1961 Chevrolet Corvette - Racetrack Throwback

This Competition-Prepped 1961 Corvette Gives Resto Buffs The Willies

Paul Zazarine Nov 8, 2006 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0608_02_z 1961_chevrolet_corvette Wheels 2/11

Frank was not prepared, however, for what it would be like to drive the '61 in competition. Although Engelhard had built a performer, like any race car it had gremlins. No one anticipated how long it would take to chase down all the bugs.

Frank's first outing in the '61 was at an SVRA event at Road America in May 1999. "It was a learning experience for me and a shakedown period for the car," he says. "The second year was not much better. It wasn't until the third year that we had all the problems sorted out and I started to be competitive."

Vemp_0608_06_z 1961_chevrolet_corvette Tune_up 3/11

Frank found the Vette's biggest problem was instability when braking into turns at high speed. "The car floated," he says. "In the S-turn at Watkins Glen, the car looked like a snake going up a hill." SVRA officials questioned Frank's driving ability until more experienced drivers took the Vette out on the course and could do no better.

What no one realized was that the upper control arm had previously been secured to the crossmember with a weld. (The original connection was the inner shaft into a bushing that permitted some movement.) "This worked OK for street cars," Frank explains, "but racing broke the connection, and my alignment changed every time the car got loose. I don't know why it took so long to find the problem. We rebuilt just about everything possible on the front end, which helped me, since we located a bushing-repair kit that corrected the problem."

Vemp_0608_09_z 1961_chevrolet_corvette Side_view 4/11

By the fourth year, the Vette was finally sorted out, and Frank was able to give Rich good feedback on how the car was handling. He and the car were finally competitive. "That's when the SVRA told me I would be going back to drum brakes the next year," Frank says. "The transition from the efficient front discs to less effective drums was not only complicated from a driving perspective, but finding the right combination of parts was equally complex. Developing an effective all-drum braking system that didn't cost an arm and a leg took two years of trial and error. To afford a set of original 1961 RPO 687 Heavy Duty Brakes would require a second mortgage on my house."

The team began work on building an effective braking system that could handle the punishing effects of racing. "We started by modifying Chevrolet backing plates with a spacer," Frank says. "We opened the plates and screened them for air to pass to the brakes. This setup, along with Buick drums, came close to replicating the original Corvette heavy-duty brakes." Finding brake linings that can last an event and stop the car in a straight line without burning up is an ongoing project. "You name the material and I have tried it."

Vemp_0608_03_z 1961_chevrolet_corvette Engine 5/11

Balancing the piston sizes to get stopping power and reasonable pedal travel was another challenge. With the all-drum braking system, driving the car required a totally different approach. "It's certainly not like my '92," Frank laughs. "You drive the car as if you were skating. Most of the directional change is done with the gas and brakes to shift the weight of the car from front to back. This promotes understeer and oversteer as necessary to get through the turns and be competitive."

This year the Vette is powered by a 500hp 330-cid small-block built by MPG, of Highland Park, Illinois. "I came in Third overall in Group 4 at an SVRA event at Mid Ohio last year and hope to do better this year," Frank says.

With the Vette running strong and getting more competitive each year, Frank has no plans to quit anytime soon. If he did, then all he'd have left to do is polish the fenders. That's not his idea of retirement.


Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print