How does that old saying go? "Old Vette Rods never die . . . they get rebuilt into something faster, quicker, and cooler." That may have been made up as this story was written, but it definitely applies in the case of Tommy Vinciguerra's '61 Corvette-based Vette Rod.
Tommy bought this car back in 1977. Like many Vette Rods-to-be, it was in a far-from-drivable condition, but perfect to start working on. "I brought it home with a complete drivetrain, but I really couldn't afford it at the time," he recalls. "A friend wanted to buy the engine, tranny, and rear out of it, so I sold that to him. We'd bought the car together, so I wound up with the body and frame, and he wound up with the engine, transmission, and rearend." But Tommy did have a powertrain available. "I had a '55 Chevy at the time, and I sold that without the engine, transmission, and rearend, and I used those parts in my Corvette. It took just under a year to get it running."
Running, yes-but painted, no. "I drove it around a while in bare fiberglass," Tommy says about the '61's pre-paint colors. "We stripped it down in the front of my friend's shop, and we drove it around in bare fiberglass for four and a half years before I got it painted." A coat of black lacquer went on sometime in the '80s, followed in 1988 by the multi-colored lacquer graphics you see here.
Under the 'glass and lacquer, Tommy was keeping busy, too. He's a chassis builder by trade and the proprietor of SuperPro Performance Chassis in West Islip, New York, where a lot of this car's hand-fabricated pieces were manufactured, like its rollbar, fuel cell, underhood pulleys, and other one-off parts. He prepared the OEM '61 Vette frame for a later and stronger powertrain that included a Dana 60 rear axle. "I moved the rear framerails inboard 6 inches a side," he says of the foundation work he did out back. "That's because back in 1983 when it was done, there weren't very many aftermarket components for the 9-inch rear axle, and the Dana was the choice rearend at that time." He also installed ladder bars and Koni coilover shocks.
He kept the front suspension basically stock, and eventually a Jim Meyer front end went on in place of the well-worn OEM pieces, joined by a rack-and-pinion steering setup. Despite the changes, Tommy kept the engine mounted in the stock location rather than moving it rearward. "Those (C1) Corvettes are great with the engine set-back they have," he says. "It hooked up real well, and it did a nice wheelstand about 6 inches to a foot off the ground each time it left the line."
The engine seen here is a far cry from that small-block that Tommy swapped in from his old '55 years ago. Gary Sharky built the 355-cubic-incher at The Engine Shop in West Babylon, New York. Inside the bored 0.030-inch-over block went 12.5:1 TRW pistons, a stock steel crankshaft, and a Lunati roller camshaft. On it went ported cast-iron Chevy heads with Manley valves, Comp Cams double valvesprings and Crane lifters, plus an MSD crank-trigger ignition. Tommy crafted the electronic fuel injection system in his own shop out of an Edelbrock intake manifold, Enderle fuel injectors, and an Enderle "bug catcher" scoop. He turned to A.J. Berge of Massapequa, New York, to sort out the electronics and tune the engine. Without him, Tommy says, that EFI system running a "bug catcher" scoop would not run well.
Behind the small-block was a Muncie four-speed at first, later swapped for boxes with more gears in them. "I first got rid of the four-speed and put a five-speed in from Gforce," says Tommy. "Then, I took it out and put one of their six-speeds in. That made it a dual-purpose car-I could get on the highway at 2,400 rpm doing 77 miles an hour, with 4.10 gears in the back, too. It was faster in the first four gears with the T-56 than it was before with a Muncie and 5.38 gears in the back!"