, Bob's Big Boy or at a famous local establishment like the legendary Skip's Drive-In on North Avenue in Chicago.
The closest "acceleration contest" I had in 1963 was in Park Ridge, Illinois on Highway 14. I went to visit a summer time co-worker named Arlene who attended Bradley University. In high school, she was a classmate of one Hillary Rodham. Arlene had some other guy friends who had dropped a 389 into a '62 LeMans. It had a heavy-duty three-speed transmission and a stock, puny, rear end. I got them one car-length off the line and we stayed that way for the quarter-mile. They couldn't believe they got beat by a 270hp 283 '61 Corvette with headers and traction bars. I then told them it was a roller-cammed 327. Word is they still talk about that race today. The fox got out-foxed! More to come. Stay tuned.