Solid Axle Apology: 1961 Chevrolet Corvette

I have to admit that I make mistakes from time to time.  Yes, it is true.  Not lying one bit.  One of my latest bonehead moves was calling a C1 Corvette (1953-1962) a straight axle Corvette in a story.  A  few readers gently reminded me that a straight axle refers to a gasser and a solid axle refers to early Corvettes.  I read the comments, and swore never to make the same terminology snafu again.  I knew better, as I have spent most of my life playing with Corvettes and reading the holy scriptures of the late, great Noland Adams.  Then, I inexplicably repeated the mistake.  This time, I got a stern reminder.  Well, the third time is the charm on this one.  I promise!  This 1961 Corvette, for sale here on craigslist, could charitably be called a work in progress.  However, this solid axle jigsaw puzzle, found in historic Dothan, Alabama, might be one of the cheapest ways you can get into a C1 Corvette these days.  While $25,000 isn’t pocket change, this one may be a good way to get into a C1 one piece at a time.

Corvettes are often either babied to the point of ridiculousness by perfectionist owners, or they are driven until they become fiberglass versions of the Dodge at the end of the Blues Brothers.  I’d let you guess which life this one led, but you probably have already figured it out.  I doubt that this one will ever be a NCRS Duntov Award winner, but that’s OK.  Most of those cars end up being trailer queens.  Corvettes were meant to be driven, and it is pretty clear that the former owners of this 1961 model took that motto to heart.

The likelihood of this one being in a rather serious front end collision is high given that a new, one piece fiberglass nose has been gently laid down on it.  The fiberglass panels on early Corvettes were not made in one piece.  Bodies were actually made in multiple pieces and put together with bonding strips.  These aftermarket one piece noses are easier to work with, usually cheaper, and save on body work hours.  However, since they are not exact factory replacements, they will cost you major points at a NCRS show.  For a driver, they are a good, economical alternative.

Inside, we see that the floors look pretty good.  There may be some patching to the left of the shifter, though it is hard to tell.  The door post and dash look to be in good condition, and the steering wheel looks to be restorable.  We can also see the factory color, which has to be Honduras Maroon.  1961 was the last year you could have the side coves painted a different color (white would be correct on this car), and was also the end of the line for the 283 cubic inch engine.

The seller tells us that this car still has its matching number 283, producing 230 horsepower.  This was the base engine for 1961, and we are also told that the car is equipped with a four speed manual transmission.  In the picture, we can see that the expansion tank, generator, and Corvette specific valve covers are still there, but it looks like the ignition has been updated.  You can also see the passenger side “rams horn” exhaust manifold if you look carefully.

There are multiple pictures in the ad of the parts that have been removed from the car.  As always, when you see a car that has been torn apart, you have to ask why.  While they are pretty simple cars in concept, restoring a Corvette correctly is a difficult task.  It is also pretty expensive as well.  With this one, I would be looking for collision damage to the frame, rust in the frame, and the condition of the rest of the body.  There is an art to repairing the fiberglass bodies of Corvettes, and mistakes can end up being very costly.  Fortunately, there are a lot of resources in print and online to help you, not to mention the NCRS.  They have years and years of technical articles available on DVDs, and a network of local clubs to assist you in your restoration.  Corvettes are very popular cars, and there is a great aftermarket as well to satisfy your parts needs.

This particular Corvette has been advertised for a while, so the seller may budge a bit on the price.  While there is a lot of work to complete, and this doesn’t appear to be a particularly well optioned car, the makings for a fun weekend toy are all there.  Without the overbearing burden of having to complete a frame off, numbers matching restoration, you could personalize this one a bit.  I would keep the original color, and maybe paint the cove white.  I would also leave the engine on a stand in the garage, put the transmission on a heavy duty shelf, and install both a crate motor and a Tremec transmission.  The emphasis wouldn’t be speed.  It would be on making a good, reliable, long distance runner.  See the USA in your Chevrolet and all that jazz.

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Comments

  1. Terry J

    Yup, Straight axle means the front, solid axle is the rear. Knew a guy who built a C2 drag car long ago and pulled out the independent rear end to install a solid axle. :-) Terry J

    • Poppapork

      Plenty of c3s running with solid axles, the factory eaton diff is the ahilles heel of these cars…

  2. 68 custom

    while I am no expert on solid axle vette’s or any vettes for that matter this one seems very over priced to me with the base 283, major body damage, plus the fact that you would have to pay or repair it yourself!

  3. Bill H

    Anyone who counsels you that “straight axle” does not apply to C1s knows nothing about C1s or Corvettes in general. SACE — straight axle Corvettes enthusiasts — was a serious minded Corvette restoration club that failed (compared to NCRS) because it was. “Purist”, narrowly focused club exclusively for C1 people. I’m sure all the old SACE guys who get Barn Finds are laughing at the “Corvette experts” that straightened you out. I have been a member of NCRS since 1976 and a was a charter member of SACE. Keep up the great finds and don’t apologize to self appointed experts. You got it right the first time, bud!!

  4. Bill H

    Another thing. The owner of this car has done himself no favors by buying a one-piece front clip instead of piecing the front end together from individual Corvette body panels. The value of the car sinks incredibly with a one piece front end, will never qualify for judging in any of the NCRS classes for originality. It’s a shame because the pieces are all available to do it right. Lot more work but worth twice as much. The new owner should scrap all that grey colored fiberglass junk and buy the correct pieces and do it right. Probably why it’s been on the market a while.

    • paul

      Nice Bill, and very true!

    • gbvette62

      I have to agree with Bill H 100%, on both his posts.

      As an owner of 62 Corvette, and someone who’s been involved in the Corvette hobby since the early 70’s, I can verify that both “solid axle” and “straight axle”, have been used to describe the 53-62 Corvette.

      Not only will the one piece nose have an adverse effect on the value of what otherwise appears to be a fairly straight, complete and unmolested 61, but the cost savings of the one piece nose, often turns out to be negligible. A correct, jig assembled, press molded fiberglass nose costs about 4 times as much as a one piece, hand laid nose, but by the time it’s installed, the one piece often doesn’t save much. The hand laid glass is much thicker then press molded, and is often wavy and prone to having “pin holes”. The extra labor required to fit and finish a one piece nose, often wipes out much of the savings, gained by buying it in the first place.

      At least the seller knew enough to order the nose with the side fenders left off of it. This makes it a lot easier to install the nose.

  5. SeattleCurmudgeon

    Last year to have a trunk in your ‘vette. That’s all I got.

    • Gus

      Sorry but 1962 was the last year that had a trunk. thanks

  6. Metoo

    25k for that? I’ll pass. Be a lot of time and money before you re-enacting Route 66 in it.

  7. 86 Vette Convertible

    I wonder if that was originally a 3 speed? IIRC that was default tranny in those days and you had to cut the hump to fit a 4 speed in. It’s seen it’s share of bumps and bruises – what can you say.

    • gbvette62

      The 3 speed was the standard trans in all 56-62 Corvettes, but the 4 speed was a regular production option from mid 57 onward. No changes are needed to be made to the floor, to install a 4 speed in a 56-62 Corvette.

  8. ronebee

    the correct Front End is available, the companys name is Schmmbuger? It comes properly built, assembled and indistinquishable from stock glass. this looks like a very savable car.

    • gbvette62

      The company was called Sermershiem’s, though the owner has passed away. The new owners (members of the founder’s family) now trade under the name Lee Blum Composites and Sermershiem’s.

      • ronebee

        thank you, I drive my stuff, never know when I may need some Front End Glass

  9. Tim

    Is that aftermarket front end as poorly dimensioned as pattern parts usually are? If so the amount of time needed to get it perfect would probably be similar to getting individual factory panels mated together. Seems a false economy, and might be hiding something much worse!

  10. Tyler

    Driving a 58 once broke me from ever wanting a C1 Corvette. I know they are popular, but not my cup of tea. So maybe I’m biased, but I don’t see much value here. A quick search shows nice drivable examples from $40k & up. It’s an early Vette, so I’m sure it will be restored, but I’m at as big a loss in understanding the money being paid for these things as I am about Mopars & 911’s.

  11. Kevin Lee

    I’m no expert, but the fiberglass nose looks to be for a drag car. The ones I’ve dealt with are usually ill fitting and thin.

  12. california kimber

    I had a 62, what fun. I drove and drag raced it. It was my dream from route 66. I watched it and drove it to CA on “Route 66″! yes I used that little trunk, on my red 62 Just as I use the one on my 2000 red fixed roof coupe. Yes corvettes did have trunks again and actually hold more stuff. the 2000 is everything I wanted in my 62 like disc brakes,18” rims, independent suspension, fuel injection and 6 spd they are more car!!!! but I still miss my 62, that throaty howl @ 6500rpm from the 30-30 cam and wide open 780 holley! sucking air and fuel like there was no tomorrow

  13. Steve

    About a year ago I responded to a craigslist ad for a car mounted bike carrier, of all things. While there, I asked the lady seller what year vette was under the cover. She asked if I could guess. I looked closely at what I could see that wasn’t covered. I said “62”, based on 61/62 being sort of “transition” years for the body style. Turns out it was in fact a 62, lucky guess! She pulled the cover the reveal a red with red interior factory fuel injection car! Unfortunately, the factory fuel injection had been removed years ago. She said she got it in a divorce. I’ll bet that hurt the poor guy a lot. She said she used to drive it pretty often, but as Austin encroached on our little town to the NW, was driving it less and less, due to the manual drum brakes and manual steering leaving her nervous with heavier traffic.I asked if it was for sale, and she said she would have to have $40k for it. Probably a good deal, but too rich for my blood.

    • Steve

      #2

    • Steve

      #3

    • Steve

      #4

    • Steve

      #5

    • James

      My dad had one identical in color, same hub caps in the early 70’s, I drove it quite a bit. Was an original fuel injected car, but had a four barrel when we got it. He traded a really nice 64 Impala SS straight across for it. He had paid $400 for the Impala. Ended up selling it for around that or a little more.

      Then in 1971, my brother bought a1960 Corvette out of a nickle ad paper. Had a 283, Muncie 4sp. He drove it home for $350. He put in a DZ 302, and I bought it for $1800. Wish I still had it. Took out the DZ motor to drag race it in a 70 Nova SS. Sold the 60 body for $400. If I had only known……

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