1961 Chevrolet Corvette - Rarity + Detail = Top Flight

Tom Longo’s ’61 Big Brake fuelie soars high above the rest

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Attention to detail.

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It's what turned Corvette into the car to beat in road racing in the early '60s-and it helped this Vette become a top scorer at judging time. When the 1961 racing season began, Corvette had proven itself in races around the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring. That's because Zora Arkus-Duntov and the other Corvette engineers tasked to make America's Only True Sports Car a world-class racer put plenty of effort in at the GM Tech Center and Proving Grounds as well as trackside, where they could see what the Vette's strengths-and weaknesses-were.

That's how Chevrolet was able to offer a host of racing-related options on the car starting in 1956. By the time the '61 model run began, that list included not just a high-output 283ci V-8-with up to 315 hp in fuel-injected form-but also a heavy-duty brake and suspension package, RPO 687.

That was among the options on a '61 Corvette that now resides in Tom Longo's garage on Long Island.

This isn't Longo's first Corvette-that was a Z07-equipped '93 he bought new and still has. "When I bought that car, and realized what it was, after the first year I had it I stopped putting so many miles on it," he says. Eighteen years later, with his 12,000-original-mile C4 safe in his garage, Longo set his sights on a solid-axle Corvette like the ones his brothers had when he was growing up.

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Eventually, he met up with Corvette restorer and collector Brian Cochrane, who owned one of the 233 big-brake '61s, a Roman Red one. "I wanted to buy his car, but he didn't want to sell it," Longo recalls. So he kept a lookout for another RPO 687 '61, which he found for sale in Maryland. This car-finished in Ermine White-had been sitting in dry storage for about 20 years, after its owner found out how rare it was.

Two decades of storage, on top of two decades of use (including drag racing by previous owners), meant that it was restoration time. But Longo didn't tear into it right away. "I didn't want to screw up the car," he says. "That was my biggest fear, that I would do something wrong with it. This wasn't a regular, base-model Corvette; it was a special car." His research gave him a stack of Corvette reference books that was about a foot high, plus loads of information specific to the '61 and its big-brake and fuelie options.

As a part of that research, he found his '61's VIN to be close to that of Brian Cochanne's red one-very close. "We couldn't believe it when the VINs on his car and mine were only 20 digits away," he says. "Both cars were on the line on the same day."

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Longo accomplished the four-year resto project with plenty of assistance. "The biggest help came from Gail Parsons, who passed away last summer," he says. "He had quite a few Vettes over the years, and a number of big-brake cars." According to Longo, Parsons had amassed a treasure trove of original General Motors, Chevrolet, and Rochester engineering drawings and blueprints, especially ones covering the Rochester mechanical fuel-injection system found on the RPO 354 315hp 283.

While Longo's '61 was intact and complete when he got it, there was plenty that needed replacing-which he did, thanks to his friends. "Everything on that car is what it's supposed to be, and it's mostly original or N.O.S.," he says. "Any of the stuff that wasn't there, I was able to find N.O.S. parts to replace them with." That includes a set of correct RPO 687 sintered-metallic rear brake shoes that he got from Parsons' wife, Maxine.

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