1961 “Big John” Mazmanian Drag Car

While drag racing gained popularity nationwide through the 1950s, its epicenter was Southern California. There, speed and engineering prowess often went hand in hand with beauty and mechanical excellence. Spurred on by fellow car club members, parts availability, and a growing performance-oriented group of periodicals, racers began to gravitate toward a more serious trend in modifications. This was the case of John Mazmanian of Whittier.

By 1960, the 31-year old Mazmanian was operating a successful waste management and removal business. He decided to go all out and buy a new 1961 Corvette in late 1960; VIN 10867S100093 tells us that this was the 93rd Corvette to come down the assembly line that year. One of 10,939 produced in 1961, it had a base price of $3,934. It was equipped with RPO 419, the $237.75 optional removable hard top. The very first “Big Go West”—NHRA’s just-named Winternationals to be held on the Pomona Fairgrounds in January 1961—would give Mazmanian and his nephew and driver Rich Siroonian a chance to try something new.

For 1961, after reportedly using the car to clean some clocks on the streets of Southern California, Siroonian had the Mazmanian & (Earl) Wade ’Vette running in the high 12-second range to take home Winternationals class honors in the hastily-established AA/SP class (apparently thanks to the Corvette’s new 315-horsepower 283-ci engine) with a 12.94 at 109.96 mph. The 19-year-old driver then went on to run through the Street Eliminator field on Sunday afternoon, going all the way to the final against Johnny Loper’s Willys and finishing as runner-up.

By the time the same event happened in 1962, changes to the car were radical enough to move it into the CM/SP division. Pictures from the 1962 Winternationals show it was still not the beast it would become, but it did have American Torq-Thrust wheels and a low-profile scoop on the hood. Regardless, it looked like business, and proved it when it won the CM/SP class title with another speed record at 113.84 mph. Siroonian then downed Loper’s Willys during the Street Eliminator runoffs on Sunday (though he did not go to the final round that year; former partner Earl Wade won in another Corvette in A/SP trim). The entire car had been repainted in 24 coats of Candy Persimmon by Junior Conway, Eddie Martinez had done a roll-and-tuck interior including the trunk, and almost everything that could be bolted on was chromed or polished. As a result, Big John’s fast Corvette had also taken third place honors at the big Winternationals Car Show the NHRA held just before the competition event.

The car was soon in the shop for some serious upgrades. Hot parts from Iskendarian, Edelbrock and the Crank Shaft Company reworked the engine’s displacement to 316 ci, and a 4-71 GMC supercharger and Hilborn injection were added. The factory 4-speed was removed and replaced with a B&M 2-speed Hydromatic. The grille was removed and a polished Moon gas tank added front and center, and now the chromed externals jutted through the hood and off the wheel hubs. According to then-crew chief Dick Bourgeois, Mazmanian had about $10,000 tied up in the car (Big John admitted the modifications had cost more than the car itself ).

It was in this condition that it drew the attention of track-goers with an 11.11 ET at 129 mph at the original Fontana Dragway during an AHRA championship race that summer, as well as the cameras of Petersen Publishing. It was featured in this format in the October 1962 issue of Rod & Custom. This was followed by a cover inset and feature in the March 1963 issue of Hot Rod magazine. By the time the 1963 Winternationals rolled around, the car had been modified again. The engine now displaced 327 ci, thanks to a fresh 3/8-inch stroker crank, and the blower was now a fat 6-71 GMC.

But things were changing; Siroonian ended up in the army in 1963 and Mazmanian turned his attention to building the first supercharged Hemi-Willys for 1964. The Corvette became drag racing history.

It next went to a new owner in Minnesota, was raced only briefly, and changed hands a couple of times until a collector named John Lange ended up with it. In 1989, after several years of pursuing it, Bloomington Gold winner Steve Hendrickson acquired the unrestored car to begin a complete restoration. That effort was completed in 1998 in time for the NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, California, where Mazmanian was honored and reunited with the car for the first time in over 30 years.