Comparison tests have always been Motor Trend's bread-and-butter. And historically, when the magazine wanted to compare the Corvette with another make, it typically paired the car with another sports—or sporty—American machine. In the early days it was matched against the two-seat T-bird; later Trend measured the Vette against several Shelby Mustangs.
In early 1970, Trend writer Chuck Koch broke the mold by pitting the Vette against a Porsche 911. Apparently at the time it was an audacious move, which explains the "great controversy" headline he wrote for the article. Well, audacious if you were a Porsche owner. Corvette people, from Zora Arkus-Duntov on down, knew their favorite American sports car could do more than hold its own against the fabled German machine.
Koch, though, seemed surprised. "Although so-called purists may blanch at the statement, the Corvette is really very comparable to the Porsche," he wrote. "Maybe we should have listened more carefully to Zora Duntov."
For this test, he chose what he called "intermediate" models of each car: a Vette powered by the then-new 350ci LT-1, and a 911E coupe. Right out of the gate the specs favored the Corvette. The LT-1 produced 370 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, compared to the 175 hp and 160 lb-ft from the Porsche's 2,195cc flat six. True, the Vette outweighed the Porsche, 3,337 pounds vs. 2,250. And the Porsche was significantly smaller, measuring 163.9 inches overall compared to the Vette's 182.5-inch length.
On the track, the Corvette ran the quarter-mile in 14.36 seconds at 101.69 mph, compared to the Porsche's 15.9-second e.t. at 93.36 mph. "What was more surprising, perhaps, was the Corvette's more flexible torque range and powertrain," Koch wrote. "It was possible to lope along in Fourth gear at 2,000 rpm in the Vette and still get neck-snapping acceleration when the throttle was floored, while the Porsche tended to bog under 2,000 revs in any gear except First. The Corvette transmission was also easier to shift than the Porsche's, and there was greater range in each gear."
Given the power differential between the two cars, the acceleration test results were expected. Things got more interesting, though, on the road course. "This is where Porsche should reign supreme," Koch said. "For years now the words Porsche and handling have been synonymous." And yet "here is where we experienced the biggest surprise of the test. The Corvette was just as fast if not faster through the corners as the Porsche. Think about that, purists."
Koch described the Corvette's handling in one word: "Superb. It corners quite flat and exudes a confidence-inspiring glued-to-the-road feel. When pushed hard into a turn, the Vette will gracefully slide into a fully controllable drift, making the car extremely maneuverable in tight corners." The Porsche, on the other hand, "while it also sticks to the road, has a considerable amount of body roll when pushed through a corner. When you go beyond its point of neutral steering, the Porsche refuses to drift, it has no oversteer. After reaching the limit of adhesion, the car just breaks loose and that's all she wrote. In racing the two cars around Orange County Raceway's road course, it was apparent that the Vette could pass 'most anywhere it chose."
And then there's the not-so-small matter of price. Base price for the Corvette was $5,192; as tested it cost $6,333. The Porsche? Base price was $7,995; $8,360 as tested.
And yet, despite the fact that Koch admitted at the end of his test that the Vette "performs better and handles at least as well as the Porsche," and that the Vette "…is much closer to its German competitor than most Porsche owners care to admit," and despite the fact that the Vette cost thousands of dollars less than the Porsche, he handed the test to the German.
"Discarding such things as styling, performance and handling, fancies which pass with age, one basic fact remains, Porsche quality. Just listening to the firm slam of a door and the quiet hum of an air-cooled engine gives one the impression the Porsche will last forever. We would wager that 10 years from now the 1970 LT-1 won't be as mechanically or structurally tight as the 911E."
You want to talk controversy? There's the real controversy.