Generation Gap: Post-Retro 1961 Corvette with Modern Mechanicals
Different generations of Corvettes have appeal for different generations of people. While it’s hard to fault the C2, the impact of the TV show Route 66 may skew some people’s tastes to the classic, first-gen cars. And if you were coming of age in 1968, perhaps Larry Shinoda’s Mako Shark II-inspired Corvette was out of this world.
But sometimes your favorite Corvette is the one that fit your needs. Bob and Carrie Frampton of Wilcox, Pennsylvania did just that when they found a 1961 Vette at the 1998 Corvettes at Carlisle gathering.
Time For a Cool Change
The Corvette had come pretty far along by the time the 1961 model was introduced. It wasn’t too long before that when GM management would never have imagined that the same basic car would last for 10 model years. The early cars had sporting flair but didn’t “drive sporty,” but a new V-8 for 1955 helped things considerably. Further development with the facelifted 1956 via racing around the world earned the Corvette even more notice, with John Fitch setting a record 145 MPH at Daytona Speed Week. A new dual-carburetor motor and “Duntov cam” options showed that the Corvette’s competitive aspirations were no fluke. Fuel injection came the following year, an exotic feature shared with very few cars in the world. At this point, the Corvette was on fire.
Nineteen sixty-one’s facelift ditched the 1950s glitz and moved the Corvette squarely into the new decade. The front end was cleaned up a bit, with the toothy grille ditched for a cleaner mesh design, and the chrome headlight bezels were now painted. This also was the last year for the contrasting bodyside coves, which were available in Sateen Silver, Ermine White, or Tuxedo Black (almost 31% of buyers opted for this).
But out back was the biggest change: The rear end was given a “ducktail” treatment that was inspired by Bill Mitchell’s XP-700 show car. A practical payoff was extra luggage space but, more significantly, the design would carry over into the C2. Additionally, this was the first year for the trademark twin round taillights that continue to this very day in modified form. Under the hood, this was the last year for the 283, which by now was available with up to 315 horses.
A Bargain, For a Reason…
Two fans of the freshened C1 look are Bob Frampton and his wife, Carrie. They both have been attending Carlisle events since the 1970s and first visited the Corvette show in 1998. The couple weren’t looking to buy a car, but, as so often happens, a white and black 1961 Corvette with an attractive price caught their eye; from Friday to Saturday, it was marked down three times. After dwelling on it for a few days, Bob called the owner and, to his surprise, the Vette was still available. They traveled three hours for another personal inspection and drive, then made a deal to buy the car.
Upon bringing it home and going for a few drives, Bob realized how poorly it handled so he rebuilt the front suspension. When that didn’t completely do the trick, he rebuilt the rear suspension and transmission, but the ragged C1 still handled like an old Fleetside truck. Since it didn’t have the original engine and transmission anyway, Bob decided to get down to the nitty gritty and take the Corvette apart so he could strip and repaint the body, and modernize the suspension and drivetrain.
It became apparent after the paint removal that there wasn’t a single panel that didn’t have some damage to it, plus some more headaches:
- There had been a fire under the dash at one point, and the passenger-side firewall had been poorly replaced with a piece of sheetmetal
- Eight of the ten body mount locations were damaged
- The front and rear of the left quarter panel wheel opening needed attention
- On the underside of the Corvette, both the left side floor supports and the inner rocker panel support were missing
I’m so glad it is finally done, but it was definitely worth the wait – Bob Frampton
Going All In
In his spare time, Bob started by cutting the nose off and, with help from family and friends, turned the body upside-down so the repairs could be started from the bottom-up. He found a rear suspension from a 1985 Corvette and adapted the frame to make it fit, then replaced the front suspension with a Jim Meyer coil-over setup with power rack and pinion steering and power disc brakes. In order to install a 2009 Corvette LS3 crate engine and a five-speed transmission, Bob built the engine mounts in his garage. He even built a temporary paint booth where he gel-coated and primed the body after all of the bodywork was complete.
While the rebuild was in progress, scouring the Corvettes at Carlisle swap meet with Carrie also became a de rigueur pastime. When it was time for the interior, Bob went with Horizon Blue leather from Al Knoch Interiors, but Bob designed and built the billet aluminum center control panel where the modern radio, air conditioning controls, and clock are located. The only part of his project he didn’t do himself was paint the car – the 2006 Corvette Monterey Red was lovingly sprayed on by Brad Goetz of HarborVette Performance Restoration in Erie, Pennsylvania; he painted the optional hardtop and side coves 1972 Corvette Classic White.
Bob finished the Vette just in time for its 50th anniversary debut under the big tent at the 2011 Corvettes at Carlisle meet. What started off as a two- or three-year project ended up taking nine years. Bob says, “I’m so glad it is finally done, but it was definitely worth the wait.” With an old Vette that drives like a new one, it’s hard to argue that point.