Sleeper Collector: '70-'72 LT-1
The 1970-introduced 350 LT-1 was a landmark engine in the history of the small-block, as well as the Corvette. It was a solid-lifter powerplant that performed well over a broad rpm range, with its unique aluminum dual-plane intake manifold serving as the model for aftermarket intakes to this very day. Its 370hp peak was achieved at a then-sky-high 6,000 rpm.
Unfortunately, the LT-1 was launched in the last year of the high-compression muscle-car era. Gross power was reduced from 370 in 1970 to 330 in 1971, thanks to a reduction in compression from 11.0:1 to 9.0:1 (and a lower maximum rpm). The change from gross to net power ratings in 1972 further lowered the reported output to 255, which was also due to the elimination of solid lifters.
Despite the high-performance nature of the engine, the LT-1 didn't sell well. It cost nearly $450 more than the standard 300hp 350, while the 350 L46 engine cost only $158 and the LS5 454 big-block was a $289 option. Only 1,287 LT-1 cars were built in 1970, along with 1,949 in 1971 and 1,741 in 1972. That makes them quite rare.
The '70 models, with their higher out-put and lower production numbers, are the most desirable, with their value about 30 percent greater than the '71 and '72 models. But with virtually all attention on collector Vettes focused on big-block models, these special small-block cars have real potential. As the big-blocks continue to march upward in value and out of the reach of midlevel collectors, the LT-1 cars should prove wise investments.
We found examples from all three model years at Mecum's Indy sale, and the prices offered for them were almost embarrassingly low. The cars were virtually ignored, which was a shame-and it made us wish we'd have registered as bidders, because there was a great deal to be had. Here's a look at the three cars we found:
LOT F52: '70 Corvette LT-1
High bid: $41,000
A numbers-matching car with mostly original paint and body-on refurbishment. The engine was backed by the Muncie four-speed, and the 87,000-mile odo reading was believed to be original. The car was in great condition, if not quite concours-level. There was original paperwork, too. The $41,000 high bid seemed soft, but as we've said, collectors are playing it safe these days with big-block cars. The seller was probably right to hold onto his car.
LOT U103: '71 Corvette LT-1
High bid: $17,000
The $41,000 offered for the '70 model in the auction was downright generous compared to the measly $17,000 offered for this '71 example. It was a claimed numbers-matching car with a four-speed transmission. The original mileage was just shy of 100,000, and the car's condition was overall great for a driver, but not perfect. Nevertheless, the high bid was way low.
LOT U82: '72 Corvette LT-1
High bid: $77,500
On the other end of the bidding spectrum was the $77,500 rejected for this '72 LT-1. It was offered as Bloomington Gold Benchmark car, with Gold and Survivor certification dating back to 2007. It was an exquisite car, but the high bid seemed more than reasonable in today's market.