Car of the Week: 1960 Chevrolet Corvette

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Jim Thibodeau probably isn’t like most Corvette owners. He didn’t dream about owning “the Great American Sports Car,” and he wasn’t even window shopping when he bought his 1960 Corvette 29 years ago. In fact, he didn’t even want the car. He had to be talked into it by his sister, who owned the car and needed to get rid of it.

“She worked on me, yes she did,” Thibodeau laughs now. “She had to talk me into it a little bit, but it worked out well for me. I’m not sure it worked out for her!

“I already had [a hobby car]. I had a ’56 T-Bird and that was my toy, and I didn’t really think I needed two of them, but it’s been quite a collection with the two classics like that.…”

The Roman Red convertible had about 56,000 miles when Thibodeau took the keys, and it now shows 78,000-plus on the odometer. The car had been freshened up with a new paint job and an engine rebuild while his sister still owned the car in the 1980s. Since then, however, the car has had only a little routine maintenance and remains Thibodeau’s weekend road trip machine and occasional show car. The thrill of zooming down a country road with the top down on a sunny day has clearly not worn off after so many years.

“It’s been a lot of fun. A great car, great car. It’s kind of an American classic,” he said. “The new ones today are incredible with all the technology. It’s unbelievable. This one has the look that everyone wants, but not the technology of a new car — the handling, air conditioning, all of the features the new cars have. But people do love this. They love the look. It really is the classic Corvette look.”

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Thibodeau became familiar with his car when his sister still owned it. He had no designs on owning one himself, but he began to appreciate the car after his sibling bought it from the original owner — a collector who had a fleet of eight or nine Corvettes. “They owned it for three or four years and I helped them a lot with the restoration that she did on it,” Thibodeau said. “I knew it was a nice, solid car, and after I purchased it, I bought some books and learned some more about the Corvettes, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful car.”

Over the years, Thibodeau has replaced the dash pad once and the off-white convertible soft top twice. The car came with the optional removable hardtop, but Thibodeau didn’t use it and didn’t really want it, so he made a rather unusual swap. “I actually traded that for a hot tub about 25 years ago. I was single at the time and I thought the hot tub was a better deal,” he said. “I never used the hardtop at the time. I put it on in the winter when I stored it. I don’t think the hardtop is a very practical thing to have. It takes up space, and I got a lot more use out of the hot tub!”

Chevrolet’s legendary sports car had begun to cement its legacy by the time it entered its eighth model year in 1960. The “first-generation” ’Vettes had been continually updated and tweaked since 1953, and for 1960, the cars retained the same body lines and dual-headlight countenance that was born in 1958.

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The base engine for 1960 was the 283-cid V-8 that produced 230 hp with the help of a single Carter four-barrel carburetor. A pair of dual-quad setups that produced 245 and 270 hp were also available. For buyers who wanted to pony up $484 for fuel injection, there was a RPO 579 option rated at 275 hp and RPO 579D listed at 315 hp. Only 859 of the 10,261 Corvettes built for the model year carried fuel injection.

A three-speed manual Synchro-Mesh transmission with a floor shifter was standard equipment. A two-speed Powerglide automatic was available, as was a four-speed manual, which was ordered for Thibodeau’s car. His car was also one of 1,211 1960 Corvettes equipped with the 245-hp dual quad setup.

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“It’s got the four-speed with the two four-barrels, which is kind of rare and adds horsepower to it, but it doesn’t do the gas mileage much good,” he joked. “That’s OK, I’m over that by now.

“It’s not a heavily loaded car or anything. The Wonderbar radio still works, and it does have a heater.”

The car could have been ordered with either a black or white top. Thibodeau has put two new white tops on his car. “I did that myself, with the help of a couple people,” he said. “It’s not too hard, but it takes a day.”

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A tachometer, outside rearview mirror, seat belts, dual exhaust and electric clock were among the other standard features for 1960. The concave instrument lenses, which were introduced in 1959, reduced reflection. The optional four-speed manual transmission had a T-shaped reverse-lockout shifter with a white plastic shifter knob.

For paint choices, buyers could chose between Roman Red, Horizon Blue, Honduras Maroon, Ermine White, Sateen Silver, Cascade Green and Tuxedo Black. Ermine White was the most popular with 3,717 cars. Thibodeau’s car is one of 1,529 painted Roman Red.

A new aluminum clutch housing cut the Corvette’s weight by 18 pounds for 1960. A larger-diameter front anti-roll bar and new rear bar enhanced ride and handling characteristics of the 1960 model. The independent front suspension had coil springs, tubular shocks and the new anti-roll bar. A live axle with leaf springs was employed in back, and hydraulic drum brakes were found on all four corners.

Even though they are sometimes compared to each other, Thibodeau has found his Corvette and Thunderbird to be entirely different animals with much different driving experiences.

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“This car I would say handles better than the 1956, but all cars improved as they got [newer],” he said. “This is more of a sporty feel. It corners real flat and is not as soft a feel as the Ford Thunderbird. I like both of them. I can’t say I like one better than the other.

“The ride is very solid. It handles very well for a car that’s 50 years old. It’s a bit of a workout with the clutch. There’s no power steering. It’s got the big steering wheel, which they put in there for leverage. Without power steering, it’s hard to steer, but it’s a fun driving experience, really. It’s unique.”

Thibodeau said he drove the car almost daily during the first three summers he owned it. Many of its trips over the years have been to and from the golf course where the car’s large — for a Corvette, anyway — trunk comes in handy. “Two sets of golf clubs will fit in here and I’ve taken it to the golf course probably a thousand times, and it’s been very practical in that respect,” he said. “You can use it as a grocery getter, and I’ve used it to get groceries, too.”

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Thibodeau drives his ’Vette regularly, but not as much as he did back in the 1980s when he first bought it. Still, he’s glad he never took the car apart and gave it a complete restoration. That might make him less inclined to jump in it, drop the top and head out for a weekend joy ride or even a cruise to a car show. As it stands now, the car is in ideal condition to do either.

“It’s a great-looking driver and I’ll take it anywhere,” he said. “I don’t have a problem driving it anywhere. If I spent a lot of money on a restoration, then you worry about everything and life is too short to worry about little things. If I get a stone chip, it’s not a problem. But if you go crazy on a restoration, then you worry too much.

“I’m a pretty low-key personality, I don’t worry about much, and that’s the way I want to keep it.”

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