Sebring-Inspired, Cruise-Ready: 1961 Corvette

Is it a ’57 Corvette, or a ’61?

Ken Raimondi’s is a ’61, one that combines some of the best-known C1 visual cues with upgraded performance hardware, put together by two top-of-their-craft fabricators.

When Raimondi found this Vette back in early 2008, via an online ad posted from Las Vegas, it wasn’t a pristine original, or a project-ready barn find, either. “It was all modified out in Torrance, California, by a known custom and street-rod builder, Ernie Belcher,” he says.

The owner, who was the patriarch of a three-generation family of hot-rod builders, had replaced the ’61’s original 283 (or whatever motor resided in the car’s engine bay at that time) with a GM Performance Parts 350-inch small-block. He had also upgraded the chassis with a Fatman Fabrications Stage II rack-and-pinion steering/front-suspension setup, plus power disc brakes all around.

Raimondi dispatched someone to appraise the car. When the inspection turned up no significant problems, a deal was made, and the ’61 ended up in Raimondi’s garage in Courtlandt Manor, New York. He used it as a driver, until a chance encounter with some wet leaves on a cold, rainy day led to a crack-up that damaged the front bodywork.

Vemp 1302 05 Z Sebring Inspired Cruise Ready 1961 Corvette 4/9

He could have gone the straight-resto route and had a replacement ’61 front clip put on, but he had a preference for an earlier model’s looks. “I always liked the ’57’s style, along with the screens on the headlights,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s go along with it, and put the ’57 nose on.’”

For that, he turned to the shop—and fabricator—to whom he had previously entrusted his Top Flight ’67 Sting Ray convertible: Paul Comeau, of The Corvette Shop in Montgomery, New York. (You saw another example of Comeau’s handiwork in the “split window” ’67 Sting Ray we featured last month.) As Raimondi recalls, “We settled on the colors and everything, and he went ahead and did it.”

Those weren’t any ordinary colors that went on, after Comeau successfully retro-fitted the ’57 Corvette’s forward-of-the-windshield body panels. The International Racing White finish with blue stripes is exactly what the most famous racing C1s wore back in the day. “That’s what I was aiming for: the early Sebring race cars,” says Raimondi, bringing back the memories of the ’57s that were raced at Nassau and Sebring by Dr. Dick Thompson and Jim Jeffords (and by Paul Goldsmith during measured-mile speed runs on Daytona Beach). “I always liked those kind of cars,” he adds, with a nod toward the Grady Davis–owned, Gulf Oil–sponsored ’61s with which Dr. Dick, Don Yenko, and Ben Moore dominated SCCA B/Production racing.

Vemp 1302 06 Z Sebring Inspired Cruise Ready 1961 Corvette Fender 5/9

But Raimondi did make one practical addition. “The only [new mechanical item] I had put in was a Tremec five-speed transmission from American Powertrain,” he says of the Hurst-shifted gearbox that Brian’s Automotive in Peekskill, New York, swapped in to replace the old four-speed.

The result is a distinctive first-generation Corvette that draws plenty of attention whenever Raimondi takes it out. “People seem to love that car, especially women,” he says. “They don’t like me, but they like the car!”

And it’s not just a showpiece. As Raimondi notes with pride, “The car drives like a dream! It handles well—it’s not up to a new Corvette, but I’d say it’s as good as any C4 out there.” He also notes that with the five-speed gearbox, the small-block’s revs drop to around 1,800 at highway speed. “It’s quiet, it starts up every time, and it’s a good cruiser,” he adds.

Do you know of a C1 that might make a good candidate for a similar Vetterodding project? Raimondi’s advice is simple: “Find a really good shop, and make sure you know their work. I knew Paul from his work on my ’67. He’s about the best guy around.”

That way, you’ll get a restified C1 that combines your favorite ’53-’62 styling features with modern-tech powertrain and chassis hardware—a Corvette that will not only make you proud to own and drive it, but one that would have made Zora Arkus-Duntov, Harley Earl, Don Yenko, and Bill Mitchell (among others) proud, too!

Spec Sheet
61 Corvette
Owner Ken Raimondi; Courtland Manor, NY
Block GM Performance Parts cast iron with four-bolt mains
Displacement 350 ci
Heads GMPP cast iron
Valves 1.94/1.50
Camshaft GMPP hydraulic-lifter /flat-tappet
Pistons GMPP cast aluminum
Compression 8.5:1
Crankshaft GMPP cast nodular iron
Oil System GMPP mechanical
Intake Edelbrock cast aluminum
Carburetor Edelbrock four-barrel
Fuel Pump GMPP mechanical
Ignition Pertronix electronic
Exhaust Reproduction ’61 Corvette with cast-iron “block hugger” intake manifolds
Transmission Tremec TKO600 five-speed by American Powertrain
Driveshaft Stock
RearEnd Stock
Suspension Fatman Fabrication “Stage II” with coil springs and tubular shocks (front), restored stock ’61 Corvette with longitudinal leaf springs and tubular shocks (rear)
Brakes four-wheel discs with power assist
Wheels 17-inch five-spoke chrome
Tires Cooper Touring SLE, 225/55R17 (front and rear)
Current Mileage 500 (since completion)

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