Ron Cherry: A ’61 Corvette with the right stuff
Special to The Union
Military pilots often have “the need for speed” that doesn’t stop when they touch ground, and they want a car that will fulfill that need.
According to what they drove in the movie “The Right Stuff,” it often took the shape of a Corvette. When now-retired Naval aviator Capt. George “Cap” Wallington graduated from flight school, he said, “It was the thing to do among pilots, buy a Corvette. I was married and couldn’t afford it. I always wanted one and thought I should have one, but it took 50 years.”
Seven years ago, Cap finally fulfilled that desire.
When a neighbor of his pulled up in a ’60 Vette, Cap walked up to him and said, “You can’t do that.”
“What?” his neighbor asked.
“Own a Corvette. I want one,” Cap said.
So Cap and his neighbor went inside and started searching the Internet to find a Vette for Cap. He wanted a C-1 (1953-1962) for the body lines and found one for sale by a dealer in Texas.
The write-up said it had gone through a frame-off restoration and been repainted in the original Jewel Blue with Ermine White covings. It had a 283 CID high-performance, 270 HP engine with factory dual carbs and a Duntov cam with solid lifters that was mated to a 4-speed trans.
Although it did not have the removable hardtop, it did have the soft top. The car had few other options, just an AM radio and heater, but was in great condition.
It was a numbers-matching car, proving it had the original engine. It sounded exactly like what Cap was looking for and he hopped on a plane for the Lone Star State.
After seeing the car, he made the deal and had his Vette transported home to California. Since buying it, he has had very few issues with the car. Other than normal maintenance, he has rebuilt the carbs once and replaced the radiator with a new aluminum one, which solved an overheating problem.
Cap and wife Cheryl joined the High Sierra Corvette Club and enjoy going on rallies and to car shows with the club, but keep to local ones.
“I don’t take it far from home. It’s a 55-year-old car and I don’t trust it because I didn’t do the work myself,” he said. “It seems to have been done well, but you can’t be sure.”
Even on short runs, driving the ’61 Vette can be a challenge. With no power steering or brakes, Cap said, “It drives like a Caterpillar tractor. You can’t turn the steering wheel if you’re standing still.”
Its “solid-axle” suspension changed little from Corvette’s origin in 1953 and is rough-riding and poor-handling. Its drum brakes with a single-reservoir master cylinder make braking insecure.
To solve that, Cap is looking into a conversion kit that will give the Vette front disc brakes and a safer dual–reservoir master cylinder.
The Vette can also be rather warm inside on hot days. On a rally he and his wife recently went on to Downieville, in the midst of the heat spell, he said, “Cheryl told me ‘I’m not doing that again.’ I said, ‘Then I can buy a newer one with air conditioning for rallies and keep this for shows. She said, ’OK.’ So that’s what I’ll probably do.”
However, the main problem with taking his Vette, (or any other restored car, for that matter) to shows is people. At one show, someone dropped their camera on the truck lid, putting a 1/2-inch scratch on the otherwise pristine paint job and now Cap has to repaint the trunk.
All things considered, he does enjoys driving his ’61 Vette. Some Saturdays he and his Vette can be seen at Cars and Coffee in the Kmart shopping center on McKnight between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“It’s a great-looking car. People enjoy seeing it,” he said.
And it’s no wonder. Not only is it a beautiful car, but also an interesting one since 1961 was a year of firsts and last for Corvette.
It was the first year for an aluminum-case 4-speed, an aluminum radiator and the “ducktail” body with four taillights, a Corvette hallmark until 2013. It was the last year for the 283 CID engine, factory dual-quad carbs and two-tone paint.
When you see Cap’s ’61 Vette, you’ll have to admit that it truly has the right stuff.
Ron Cherry’s three books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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