Words & Photos: Mike Harrington
San Jose, California
1961 Chevrolet Corvette: Goodguys MSD Muscle Car of the Year Finalist
Zora Arkus Duntov is often credited as fathering the Corvette, but the truth is Harley Earl is responsible for the Corvette’s existence. Duntov’s relationship with the Corvette has deep roots in the racing and performance of the Corvette. Duntov had some big plans for the all-new 1961 Corvette but GM waited a couple years to implement them. Regardless, he still has his fingerprints on the ’61 production year. The redesigned 1961 Corvette had many beginnings and ends design-wise.
The 1961 model was the first year of the toothless Corvette. Gone were the chromed teeth and in their place stood a single horizontal bar. GM designers took styling cues from Bill Mitchell and incorporated the ducktail rear end and four single round taillights, a design, which was carried all the way up to the C6 Corvettes that were produced between 2005 and 2013. Even with a redesign, sales of the ’61 Vette were modest, with just over 10,000 manufactured and sold.
The 1961 Vette seen here is owned by young Emmanuel Zendejas and it’s quite the gem. Zendejas is only the third owner of this all-original 14,000-mile numbers-matching Corvette. The carpet, the seats, and even the Roman Red paint is all original from 1961. The powerplant for the ’61 Vettes were all 283c.i. V-8 engines, but there were three different power options available – 230hp, 275hp, and 315hp. Zendejas owns the dual quad, higher compression camel hump head, 275hp version.
These higher dual-quad horsepower engines also came with scripted finned aluminum valve covers rather than the scripted stamped steel covers of the base model. The ‘61s were also the first to incorporate a new cross flow aluminum radiator and an aluminum transmission case. With a curb weight of 3,035 pounds and clocked at 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, it’s not a bad number for a production vehicle from 1961. With an original sticker price of just under $4,000, this sixties-original Corvette was considered an expensive vehicle.
Is Zendejas excited about his gem of a Corvette? You bet he is! It’s not often a guy can find a vehicle where none of the major parts are new. He has gone to great lengths to track down NOS replacement parts for any of the routine maintenance of Vette. His dedication has paid off.