In the waning years of the C3’s lifespan, there were all kinds of rumors about what was next for the Corvette. Sales were still robust—the car passed its 500,000-unit milestone in 1977—but performance wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. In 1979, the base L48 engine received a 10-horsepower bump to 195 hp, while the L82 gained 5 horses to produce 225 hp. Compared to the rest of the automotive world, the Corvette was still a powerful car, but those numbers were half of what they had been a decade before.
That underhood ennui was probably the reason for this “idea vehicle,” as Chevy p.r. called it, which was put together in mid 1979. An L48-powered Vette was fitted with an AiResearch T03 turbocharger and a fuel-injection system, using Bendix injectors and an Edelbrock intake manifold. (Remember, this was still a couple of years before the debut of Cross-Fire injection.) The front and rear spoilers look a lot like the body mods coming for the 1980 model year.
“Chevrolet engineers are testing the potential for performance with smaller engines that is possible by turbocharging,” read the release that came with this photo. The forced-induction system and injection boosted the L48’s output to an estimated 260 hp.
In his review of the car in 1979, Car and Driver’s Don Sherman called the Turbo-Corvette “a silver bolt of lightning waiting for your foot to say when to strike. There’s enough all-American low-end torque to give you a nosebleed, and the dreaded turbocharger lag has been virtually eliminated at any speed. Yet if you tread lightly on the throttle, this turbo time bomb is absolutely docile and drivable, as mannerly as your average Seville. About the only clue that there’s a short fuse under the hood is a distant, eerie whistling from the turbocharger during certain part-throttle conditions.”
The modifications definitely improved the Vette’s acceleration. A performance comparison in Sherman’s story showed the Turbo-Corvette’s 15.0-second/94-mph quarter-mile performance was much better than a stock L48’s 16.1 at 88 mph, and very close to the L82’s 15.3 at 95 mph.
Yet from the outset, Chevrolet said there were no plans to produce the car. And it would take the company 30 years before it did offer forced induction on a Vette with the ’09 ZR1.