Tom Longo’s ’61 Corvette is...
Tom Longo’s ’61 Corvette is an ultra-rare 315hp fuelie with the RPO 687 “Big Brake” option.
Attention to detail.
It's what turned Corvette into the car to beat in road racing in the early '60s-and it helped this Vette become a top scorer at judging time. When the 1961 racing season began, Corvette had proven itself in races around the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring. That's because Zora Arkus-Duntov and the other Corvette engineers tasked to make America's Only True Sports Car a world-class racer put plenty of effort in at the GM Tech Center and Proving Grounds as well as trackside, where they could see what the Vette's strengths-and weaknesses-were.
That's how Chevrolet was able to offer a host of racing-related options on the car starting in 1956. By the time the '61 model run began, that list included not just a high-output 283ci V-8-with up to 315 hp in fuel-injected form-but also a heavy-duty brake and suspension package, RPO 687.
That was among the options on a '61 Corvette that now resides in Tom Longo's garage on Long Island.
This isn't Longo's first Corvette-that was a Z07-equipped '93 he bought new and still has. "When I bought that car, and realized what it was, after the first year I had it I stopped putting so many miles on it," he says. Eighteen years later, with his 12,000-original-mile C4 safe in his garage, Longo set his sights on a solid-axle Corvette like the ones his brothers had when he was growing up.
Eventually, he met up with Corvette restorer and collector Brian Cochrane, who owned one of the 233 big-brake '61s, a Roman Red one. "I wanted to buy his car, but he didn't want to sell it," Longo recalls. So he kept a lookout for another RPO 687 '61, which he found for sale in Maryland. This car-finished in Ermine White-had been sitting in dry storage for about 20 years, after its owner found out how rare it was.
Two decades of storage, on top of two decades of use (including drag racing by previous owners), meant that it was restoration time. But Longo didn't tear into it right away. "I didn't want to screw up the car," he says. "That was my biggest fear, that I would do something wrong with it. This wasn't a regular, base-model Corvette; it was a special car." His research gave him a stack of Corvette reference books that was about a foot high, plus loads of information specific to the '61 and its big-brake and fuelie options.
Also on Longo's '61: the RPO...
Also on Longo's '61: the RPO 276 wide-wheel option, which replaced the stock full wheel covers with '59-'60 big-Chevy dog-dish caps.
As a part of that research, he found his '61's VIN to be close to that of Brian Cochanne's red one-very close. "We couldn't believe it when the VINs on his car and mine were only 20 digits away," he says. "Both cars were on the line on the same day."
Longo accomplished the four-year resto project with plenty of assistance. "The biggest help came from Gail Parsons, who passed away last summer," he says. "He had quite a few Vettes over the years, and a number of big-brake cars." According to Longo, Parsons had amassed a treasure trove of original General
Motors, Chevrolet, and Rochester engineering drawings and blueprints, especially ones covering the Rochester mechanical fuel-injection system found on the RPO 354 315hp 283.
While Longo's '61 was intact and complete when he got it, there was plenty that needed replacing-which he did, thanks to his friends. "Everything on that car is what it's supposed to be, and it's mostly original or N.O.S.," he says. "Any of the stuff that wasn't there, I was able to find N.O.S. parts to replace them with." That includes a set of correct RPO 687 sintered-metallic rear brake shoes that he got from Parsons' wife, Maxine.
Longo (left) and Brian Cochrane...
Longo (left) and Brian Cochrane pose with their RPO 687 C1s, which were built at the St. Louis plant on the same day in 1961.
Also on Among the friends...
Also on Among the friends who helped Longo with his '61's restoration was Gail Parsons, seen here with his ultra-rare (1 of 43) '57 “airbox” Vette.
Here’s what a ’61 Vette’s...
Here’s what a ’61 Vette’s door panel looks like after 30-plus hours of detailed restoration.
Here's what a '61 Vette's...
Here's what a '61 Vette's door panel looks like after 30-plus hours of detailed restoration.
Longo also did a lot of work himself. As the owner of a dental laboratory, he spends his work days wearing a 3X magnifying loupe, and it was in this facility that he also refinished a lot of the small parts on his '61. "I tell a lot of my friends who restore cars that I work with tiny, miniature stuff all day long," he says. "I'm restoring people's mouths, basically. When I have those parts, and I'm looking at them, everything is large."
Longo says that includes fasteners, an area in which supplies of N.O.S. parts have long since vanished. "Every nut and bolt on that car was blasted," he says of the hardware whose edges were showing their age. "If it's been taken off several times, you start to see the edges wearing down. Every one of those edges that was peened-over from the wrenches was fixed and straightened here in my lab before I sent it out to be cadmium-plated or black-phosphate-coated."
The body got its share of attention, too. Grant Herbster stripped off the old paint before the crew at Mad Creations in Deer Park, New York, got it ready for paint. Mad's owner, Michael DiLavor, expertly sprayed a new coat of Ermine White.
No Hurst shifter here—the...
No Hurst shifter here—the restored original T-10 four-speed is stirred by a correct factory shifter with Reverse lockout.
All that attention to detail paid off at judging time, with a C1 that wasn't over-restored. Longo says that when the judges looked inside his C1 and saw the speedometer and gauge cluster, they couldn't believe they were carefully polished originals. Same with the door panels. "When the interior judge opened the door, he knew right away it wasn't an Al Knoch replacement door panel. He said, 'Where did you get this panel from?,' and I said, 'It's the original panel. It's been cleaned and reassembled with most all of its original components.' He looked at the lenses on the reflectors on the door, and I told him, 'Those have all been taken out, re-polished, and put back in again.'" Longo figures he has at least 30 hours' worth of work in each door panel.
Like a new big-brake Vette running away from its A/Production competition back in the day, Longo's '61 tallied a very high score the first time out. Needless to say, it's now a Top Flight car.
What's it like to drive? "With the quick steering, when you're driving it at a slow rate of speed, it's a handful," says Longo. "Once you get the car up to speed, it drives very nicely." He takes it out to run it at least once a month, weather permitting, "Whenever I take it out, even if it's just to get gas in it, it always draws a crowd."
Those big brakes don't give him a problem, either, thanks to the way he restored them. "If they're put on a lathe and cut with a fine cutter, then hit lightly with sandpaper to [yield] a smoother surface, the brake linings work pretty well. It's when they're not addressed correctly that there may be a problem."
Weather permitting, Longo...
Weather permitting, Longo takes his '61 out about once a month to keep it running right (and to beautify Long Island's roads).
He adds, "Some of the older brake mechanics have the right machinery on hand. They have a drum sander, which is a machine that'll match the O.D. of the brake shoe to the perfect concentric circle of the I.D. of the drum. So, when you press on the brake, you'll press on the whole pad. If you just take a set of pads and put them in the car, and they're not adjusted properly to the drum, they can take a little time to grab. That's because you're not working on a full pad."
Longo's advice for anyone who's looking to buy a Corvette, be it their first one or next one? "Right now is one of the most opportune times to do it. The market is down, and because of that the car market is down as well. I'm in the process of restoring a '62 that I bought from a friend of mine. It's a running driver, and when I get done with it, it will be a Top Flight car.
"If you're interested in doing that, this is the time to get a car. Without a doubt, it's cheaper to buy the car already done than it is for you to buy one, take it apart, and restore it."
Restored dash stack includes...
Restored dash stack includes the original "Wonderbar" radio.
Look closely and you'll see...
Look closely and you'll see the correct AC, Delco, and Harrison markings in and around the fuelie-filled engine bay.
Here's how you get 315 horses...
Here's how you get 315 horses out of a 283: Add a (restored) Rochester fuel-injection system.
|Spec Sheet: ’61 Roadster|
|Owner||Tom Longo; Holbrook, NY|
|Block||Chevrolet Mark II small-block V-8, cast iron (Casting No. 3756519)|
|Displacement||283 ci, machined by Tony Coppola|
|Heads||Original cast-iron 461X 315hp, restored by Al DeAngelo|
|Valves||Chevrolet RPO 354 1.94/1.60, valve job by Tony Coppola|
|Camshaft||Chevrolet RPO 354 (PN 3736097, Casting No. 3736098)|
|Rocker Arms||Chevrolet RPO 354|
|Pistons||Chevrolet RPO 354 domed|
|Crankshaft||Chevrolet RPO 354 forged steel, 3.00-in stroke|
|Rods||Chevrolet RPO 354|
|Intake Manifold||Chevrolet PN 3768233 cast-aluminum|
|Fuel Injection||Restored GM-Rochester mechanical (7017320), machined and assembled by Gail Parsons|
|Fuel Pump||Restored GM-Rochester mechanical|
|Ignition||Restored GM-Delco points-style|
|Exhaust System||Restored RPO 354 with 2-in pipes and PN 3750556/3749965 manifolds|
|Transmission||RPO 685 close-ratio Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed, restored by 4-Speeds By Darrell|
|Driveshaft||Restored original ’61 Corvette|
|Suspension||RPO 687 heavy-duty with front coil springs, rear leaf springs, and tubular shock absorbers; restored by Rich Puleo|
|Rearend||Restored original ’61 Corvette with RPO 675 Positraction and 4.11:1-AT big brake gears|
|Brakes||Restored RPO 687 heavy-duty with 11-in finned drums, sintered-metallic linings, and cooling scoops on body; wheel cylinders machined by Pete Lange|
|Wheels||RPO 276 15x5.5 heavy-duty with small hubcaps (used on fullsize ’59-’60 Chevys)|
|Tires||Firestone 6.70-15 bias-ply blackwall|
|Special Thanks: Jack Brown (fellow RPO 687 owner), Brian Cochrane (component refurbishing), Peter Lange (reverse engineering and machining), John and Michael Longo (dissassembly and reassembly), Bill Reid (interior), Mike Russo (show prep), Dennis Sagamange (NCRS Master Judge, for advice on proper assembly), and Tony Manzolillo (chassis prep and paint)|