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Early Corvette with Early Big-Block; What Could Go Wrong!

In the Interim, it got me to thinking

Brian Brennan May 9, 2017
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The problem with hanging around other car guys is that you pick up their bad habits. Experience has taught me we pick up none of the good ones! That generally leads to well intentioned but seriously lacking ideas we turn into projects.

Well, it’s about to happen so I might as well fess up. Fellow Vette journalist, a Corvette owner, mutual senior citizen and my buddy Gerry Burger recently put his C1 on the road. In and of itself an accomplishment to be sure but there’s a caveat. His ’60 Vette is outfitted with a true W-motor, not the adorable but anemic small-block that it came with from St. Louis, but a 348/409 complete with a twin FAST EFI system (reminiscent of twin fours) registering more horsepower than someone his age should be chauffeuring and far more torque than those of us collecting social security should have. But alas … it’s very cool.

OK, I’ve besmirched Burger enough. I’m jealous as I watch from my garage-based lawn chair all the while he’s driving. Alas, again, he doesn’t much care about my tribulations. While watching his Corvette go together with the “original” big-block I got the bug and began reading old car magazines that talked about engine swaps. Lo and behold I come across a story from Hot Rod, December 1967, written by a longtime (and sorely missed) friend John Thawley. Of particular note was a story about installing an iron Chevy big-block into your 1957-’62 Corvette with an engine swap kit from Bill Thomas Race Cars (BTRC) in Anaheim, California. (The same people who brought us the Cheetah.)

For the rest of the story you need to know that I went to Servite High School just down the street from BTRC. As often as I could I would wander down to the shop and sweep up or do whatever that allowed me to hang around and watch. (I never made a dime but did earn credits toward bartering for parts to attach to our ’57 Corvette and my “brand-new” ’67 Chevy II SS so I figured I was coming out ahead.)

Here I am 50 years later reading an article from 1967 that shows the very big-block engine mount kit that my southern gentleman of a hot rodding, Vette lovin’ buddy Burger purchased. Turns out back in 1968 he and another fellow hot rodder Pete had a 1961 that they dropped a 427 into using the BTRC engine swap kit.

Back in the day there I was working, possibly on his very engine swap kit, proving once more it’s a small world and car guys will eventually find each other. It’s truly interesting how many of us have gone through our lives and whether by earliest childhood connections (Dwight Guild, remember the ’57?), military connections (Franz Estereicher, remember Los Alamitos Naval Air Station?), professional careers (Burger, how many days, nights and events have we shared over 40 years?), or the mentors in our lives (Ron Ceridono, I say we blame all of our shortcomings on LeRoi “Tex” Smith) we come together and from day one it’s like we’ve known each other our entire lives. At the end of the day when we need help in the garage, clarity on a historical fact, a turn of phrase or I’m on deadline and short four pages, we have someone we can rely upon.

Without question after I complete my current pair of Corvettes (a ’68 and a ’71) I will have a C1 (preferably a ’57 or a ’62) that I will drop an early big-block into; not the W-motor style but more along the 396 variety. Think I’m kidding? I have a 396 sitting in my garage and now all I need is a Corvette. (And that’s where longtime hot rod buddy and retired GM Desert Proving Grounds Engineer Scott Leon comes into play. I’m sure he knows where I might find one!)

One more alas! All of us surely could aspire to at least one more Corvette project. That’s just the way we are wired.

Photography by Petersen Archives & Gerry Burger

1957 Chevrolet Corvette 396 Engine 2/5

An iron block 396 dropped into a 1957 Corvette via a Bill Thomas Race Cars engine swap kit.

1961 Chevrolet Corvette 3/5

Gerry Burger’s fellow hot rodder Pete had this 1961 Vette that they dropped a 427 into back in 1968. Ahh, the good ol’ days of absolute power and lack of braking. What could possibly go wrong!

1960 Chevrolet Corvette W Motor 4/5

Fast forward to today and take a look at this W-motor dropped into Burger’s ’60 Vette. It looks as if it was always meant to be, but then what would one expect from someone who was brought up on hot rods and Corvettes.

Motor Mounts 5/5

This shot was taken back in the day of the Bill Thomas Race Cars motor mounts for the big-block swap in early Corvettes. Simpler times!

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