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Classic 1957 Chevrolet Corvette - It's a "Ruff" Life

This "Slightly" Worn '57 Still Does Its Job

James Miles Aug 1, 2002
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I'll be the first to admit that I'm not big on dogs. For me, it's all about selection. Out of the entire canine sub-species, I only really appreciate a handful out of the hundreds. So, when Editor Bob came to me with a story and an outline for what he'd like to see, I wasn't impressed right off the bat with his idea. However, I liked the car. As I read through the tech sheet, I began to agree with what the 'ol whip cracker had to say...this car is a lot like an old dog. For instance, the coat of an old dog may not be as bright as it once was, or as full. Maybe it's a little gray around the muzzle, or doesn't get around like it once did. But, like the family dog, this Vette still knows all the old tricks, and is capable of teaching us a few new ones. It can still fetch anything you need when you go on errands, it still likes to get out and run, and it knows the rollover trick (once the odometer reaches that point). But, like an old dog, it has forgotten a few how to play dead.

John Luther, a retired resident of Palm Coast, Florida, is the original owner of this black '57 Corvette. John is no stranger to high-performance rides; his first car was a '47 Chevy business coupe, which he started modifying by adding duel exhaust and carburetors along with a spiced up ignition. One night John's father came and informed him that his beloved '47 was going to his aunt. He then offered John a '53 Bel Air Sport Coupe. After starting over with the modifications, and taking full advantage of a lifetime guarantee on the transmission, John's father once more approached him about his vehicle and the amount of times a motor and tranny change had been done. "Dad had a long talk with me about the car. Well, the car went back to stock. Then, in the summer I told my dad I was going to get a new Corvette. He said that if I bought it he'd throw me out of the house, lock, stock, and barrel." Many weeks later, on the way home from work, John stopped in at the local Chevy dealership to talk to them about a new car. The conversation seemed to go nowhere he was interested in, until he mentioned the magic word known to us all-Corvette. John was in luck-the dealership had two new '57s in stock: a white F.I., and a black F.I. In no time flat, with $10 dollars down (all that was in his pockets) and the trade in of his now-stock Bel Air, John was a member of the elite. His dad was moved as well-not only did he not throw John out, he paid off the entire car-John now paid his father instead of a dealership, and he was even allowed to miss a payment now and again to make repairs. John's dad even made a few trips with him, only finding fault with the stiff ride.

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But things weren't all roses at the beginning. When John picked up this dreamcar, it had 12 miles on it; by the time it was reading 26, he was winding 6,000-plus rpm through the gears. As John told us, "I said to myself, 'I had a car, but little do I know about this car.' First, the tires didn't last me 90 days. Oh! They would smoke. Then I found out the motor was too much for the clutch and transmission. And even the differential would not hold up. I ended up using an 11-inch cast-iron flywheel from a truck. And I went through several clutch discs." To solve the transmission problems he was encountering, John switched to a '58 T10 four-speed tranny. The differential was good for normal use, but the moment John floored it, "Things" happened. "The differential wasn't the best; it was okay for everyday driving, but not for hard use," John told us. "I went through many differentials, and axles, and axle ratios. A 4.56 Posi-traction worked out the best and longest, even though I went through about four complete units." In the end, a 3.36 Posi-traction was used. Meanwhile, keeping this animal tied to the stake was the furthest thing from his mind...

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In the late-'50s, John decided it was time to run with the big dogs. From 1958-62, an assortment of different events were tried-from drag strips and gymkhannas to runs and ovals. In 1961 he installed a 327 fuel-injected small-block and gave the Midwestern Council of Sports Cars Club a try. This seemed to put him in front of the pack, as he placed first on his maiden race. Soon after receiving a racing license, life intervened. His girlfriend at the time, Alice, reminded John that he was going to have to stop racing soon because they were going to get married in the fall, and they needed to save money. So, as it happens to the best of us, the dog was kicked out of the bed and into the garage, where it stayed until 1978, when it was placed back into running status. Then, in 1987, John was at Road America in Wisconsin and coming down the front straight reading a steady 8,500 in high gear. Not bad for a tired-out motor-until a connecting rod came through the side of the powerhouse. "It was time for a new motor," John stated, "I used a blueprinted '57 block, and although I thought the 327 ci was good, this old 283 was something else! It dyno'd very high for what it was. I just had to replace the block in 2001. I used another '57 block, since I could reuse most of the parts on the old one."

With all this talk about engine, tranny, and differential changes, you might just be surprised about what has not been changed. John is actually a stock-car type-of-guy. He loves racing, but he loves his car just as much. For instance, the frame is original and, yes, that is the original, stock paint! "The women, including my wife, razz me a lot about the paint. I just tell them, 'With 170,000-plus miles on you, you'd be the same way.' The NCRS tells me not to repaint or restore it. It'll ruin the character," John declared. The recent addition of a 283ci engine mated to the Muncie four-speed transmission, which moves 15X7s wrapped in Goodyear 255/60-15s, puts the power to the floor every time John feels the need to put the peddle to the metal. And with this current combination, a top speed of 145 mph can be reached. So far, the best quarter-mile John has done was 13.94 seconds at a speed on 103.44 mph. And if you think that this old 'dawg can only make it short distances, you'd be wrong! Joh's longest trip so far has been Chicago, Illinois, to Keywest, Florida. So, when you see John Luther coming down the street in his pride-and-joy '57, we suggest taking a moment to see what's really in front of you. It's not pretty by Top Flight standards, it's not a Bloomington Gold winner, and it's not ashow-stopping trainer queen. It's exactly what John wants it to be-his. And for those of you that might pester him about the use of his vehicle, watch out...It may bite.



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