1963 Chevrolet Corvette - Classical Gassers

Converting A Corvette To A Legendary Dragster

Steve Temple Jul 13, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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The gasser wars. Back in the '60s, while Corvettes were duking it out with Cobras on road courses, supercharged Gassers were fan favorites on dragstrips across America. These wild, nearly uncontrollable machines were headliners at events around the country. With their short wheelbases and ungainly body styles, the Gassers were a challenge to drive and fun to watch-from a safe distance. Many of the earlier machines ran Oldsmobile or Cadillac power, but as the years progressed, entries with blown Chevy V-8s and Chrysler Hemis appeared.

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Among the most popular Gasser body styles were Willys models, specifically the '33 and the '40 coupe. Today, some of their drivers (such as Big John Mazmanian; Stone, Woods, & Cook; and K.S. Pittman) are nearly as famous as when they campaigned in the Gasser Wars.

So what do these dragsters have to do with a couple of classic Corvettes? After all, Vettes of that era were typically too pricey for this offbeat form of drag racing, while Willys and '50s Chevys were far more available and expendable on the track.

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So converting a Corvette into a Gasser takes a special sort of person, someone who both understands the importance of caring for a collectible and has an appreciation for a significant period of automotive history. Dave Glass and wife Mary fit the bill. In addition to regularly restoring Corvettes and other muscle cars at their shop, D&M Corvette Specialists, they share another automotive passion that dates back to the early days of their marriage.

"We watched all the Gassers race at the Nationals in Indy in the '60s," Dave explains. "We are John Mazmanian Gasser fans, so in our collection we built a cloned '40 Willys Coupe with a Blown 392 Hemi."

Now add to that list not only a '63 Split-Window Gasser, but a '62 model as well. Purists will no doubt question the wisdom of messing with a collectible Corvette, but Dave Glass has the street cred to do something different. After all, he's been a Bloomington Gold judge for more than a dozen years, so he knows his way around a trim plate. Not only that, GM hired him to restore a '53 model to commemorate the millionth Corvette in 1992, and he's been working on Vettes for more than 25 years at his shop. All of which means that when he decided to modify a classic Corvette into a Gasser, he knew the importance of not ruining the car, and making sure it would be possible to bring it back to original if needed.

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But why bother with this type of project at all? "These Gassers really make people smile," Glass laughs. Recalling his experiences at Bloomington Gold events, he adds, "Most folks will take a quick look at a 100-point, frame-off Corvette restoration, and then keep on walking. But the Gassers make them stop and stare."

Indeed, we had this exact same reaction when we first came across Glass's '62 (see sidebar) at a gathering of literally thousands of Corvettes. It was the one car that really made us linger in awe.

Taking things a step further is his recently completed '63 Split-Window Gasser. He came across the car a couple years ago when its owner contacted him about a possibly selling it for health reasons.

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"He brought it over to us, and I could tell from the look in his eye that he felt like he was saying goodbye to an old friend, and wanted to make sure it went to a good home."

After going through the car for a day or so, Glass asked him how much he wanted for it, and the two came to an agreement. The car was originally black with a red interior, a fairly rare combination, but it didn't have the factory engine in it, and it had been customized with different wheels and lights in the grille. So he set about cleaning up the cosmetics and sourcing the right parts.

He started by stripping off the frontend, storing it in a safe place, and replacing it with a lifted straight-axle suspension with 27-inch springs from Speedway Motors. While his other Corvette Gasser required building a subframe, this one didn't. "You just have to make sure there's enough caster with the stock steering box," he points out.

Next, he replaced the 300hp engine with a 400ci block pulled from his rusted-out snowplow pickup. (He briefly considered a big-block V-8, but decided against it since it wasn't available back in the day.) In addition to topping it off with a pair of 600cfm Holley blower carbs, he added an underdriven 6-71 Roots supercharger from famed racer Gary Dyer.

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