On July 7, 2015, members of the Historic Vehicle Association departed Dearborn, Michigan, in a…
Ask the man who owns one: A 48-year journey with a 1961 Corvette
“If there was a good Corvette in the paper, it was gone in a day,” said Burton Hall. In 1967’s spring and summer, Hall combed the local North Jersey newspaper classified ads for Corvettes daily. Today, he still owns the ’61 he purchased that year.
While pursuing his dream ‘Vette, Hall attended the Newark College of Engineering (today New Jersey Institute of Technology), and also worked two jobs: delivering for a Chicken Delight franchise in Teaneck, N.J. and selling paint at Sears. He owned an MGA but, like many young men at the time, badly wanted a Corvette.
His curiosity piqued when a 1961 model advertised remained in the paper for three days. He and his father paid a visit and found the Honduras Maroon and white ‘Vette had no problems, just an owner who refused to budge from his $1,300 asking price. The car’s dual four-barrel, 283-ci V-8 was coupled to a four-speed and 4.11-geared Positraction axle. It was a solid go-fast recipe, if a bit high-revving on the highway.
Hall had $1,200, and no amount of negotiating – even offering to take the car without the hardtop – would secure the ‘Vette. To close the deal he borrowed $100 from a friend.
“I didn’t even have money left over for gas,” he said. “I paid my friend back the next week, and the Corvette has been the history of my life since.”
That history can be seen in the car’s service records, which verify 250,000-plus miles, and in a patina that could only come from the original paint and interior. Hall put on the deep-dish Keystone wheels in 1968 but kept the original Vette hubcaps.
“The Keystones have a three-inch offset, so the car looks visually stronger with the wheels kicked out to the corners,” Hall said. The Keystones came with spinner-style center caps, or at least two of them did.
“For the next 40 years, that would be the Holy Grail to find at any car swap meet,” he said. He finally found one more wheel, and then two years ago, a friend called from a swap meet at Charlotte Motor Speedway while looking at a pair.
“I told him to hold on while I went to my garage to take a photo, to make sure they matched,” said Hall. “They did, and I had my set.”
The Corvette wasn’t ideal for New Jersey winter commutes, but it was Hall’s only car for a while. And it was always garaged. He later kept a VW Beetle or bus around for such usage, and he laughs about one of those VWs today.
“Over the years, I kept two cars – the ‘Vette for 48 years, and a Jag XK 120 MC that I found in a barn in 1980 and restored,” said Hall. “I had two VW buses – one was a ’63 23-window Samba. I sold it for $625. Quite possibly, the vehicle that would be worth the most today was that VW! Who knew?”
Hall added most of the Corvette’s quarter-million miles during the first 13 years, driving as far south as Washington, D.C., as far north as New Hampshire and vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard every year for 25 years.
“The Vette would be screaming with the 4.11 gears, but with the progressive [carburetor] linkage, you could [cruise] on just two barrels,” he said.
Through it all, the engine was rebuilt once, and the clutch redone once. Hall made no modifications to the car, other than installing a passenger-side seatbelt. “My sister wouldn’t let me take her three-year-old old son for a ride unless I had a seatbelt for him. He’s now 45,” said Hall, who runs his own marketing production agency.
Hall has driven the Vette about 2,000 miles annually over the last 30 years. The tube-type AM radio still works, though it needs to warm up first. He’s never switched to radial tires, instead running the car on Coker bias-plies. The ‘Vette has never been hit, and Hall has always resisted temptation to repaint it.
“I decided to keep it original, even though there are spots where I waxed the paint off,” he said. “But I’ve also never seen anybody who could paint Honduras Maroon properly – it always comes out looking muddy.”
Hall mostly maintained the Corvette himself, sometimes with help from his father, who had been a Cadillac mechanic in the 1930s. He still has a stash of NOS parts, thanks to a friend who managed a Chevrolet dealer parts department. “He would always tell me when a part was going on the obsolete list, and I’d buy it,” said Hall. “I still have a lot of parts in their original packaging 40 years later.”
More important than replacement parts, Hall has 48 years of memories with the ‘Vette, including some special connections to his parents. When his father was nearing the end of his life, Hall put an oxygen tank in the Corvette and drove him home from the hospital for a last ride; he passed away later that week.
“My mother lived another 14 years,” said Hall. “She had Alzheimer’s and was in assisted living. When I’d visit, I’d take her to the parking lot in a wheelchair to see the Corvette, and she always remembered it. The car was a link to our histories.”