Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Elder's Tricked-Out 61 Vette

Not long after I arrived at Scripps Research back in 2008 I met Professor John Elder, a scientist there.  John and I struck up an instant friendship fostered by the fact that he owned a 1961 Corvette and I had a 1962 Corvette.  Here is a photo our cars on "National Drive Your Corvette to Work Day" back in 2009.


Over the years we have had some good adventures.  John is a regular at my Burger Run events and other Corvette parties.  One of our favorite activities was installing disc brakes on his '61. John had his car painted locally and kept making continuous improvements to it.  But the best was yet to come.

John watched as I finished restoring Nan's 1956 Corvette and was intrigued with the GM crate engine with the RamJet fuel injection system that I installed.

Another Corvette friend, Bill Connelly, had a GM RamJet crate engine installed in his 1957 Corvette by TRONAMECH Custom Automotive in Temecula, California.  Bill is particular and keen for precision and accuracy.  When his car was completed he trumpeted high praise for Bill Lohmiller, the owner of Tronamech.  That fact gave me peace of mind in recommending my friends to the shop.

At one of our Burger Runs, John got a good look at Bill's '57.  Both cars (Bill's and Nan's) start easily, run well, and are trouble-free.  Here is a photo of the RamJet engine in Bill Connelly's car.

John was hooked and began exploring a GM crate engine for his car.  After examining all the possibilities, and surveying repair shops to make the engine swap, John decided to follow in Bill's footsteps and contracted with Tronamech to upgrade his car to fuelie status. 

The engine swap was pretty straight forward -- Bill Lohmiller did his usual great job.  Rather than just yanking the old engine out and installing the new one, Bill methodically assessed the full power train in John's car. The rear end had recently been restored by Pro-Gear of San Diego, so that was in good shape.  Bill made sure that the engine mounts were perfect (and machined to fit the new engine), replaced the aging copper radiator with a better aluminum one, coated the exhaust manifolds, notched the underside of the hood to clear the RamJet unit, installed an in-tank-fuel pump, and customized a very attractive set of Corvette finned aluminum valve covers whose satin finish compliments the RamJet unit.  Here is John's car in Bill's garage with a few other beautiful projects.

Bill is so meticulous, he scoured the car for any additional tweaks. To accommodate the custom rear end ratio and enable the speedometer to read correctly not only did the driven speedo gear need to be changed, but also partial disassembly of the transmission was required to change out the drive gear as well. The original mechanical tachometer internals were replaced with an electronic module to accommodate the change from a generator to a modern alternator. The entire pedal and throttle setup was replaced to accommodate the Ram Jet throttle assembly.

All of the above would have constituted a superb engine swap.  But John and Bill went for more.  John isn't a fan of the big 17 inch steering wheel on older Corvettes and the difficulty of turning or parking the car at low speeds.  Bill recommended a system I had never heard of to cure this problem.  Bill had discovered a kit that could be retrofitted to an old Corvette (or other car) that provides a power assist for steering, but with an electric motor rather than a hydraulic steering assist.  

The unit is manufactured by EPAS Performance.  It is electric motor assisted and computer controlled; the degree of assist can be adjusted by driver to suit their exact taste and driving environment.   The power unit is integrated into the steering shaft and both it and the computer control are completely hidden under the dash area with no evidence in the engine compartment. This is a more invasive installation than the norm because the Corvette steering column needs to be removed from the car (and cut in half!!!) and the steering box needs to be disassembled. Also, for this steering box type, extreme care needs to be taken to ensure proper worm gear mesh, position and bearing preload upon reassembly. Bill tackled this mini-project with enthusiasm and the result is fabulous!  


Bill topped it all off with a beautiful 15 inch replica Corvette steering wheel wrapped in leather that matches John's interior.

Bill's attention to detail through the engine compartment is evident -- even down to shortening the RamJet wiring harness to exact lengths for the Corvette installation.

John is so pleased with his car, and I'm pleased for him.  Expect to see this beautiful 1961 Corvette cruising the streets of San Diego regularly.


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