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1961 C1 Corvette Owned, Raced and Driven for 54 Years

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 2/11/2018 Gerry Burger

Your first car, there will never be another quite like it. Gather any group of "high-mileage" car guys and invariably talk turns to first cars, horsepower and four-speeds, followed by a group lamentation, "Darn, I wish I still had that car." While some people go to great lengths attempting to locate that first car, for Kenny Sutter, finding his first car has always been as simple as walking out to the garage. For, you see, this 1961 Corvette is his first car.

The tale begins in the spring of 1964 when young Kenny Sutter located a fuelie 1961 Vette on a dealers lot in Dayton, Ohio. Like many a young man, he went to the "Bank of Dad" and managed to borrow $2,650 to purchase the Corvette. Armed with a fist full of dollars he headed down to the dealer and paid cash for the car. On May 6, 1964, Kenny Sutter found himself behind the wheel of a Sateen Silver with blue interior, 283-cubic-inch, 315-horsepower, four-speed Corvette. Yes, he was 21 and driving a genuine fuelie Vette. It was and is the stuff of dreams.

The mid-'60s was a wild, transitional time in the automotive world. The horsepower and muscle car wars were raging, drag racing was entering the golden age and the Corvette was often leading the charge. While some Corvettes were used for road courses, others went to golf courses, but more times than not, a young hot rodder would purchase a used Corvette for a reasonable sum and proceed to drag race on weekends and street race at any given traffic light. It should be remembered that long before Corvettes were being restored they were being modified.

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Middletown, Ohio, was like many USA towns in the '60s, with several speed shops and plenty of service stations specializing in high-performance cars. The Middletown and Dayton area also had the distinction of fielding some pretty famous gassers, not the least of which was "Ohio George" Montgomery. In the '60s, local dragstrips were drawing big crowds. It didn't take long for young Kenny to drive his Corvette to the dragstrip and get involved in organized NHRA racing.

While the car remained street driven, the appearance was that of a dedicated race car. Decals, numbers and the name "The Spook" made it very clear this was a race car. As for the name, the explanation is quite simple. It seems Kenny was snapping axles at an alarming rate, more than most Corvette owners. While installing yet another new axle, one of his buddies casually mentioned there must be some kind of a "spook" in that rear housing. From that day forward the car was known as The Spook.

The original engine was installed just in time for Kenny's shot at "the big one," competing in the 1967 NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. His car was registration number 1000, running in E/SP. As an interesting aside, the 1967 NHRA Program indicates he registered just before Hot Rod magazine editor, the late John Dianna, who registered number 1001 with a '56 Chevy. While Kenny went out in the first round, it was an experience of a lifetime and the NHRA Nationals decal remains on the car today.

In 1980, Kenny bought a 1970 LT-1 crate engine with 8.5:1 TRW pistons, Trick Flow aluminum heads and a Weiand 4-71 blower fed by an 850-cfm Holley carburetor. Hedman headers lead to Flowmaster mufflers. The blower is pushing 6 psi of boost and the original four-speed box has been replaced with a more modern TREMEC five-speed topped with a Hurst shifter. The CAE straight-axle was removed and the original front suspension was bolted back under the car. Once again, Kenny painted the car himself, this time in a deep House of Kolor candy Brandywine over a charcoal silver base. The car was given an overall freshening up and it was back to street duty.

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For the past 38 years the car has seen street duty. Kenny Sutter is just the second owner of this Corvette and he still drives his first car a couple thousand miles a year. In case you are wondering, you'll be pleased to know the original 283/315-horsepower fuelie engine is tucked safely away in his garage.

As you can imagine, with the blower engine under the hood this car is still fast, but rather than being parked in the pits at the local dragstrip, the car is more likely to be parked on the spectator side of the fence or seen rolling into a local cruise night. It's been 54 years since Kenny laid down that $2,650 for his first car, and the history and memories of this street/strip Corvette continue to mount. As Kenny told us, "Today it's just a nice little street car." We'd have to say it's a lot more than that.

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