|Vehicle:||1961 Chevrolet Corvette convertible|
|Number Produced:||10,939 (all engines)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate attached to steering column in engine compartment|
|Engine Number Location:||Top rear on driver’s side of block|
|Club Info:||NCRS, Bloomington Gold|
|Alternatives:||1955 Chevrolet Corvette V8 roadster, 1963 Chevrolet Corvette 327/340 coupe, 1957 Ford Thunderbird E-code|
This car, Lot 861, sold for $56,100, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale, AZ, auction, held January 10–18, 2015.
In 2014, Chevrolet sold 34,839 Corvettes. But back in 1955 — Corvette’s third year of production — the company was ready to pull the plug on the car due to poor sales and a demanding manufacturing process.
Debut excitement, and teething pains
The Corvette debuted at the 1953 Motorama in New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and it was an instant success. The public’s excitement over the car reinforced the decision that GM President Harlow Curtice had already made to proceed with a production model. Initially, 300 fiberglass-bodied Corvettes were to be built in the last half of 1953, and then production would switch to traditional steel bodies. Production was planned for 10,000 units in 1954, and with support from the plastic industry, the steel plan was dropped and fiberglass continued, and a production line was developed to build the cars in St. Louis.
But after that initial excitement, the demand for the Corvette quickly waned. Production was reduced to just over 3,600 units in 1954, and even that proved to be optimistic, as over 1,000 remained unsold at the end of the year.
The average Corvette buyer had experienced European sports cars during the war, and a car powered by an anemic Stovebolt six and a 2-speed automatic transmission was not their idea of a true sports car. In 1955, a V8 was offered as an option; however, the Powerglide automatic was required with the V8 until after the midpoint of the year. Only 700 roadsters were built. In addition, the Ford Thunderbird had been introduced that year, and 16,155 of them were sold, stealing the Corvette’s market.
Production issues further clouded the Corvette. Fiberglass car bodies offered several advantages over steel ones, but no one had ever mass-produced them. The 62 body pieces — which were outsourced — had to be bonded together with a quick-drying resin, and they did not shrink uniformly, resulting in imperfections that only Bloomington Gold judges appreciate.
The performance ’Vette
Zora Arkus-Duntov was there to see that first Corvette at the Waldorf, and after getting hired on at GM, he was the one who saved the project. He envisioned the Corvette as a high-performance car, and he knew that the publicity that racing would garner would attract a younger buyer. He received approval for the gradual performance-oriented transformation of the Corvette, with the availability of special performance items via RPOs, or Regular Production Options.
The 1956 Corvette offered several RPOs, including the “Duntov High-Lift Camshaft” at $188. It was only available with the $172 dual 4-barrel motor. Racing success followed, and in 1960, Briggs Cunningham, with a three-car team, finished a remarkable 8th overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
By the turn of the decade, the Corvette was due for a facelift, but General Motors was in need of an answer to the Ford Falcon and funds were directed to the Chevy II. The Corvette’s big restyle waited a couple of years, but 1961 models featured a clean-lined redesign. Design chief Bill Mitchell lifted the rear from his Sting Ray race car that had also been seen on the XP-700 show car, and it mated well with the front-end design. As a bonus, the “ducktail” added 20% more luggage room and the grille was revised with horizontal-mesh and painted headlamp bezels. Two fuel-injected motors were offered, and these were ordered on 1,580 cars. This was also the last year for contrasting color coves. By all accounts, the 1961 Corvette was a success, and a record 10,939 left dealer showrooms.
A good driver
The 1961 Corvette sold by Barrett-Jackson appeared to be a solid example. It was finished in Roman Red, the second-most-popular color in 1961, with white coves, the only option available. It had the 4-speed manual, ordered on over 70% of the ’61 Corvettes, and it had the ubiquitous AM Wonderbar radio. The interior appeared to be in good order and the engine clean and tidy. Without the benefit of a close inspection, it appeared to be a solid #2 car and a quality driver.
The ACC Pocket Price Guide places this car with these options in the $56,000–$99,000 range, and other recent sales support that number. Here, this one sold at the low end, being hammered at $56,100 including the buyer’s premium.
What does that mean about this car and its condition? Well, Corvette values are driven by a car’s originality, meaning that untouched cars, even in rough shape, can and do bring more money at auction than cars that have had an engine swap, color changes, or other modifications over the years.
While our subject car looks great overall and had been restored in the not-too-distant past, what we don’t know is just how true to original the car still is. Was it red from the factory? How many components had been replaced? Did the restorer understand how to restore this car properly with regard to paint lines, overspray, etc.? For guys looking to get their Corvettes shown and judged at the NCRS and Bloomington Gold level, that’s all critical stuff. If this was an original 270-hp car in red, a lack of info about it in the auction description probably cost the seller some money here.
But for the buyer who just wants a nice solid-axle driver and local-show Corvette in a great color combination, it’s really hard to beat something like this. For the money spent here, it would be hard to reproduce what the buyer got. Those dual fours will turn some heads when the hood’s popped, and they’ll make a good howl when the new owner puts his foot into it.
If go is the purpose rather than strictly show, I’d say this was a very nice buy on a great-looking car at the current market level. And if it turns out that all was factory with regard to the numbers, colors, and documentation, then it was a fantastic buy at under the money. Either way, the new owner should be pleased.
(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.