At first it seemed like the big changes for Corvette in 1961 were the body, particularly at the rear, with a sharp beltline cutoff and near-Kamm-style tail with exhaust tips dropped below the body. With it, Corvette introduced the four-taillight arrangement that established an identifying feature that is still seen on Corvettes nearly five decades later. Up front, the bulky teeth that Corvettes had employed for years disappeared, replaced with a subtle rectangular mesh set deep in the oval opening.

Inside, the Corvette engineering team was hard at work making their car better, faster, and more comfortable. The transmission tunnel was narrowed for more interior room but more importantly, continued development of the 283-cubic-inch Chevy V8 raised output, including a 25-hp increase in the solid-lifter, fuel-injected engine from 290 to 315 horsepower. The 4-speed transmission’s case migrated to lightweight aluminum and the radiator was revised to a cross-flow configuration for better cooling.

The ultimate options for the 1961 Corvette were the solid-lifter 315-horsepower fuel-injected engine with the Big-Brake package (RPO 687), featuring stiff shocks, big brakes with front and rear cooling air scoops and finned drums, wide steel wheels, and a quick-steering adapter. The Big-Brake option could be ordered only with the solid-lifter engines (either with fuel injection or dual with four-barrel carbs) and also required the Positraction rear axle.

Finished in Honduras Maroon with white coves and Fawn Beige vinyl interior, this 1961 Corvette fuelie, owned by noted collector Reggie Jackson, is one of very few 1961 Corvettes ordered with the rare combination of the 283/315 cold air box, fuel-injected engine and RPO 687. Restored some time ago, it also has hard and soft tops and radio and heater delete.

The production numbers tell part of the story. Although there were only 1,462 315-hp fuel-injected cars out of 10,939 Corvettes produced for 1961, the number of RPO 687 cars is even fewer, at just 233. Considering that it cost $333.60 plus the $43.05 for the required Positraction (RPO 675), the paucity of RPO 687 cars is easily understood.

The Reggie Jackson 1961 Big-Brake car is one of very few Corvettes built in the ultimate configuration available to a few performance-oriented buyers. It’s an example of the steady progression of Corvette into a competitive production-racing sports car with factory-developed performance equipment. It was recommended to Reggie Jackson by some of the most informed Corvette authorities, and is a prize of the highest order.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 283/315 Big-Brake Fuelie
Years Produced:1961
Number Produced:10,939
Original List Price:$3,934
SCM Valuation:$67,000–$122,000, plus $60k-$75k for big brakes and fuel injection
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$19.99
Chassis Number Location:Top of steering column under hood
Engine Number Location:Right front cylinder head deck
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society 6291 Day Road Cincinnati, OH 45252
Alternatives:1963 Corvette Z06 1967 Corvette 427/435 Tri-Power 1966 Shelby GT350
Investment Grade:A

This car was not sold at a high bid of $130,000 at the Bonhams & Butterfields auction in Carmel Valley, California, on August 14, 2009.

Among solid-axle Corvettes, few are more rare and desirable than the early RPO 684 (337 built from 1957 to 1959) and later RPO 687 (598 built from 1960–62) Big-Brake cars. Produced in very limited numbers and intended for racing, they remain the highest form of solid-axle desirability, with the exception of the 300 first-year 1953 models and a few cars with distinguished history, such as the 1960 Cunningham Le Mans racers.

This was by all appearances a lovely car. Finished in the handsome Honduras Maroon with white coves, and featuring a Fawn Beige interior and tasteful painted steel wheels with hubcaps, it definitely touched all the bases.

Strong offer in a down market

And the fact that it included the Big-Brake and heavy-duty suspension package, together with the highest-horsepower engine available in 1961, two tops, and radio and heater delete, pegs it at the very top. Curiously, the car was bid to B&B’s low estimate, but in failing to sell, we might surmise the seller was looking for something closer to the high estimate of $150,000. Either way, this was serious money offered in a challenging market, where collectors are being very selective about what they are spending serious money on.

Being part of a collection owned by a famous person—in this case Reggie Jackson—does not necessarily increase the value of a vehicle, unless that person owned the car back in the day and was at least partly defined by it—and it by them. Nevertheless, when a person of acclaim invests in any given car, this is often taken as a validation of the car itself. This is perhaps the case here, because there was no mention of its pre-Jackson ownership history in the auction catalog.

Befitting their creators’ mission, many Big-Brake Corvettes like this one soon headed to the track in the hands of drivers like John Fitch, Dick Guldstrand, and Bob Bondurant, and they were significantly modified by their keepers and then thrashed, crashed, rebuilt, and then thrashed again until they became used up and uncompetitive. From there they could have gone to the wreckers, or been returned to street duty in some fashion. Others were purchased by performance enthusiasts and simply lived quieter lives on the street, where they were driven sparingly and always returned to a loving garage.

What are the origins?

For me, the $130,000 question is where did this car come from? Is it a bitsa? A resurrected racer? Or a lovingly kept driver, since restored to new condition? The former owner certainly had sound advice when purchasing it, and the restorers certainly put it right. So it’s too bad that most of the auction catalog copy was devoted to romancing the RPO 687 cars in general, with precious little on the details of this particular one.

Troubling also was an online catalog footnote revising the chassis number from 10837S100659 to 10867S107602. Perhaps this was a simple data-entry error, but it introduces more questions, and questions on a car of this caliber can often be a deal-killer. Further, no mention was made of the car’s restoration date, its restorer, or any NCRS or Bloomington Gold-type certifications, which lend important validation to any Corvette worth collecting.

Bottom line: Anyone in the market for this kind of stunning and highly desirable solid-axle Corvette generally does his homework. And while bidding started out aggressively, perhaps there were just too many questions that needed answering.

We’ll likely never know why the bidding stalled at the low estimate of $130,000, and why the seller couldn’t let it go. If it had sold there, my analysis would have been that this car was bravely bought, but with an upside once the overall economy approves. But without more historical clarification, bidders stopped short of where the seller wanted to be

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