If you stripped the Corvette of everything faddish, excessive, impulsive, nonessential, or there for vanity, what you'd be left with would have DNA like Terry Ricer's '70 LT1 roadster. Boiled down to its essence, Corvette is a highly tuned, small-block V-8, mounted in a superb chassis, wrapped in a dramatic, two-seater, fiberglass body. Those three elements combine in ways that exceed the sum of the parts to make every mile of the Corvette driving experience a festival.
That is the exact recipe of the '70 LT1: a low-volume, high-ticket, red-hot small-block, introduced at a time when the rest of the world was captivated by big-blocks. That included Chevrolet. For $289.65 you could check off RPO LS5 and get a whoppin' 454 rated at 390 hp. By comparison, RPO LT1 would set you back a lot more at $447.60-that means you would spend $157.95 more for an engine that gave you 104 fewer cubes, 20 fewer horsepower, and 140 fewer lb-ft. of torque. Is that a good deal? Most Corvette buyers thought not, as the LS5 outsold the LT1, 4,473 to 1,287.
Rare Bird: The LT1 Corvette...
Rare Bird: The LT1 Corvette is quickly becoming one of the most coveted of all Corvettes.
Those LS5 buyers got what they paid for. But for those who saw the brilliance in the small-block package, less was truly more. The LT1 delivered less curb weight, less forward weight bias, shorter stopping distance, less fuel consumption, lower insurance premiums, less cornering understeer, and better overall balance.
The big-block branch of the Corvette family tree produced some spectacular highs, but it ran only ten years (1965-1974) of the Corvette's 54-year lifespan. We'll never tire of watching and listening to a pumped-up L88 blister through the quarter-mile, but on the flipside, there is merit in the claim that the most pure Corvette experience is wringing out a powerful small-block teamed with a manual transmission along a curvy blacktop that challenges the car's cornering. If you understand that vision and default to it when you see a Corvette, then you can appreciate Terry Ricer's '70 LT1.
Terry, who hails from Severn, Maryland, grew up in West Virginia where he didn't see a lot of Corvettes. "As a lad, I never saw a Corvette. As a teenager, I never got to ride in one. There were very few around in West Virginia, thus I never had the "passion" for Corvettes that most owners have, especially those my age," he says. Instead, Terry was oh so practical. "I had always bought the 'sensible' vehicles: station wagon, minivan, pickup truck, and so on." OK, we can see where this is going.
Watch Out: The '70 LT1 engine...
Watch Out: The '70 LT1 engine is regarded by many as the best factory small-block ever built
It took a rude awakening to shake Terry out of that routine. "In September 2001, I got a preliminary diagnosis of cancer, which was confirmed by biopsy in November," Terry says. Now it was time for a fun car. Two types of car had always appealed to him. "I had always wanted a sports car and a convertible," he tells us. "Maybe, just maybe, I could get both in one vehicle." This story is looking better. "I started doing some research and narrowed my choice down to an early Mustang, an early Pontiac, or an early Corvette. I happened to see a '70 Corvette LT1 convertible advertised in the Baltimore Sun. I had the car inspected by some folks I trust, and they pointed out numerous issues. After some hard negotiating, and some misfortune on the part of the previous owner, I purchased the car in December 2001." Take that, minivan.
It was a genuine LT1, with the correct number-matching engine and M21 four-speed transmission, but Terry says it was a "20-footer" in terms of cosmetics. Earlier collision damage to the rear end had been repaired, but the original fuel tank was gone, and with it the original tank sticker. Fortunately, the frame had been spared, and the suspension and driveline were in pretty good shape.