Preface: This is part five of at least six parts about racing on public streets and highways – narrow roads that were void of white edge lines and reflective warning signs - the days just prior to the Interstate expressway system. The cars, during this era (1958-1961), were sans radial tires, disk brakes or power steering
Author’s 1960 Corvette with Trophies
Late on a summer night in 1961, I noticed my buddy Howard's '57 Chevy in the lot at the White Castle drive-in. Pulling up next to him in my 1960 Corvette, I said, "Hey man, I see you finally got that junker runnin'."
"This "junker" will dust you off any time you're ready," came the reply from Hard (as he was known, 'cuz that's how the Kentuckians he worked with pronounced Howard).
Before I could think of a good come-back, Louie walked over saying, "It's about time you two smoked one off." Howard and I looked at each other and grinned.
My 1960 Corvette came with the 230 HP (single 4-barrel) engine and a three-speed close-ration transmission (non-synchromesh in 1st gear). I became very adept at rapidly double-clutching back into first gear having learned on my Almquist bodied Crosley sports car I built when I was 15 – none of the gears had synchronizers requiring a double-clutch going up and down through the gears. Double-clutching is a very apropos term inasmuch as you have to shove the clutch in twice to shift what is commonly called a crash box (the gears grind or crash if their speed is not in sync). To do this, going up, shift into neutral, let the clutch out to slow the cluster gears down, shove it in again and move the shift lever to the next higher gear. To downshift, shift into neutral, let the clutch out and rev the engine to the speed of the clusters gears (synchronizing those gears with the lower drive gear), then shove the clutch in and complete the downshift. It’s easiest (and slower) to do with a tachometer, but with practice you will develop an ear and feel for the right amount of throttle needed to make a ‘crash-free’ shift.
I made a few bucks off this ability when kids who ‘knew’ you couldn’t shift into first gear without grinding. I’d claim I could shift into first gear at 50 without using the clutch and without grinding the gears. We’d each put up some money and then I’d take the doubter for a ride where I’d run the Vette up to 50 mph, turn on the interior courtesy light so he could see that I wouldn’t shove the clutch in. Next, I’d pull the shift lever into neutral, rev the engine to 5000 rpm ( a rate I knew was equal to 50mph in first gear) and then easily slap the shift lever into first.
Buyers of new Corvettes received a free subscription to CORVETTE NEWS, an official publication of GM. In one of the early issue the factory gave racing tune-up tips – this practice was surely curtailed once the lawyers read it. Nevertheless, Volume 1, Number 2 included upper limit settings such as valve clearances, point/dwell and timing advance calibrations. Utilizing these specifications gave a significant edge over ‘stock’ tuned engines.
Corvette News, Vol. 1, #2
As funds allowed, this ‘stocker’ soon was enhanced with the usual ‘270 HP’ speed equipment such as hi-lift cam, solid lifters, dual point distributor and heavy duty clutch coupled to a 4-speed fully synchromesh transmission . In addition, I added 3-2 barrel carburetor and ‘lake pipes’- 3” pipe (w/cap) welded to the header pipe. This muffler by-pass created nerve jangling decibels at high rpms and cost me a ticket! I was in route to the dirt track near Middletown when I decided to blow the carbon out. Passing a State Highway Patrol post at full throttle and around 100 MPH got the undivided attention of the OIC who radioed ahead. At the side road leading to the track sat a marked cruiser. He liked the car and sympathized with my plight, but the Lieutenant at the post insisted I be cited.
The 4-speed was beneficial in many instances, though my best times on the 5/8 mile dirt track were with the 3-speed.
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