It has been nearly half a century since this 1963 split window Corvette coupe first set its tires to the asphalt, and in that impressive expanse of time the car has been used for one very simple and worthy purpose… racing. It has undergone several changes and reinventions over literally decades spent on some of America’s most famous race tracks – and somehow it managed to live to tell about it. This Corvette may not be able to tell its story with words, but it does bear plenty of evidence of its racing history, and managed to leave behind plenty of clues to its past in the hearts and minds of its previous owners and drivers.
Groups like HMSA typically require that the cars actually have race histories, so the Corvette had that covered. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that to run it in that group, I would have to remove the wheel flares.
Bruce Tucker’s chapter in the history of the 63’ started back in 2002, when he began the search for a car that he could run in the Historic Motor Sports Association with his friends and co-workers at JBA Racing in San Diego, California, where he works as the General Manager and in-house EFI tuner. He already had a tough late model ‘95 Mustang Cobra that he used as an open-track car, and a slick ’75 Oldsmobile Starfire land speed car that helped earn him a spot in the Bonneville 200 MPH Club.
Although he didn’t necessarily “need” another project car, the itch for a new project was still there. “I was looking at late ‘50’s Austin Healeys because I had one with a small-block Chevy in high school, and I thought it would be fun to do again. But, then I saw the Corvette for sale in Hemmings, and even though it was a black and white photo, the car had tons of attitude. And when I learned of the car’s racing history, that was the icing on the cake.” Bruce pulled the trigger and bought the Corvette almost sight-unseen (he did request numerous detailed digital pictures) from the owner in Cleveland, and had the car shipped across the country to California via enclosed trailer.
Cold Case Investigation
Bruce had become intrigued by the process and “detective work” of documenting historic racecars thanks to his two friends from JBA; J. Bittle, who owns a ’68 Mustang that he runs in Trans Am Class, and Fred Galloway, who owns a ’63 Cobra he runs in B/Production Class, both of whom did extensive research and documentation on their cars. The history that came with the Corvette was decent, but had more than a few holes in it and lacked the precise details that truly paint the picture of a car’s past. For example, the previous owners were documented only as far back as 1968, leaving more than a 5 year span of the car’s life unaccounted for. He knew there had to be more to the car’s history than what had been provided to him, and Bruce set out on a mission to fill in all the gaps.
Bruce’s first step was to try and get in touch with Tom Harmer, who was the earliest documented owner of the Corvette. Unfortunately, Bruce found that Harmer had passed away several years before, but his widow still remembered the Corvette. Her husband had painted the car Kelly green, and raced it with advertisements for his sporting goods store on the body panels. She even sent Bruce several photos of the car, and a few trophies that it had won racing. She also led Bruce to her husband’s mechanic, George Cichon.
The car as it looked in the late 1960's
Cichon remembered the car well, and was able to begin filling in the Corvette’s lost 5 years. It turned out that Harmer wasn’t the original owner after all, and had in fact purchased the car from Tito Nappi, the owner of Blackhawk Farms raceway. When Bruce finally tracked down Nappi through the Internet, he referred Bruce to his driver, Kurt Reinhold. Reinhold, who turned out to be a pretty famous driver, was very willing to talk to Bruce about the Corvette, and told Bruce about the car’s second owner, Paul Canary.
Up until this point, Bruce’s detective work had been going pretty smoothly, but after months of trying, he couldn’t track down Canary. However, in a completely unexpected turn of fate, one of Bruce’s good friends, Lance Smith actually had Canary’s phone number saved in his cell phone because both Lance and Paul are avid racecar collectors. Once Bruce found Canary, he was able to give Bruce the final piece of the puzzle – the name of car’s original owner – Allen Korbel.
Korbel told Bruce that he had bought the silver-blue Chevy brand new in 1963 from Garfield Chevrolet in Milwaukee, and was able to fill in much of the car’s history. Korbel told Bruce that he had numerous photos and race results from the Corvette’s early days, and for over a year Bruce would call or email Korbel every few months to ask for a chance to see them. Finally, persistence paid off, and a big box full of original photos of the Corvette and race results from the mid-sixties showed up at Bruce’s house.
Allen Korbel in the '63 running pole-position at Wilmont Hills Raceway, 1964
The Corvette as it sits in 2011 has a superb 1970’s road racer patina about it, and that’s probably because the car is almost exactly how it how it looked in the mid-seventies when the wide fender flares, big-block hood, and blazing red paint were added. Bruce even acquired the original receipts from the body shop for the work. Even though Bruce originally wanted a car to run in HMSA with his buddies, he ultimately changed his mind when he found out he would have to change the car’s appearance. “Groups like HMSA typically require that the cars actually have race histories, so the Corvette had that covered,” he explains. “What I didn’t realize at the time, was that to run it in that group, I would have to remove the wheel flares (restore it to mid-60’s set-up). I haven’t done that yet because I really like the way it looks now… and after all, the flares were put on all the way back in 1975!”
The ’63 still rides on the full Guldstrand suspension that was installed in the early seventies (which Bruce also has a receipt for). Even the original 15×10 American Racing S200 wheels the car has on all four corners were won in a National Council of Corvette Clubs raffle sometime in the mid-seventies. The roll cage in the Spartan interior also still bears the same ID number shown in the Corvette’s original SCCA logbook from 1971. Another cool vintage modification is the “Igloo Fuel Cooler” under the hood: you simply put ice in the cooler, and the fuel gets chilled as it passes through the copper tubes coiled inside.
The Corvette started its life with a fuel injected 327, and throughout its history it saw a variety of both carb’ed and fuel injected small blocks between its fenders. Famous 70’s mid-western drag racer Mike Marinoff built an engine for the original owner and Carl Johnson of Sterling Engines built one for Tom Harmer. The current engine is a 70’s LT-1 carbureted small block. Bruce guesses the combo makes a respectable 350 HP. One of the prior owners even shipped Bruce two sets of side pipes and an old set of headers that he had run on the car in the ‘70’s. The 4-inch black side pipes currently on the car were custom built by JBA.
While the car was never raced in a major event, it was still raced hard and often by most of its owners. This ’63 is a great example of Corvette’s racing heritage, presented with a bad-ass vintage look, and a well-documented history. Today, Bruce makes a point of driving it to work on sunny days (and there are a lot of them in San Diego!) and he’s adding a new page to this ’63 split window’s history by enjoying it on the street.