1961 Chevrolet Corvette - Rarity + Detail = Top Flight

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

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Longo also did a lot of work himself. As the owner of a dental laboratory, he spends his work days wearing a 3X magnifying loupe, and it was in this facility that he also refinished a lot of the small parts on his '61. "I tell a lot of my friends who restore cars that I work with tiny, miniature stuff all day long," he says. "I'm restoring people's mouths, basically. When I have those parts, and I'm looking at them, everything is large."

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Longo says that includes fasteners, an area in which supplies of N.O.S. parts have long since vanished. "Every nut and bolt on that car was blasted," he says of the hardware whose edges were showing their age. "If it's been taken off several times, you start to see the edges wearing down. Every one of those edges that was peened-over from the wrenches was fixed and straightened here in my lab before I sent it out to be cadmium-plated or black-phosphate-coated."

The body got its share of attention, too. Grant Herbster stripped off the old paint before the crew at Mad Creations in Deer Park, New York, got it ready for paint. Mad's owner, Michael DiLavor, expertly sprayed a new coat of Ermine White.

All that attention to detail paid off at judging time, with a C1 that wasn't over-restored. Longo says that when the judges looked inside his C1 and saw the speedometer and gauge cluster, they couldn't believe they were carefully polished originals. Same with the door panels. "When the interior judge opened the door, he knew right away it wasn't an Al Knoch replacement door panel. He said, 'Where did you get this panel from?,' and I said, 'It's the original panel. It's been cleaned and reassembled with most all of its original components.' He looked at the lenses on the reflectors on the door, and I told him, 'Those have all been taken out, re-polished, and put back in again.'" Longo figures he has at least 30 hours' worth of work in each door panel.

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Like a new big-brake Vette running away from its A/Production competition back in the day, Longo's '61 tallied a very high score the first time out. Needless to say, it's now a Top Flight car.

What's it like to drive? "With the quick steering, when you're driving it at a slow rate of speed, it's a handful," says Longo. "Once you get the car up to speed, it drives very nicely." He takes it out to run it at least once a month, weather permitting, "Whenever I take it out, even if it's just to get gas in it, it always draws a crowd."

Those big brakes don't give him a problem, either, thanks to the way he restored them. "If they're put on a lathe and cut with a fine cutter, then hit lightly with sandpaper to [yield] a smoother surface, the brake linings work pretty well. It's when they're not addressed correctly that there may be a problem."

He adds, "Some of the older brake mechanics have the right machinery on hand. They have a drum sander, which is a machine that'll match the O.D. of the brake shoe to the perfect concentric circle of the I.D. of the drum. So, when you press on the brake, you'll press on the whole pad. If you just take a set of pads and put them in the car, and they're not adjusted properly to the drum, they can take a little time to grab. That's because you're not working on a full pad."

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Longo's advice for anyone who's looking to buy a Corvette, be it their first one or next one? "Right now is one of the most opportune times to do it. The market is down, and because of that the car market is down as well. I'm in the process of restoring a '62 that I bought from a friend of mine. It's a running driver, and when I get done with it, it will be a Top Flight car.

"If you're interested in doing that, this is the time to get a car. Without a doubt, it's cheaper to buy the car already done than it is for you to buy one, take it apart, and restore it."

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