Corvette Automotive History - Remember When
Thoughts From The Automotive Past: 1975-'81
June 28, 2010
By Doug Marion
Photography by Doug Marion
This '78 Indy pace car is...
This '78 Indy pace car is one of 6,502 produced. The MSRP set a pricing record at $13,653, plus options, taxes, license, and fees. We snapped this photo at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Most of us veterans remember 1975 vividly. Well, at least as Corvettes go! We all liked the new capacitive-discharge high energy ignition (HEI) because more spark to the cylinders meant more overall efficiency with a little extra power, too. We didn't like the new 2-1-2, catalytic converter exhaust system. Both head pipes merged into some sort of emissions-removal box, exited at the rear of same, and then split back into dual exhaust pipes. But when all was said and done, it was a great item and very good for Mother Earth. Tests also revealed that horsepower losses on the already low-output 350 engine were in the neighborhood of five percent.
The overall Corvette corporate expression and reaction to this was not anywhere near as boo-hoo as I just mentioned. Chevrolet truly had its finger on the Corvette pulse. Would you believe that every sales year surpassed 1974's sales record of 37,502?
Sadly though, 1974's retail base price of a little more than $6,000 for a coupe model was never to be seen again. Prices not only went up; as a matter of fact, within five consecutive model years prices doubled. The sales record in this era was 53,807 units in 1979, with a retail base price of $10,220. In 1980 and 1981, the MSRP jumped to $13,140 and $16,258, respectively. In both years, sales totals amounted to just over 40,600 units, a drop that could probably be due to the 1979 oil crisis and the recession our country was stuck in during the early 1980s.
All of us who were products of the ultra high performance fabulous '50s and sensational '60s were continuing to learn a lot about style, handling, braking, and overall Corvette drivability. This particular era (C3) really hit the nail on the head. Performance rebounded from the low compression, slow ignition advance and retarded camshaft woes of the early '70s. Corvette engineers worked practically around the clock on the RPO L82 350 to put some vroom back into the Vette. Take a bow everyone, wherever you are today.
We road tested a new Indy...
We road tested a new Indy pace car in 1978. Sadly, 98 percent of the magazine was black and white, so most of our photos from the era are, too. Here is a close-up of the car's special console script. Over the decades, one of the fun things we all did (and still do) was purchase special Corvette insignias, emblems, and plates like this one. Our hunch was that one day they would be rare and still fun to own.
I was hired as a feature editor at Popular Hot Rodding, Super Chevy and other Argus magazines in mid 1976. My 17 years of drag racing and 14-plus years of hands-on super-tuning knowledge put me where my heart was: in the wild world of Chevrolets and Corvettes. Having a '62 fuelie since 1970 didn't hurt, either. Oh yeah, my wife and I also had another '62, a '57, a '64 and a '68, at one time or another.
My first bona fide Corvette road test was in 1978. Chevrolet then approved Super Chevy to have a long-term Corvette test car. We ordered it in Code 52 Corvette Yellow with Code 152/L silver leather interior. The driveline consisted of an RPO L82 350, RPO M21 close-ratio four-speed, and 3.70:1 gearing. Ironically, Corvette Yellow was the Corvette color least ordered in 1978 (only 1,243 sold). We know it was even rarer with the Code 152/L silver leather interior. We then outfitted the four corners with Center Line Wheels' latest Championship aluminum wheels and Pirelli radial tires. Bilstein shocks also got the nod.
This '78 did everything well. We were used to previous, low compression Corvettes running in the low 15s. None, though, were L82-powered. Hmm, what's that sound? A lumpy idle! The L82 had a performance cam similar to the age-old RPO L79 cam in the 350hp 327. Because we had to give the Corvette back to Chevrolet legal and in one piece, we did not make any underhood mods. At Orange County International Raceway (OCIR) the Vette cranked off 14.70s at just over 96 miles per hour, run after run.
It was a sad day when we returned this Corvette to Chevrolet. But in a blink, the 1978 Silver Anniversary and pace car models perked everyone up.
Lastly, those of us who could not afford a new Corvette quietly continued to buy up '50s and '60s Corvettes (and Chevys) for unheard-of bargain prices. The first gas crunch in 1974 set things in motion.
To save money on track rental...
To save money on track rental for drag tests, we often made time-only solo runs during time-trial competition at Orange County Raceway. This also gave us many Vette onlookers who could prove that our runs were legit. Of the 53,807 Corvettes sold in 1979, 14,516 had the rip-snortin' L82 350 engine. We always practiced cutting a good light, but this time we left too soon and red-lit the Chrondek Christmas tree. We always wore a helmet, too.
Seen a '78 Corvette speedometer...
Seen a '78 Corvette speedometer with only 1,338 miles lately? The first 1,000 miles on this one were logged by Motor Trend magazine. The next magazine behind the wheel was little ol' Super Chevy, the hottest bimonthly, all-Chevy magazine on the planet. It became a monthly publication a short time later.
In the late '70s and early...
In the late '70s and early '80s, life-like, fullsize murals began to appear on long hoods and decklids of C3 Corvettes. I took this photo at the 1981 Super Chevy Sunday event at Orange County Raceway. Chris Borger's '70 454 award winner is awesomely so-equipped. (He stated that the body is actually 1981-issue). We wonder where both are today?
By 1977, Corvette lovers were...
By 1977, Corvette lovers were buying Sting Rays left and right for about half the price of a new Corvette. We bought this red '64 coupe (I.D. number 100,126) in 1972 in Seattle for $1,250, then sadly sold it in 1978 for $3,800. But we had a second '62 to drive. It was a proverbial clunk-bucket, but not for long.
But unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Corvettes in the '80s took on a new personality all their own. Customizing went to new heights and lengths. (Remember the series of wild Eckler Corvette station wagons?) Blowers, really wide wheelwell flares and life-like murals were out in force from coast to coast and border to border. There was even a brand new '82 Special Edition Corvette that won its ET-5 class over 65 other Vettes, then went on to take "King Of The Hill" laurels over five other class winners at the 16th Annual Corvette Nationals at OCIR. The driver? Stay tuned. Save the Wave!
|1975-'81 CORVETTE SALES & MSRP
||Silver Anniv. cpe.
|*25th Anniversary (RPo B2Z = $399 extra)