Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter

Vintage Road Test: 1969 L88-Powered Chevrolet Corvette will “Eat Its Competition”

From the Archives: Street Machine with Soul

Drew Hardin May 8, 2018
View Full Gallery

“Done up right, Vettes will eat their competition with unceremonious aplomb.” So wrote Steve Kelly in his April 1969 Hot Rod magazine road test of an L88-powered convertible. In some ways, his test car was done up very, very right. In others, not so much.

The engine, as you’d imagine, was very right—with a few caveats. In the story’s subhead Kelly described the L88 version of the 427-inch big-block as “an engine that’ll torque the whole car over if you don’t hang on tight!” He acknowledged that the L88’s power ratings, 430 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, were both lower than the triple-carbed L71 version of the 427, “but don’t let that fool you,” he said. “The L88 is the top runner in this family.”

The L88 option added $1,032.15 to the convertible’s $4,583.45 base price. “Almost every Corvette we’ve driven has had an abundance of convenience items, from air conditioning to stereo AM/FM receivers,” noted Kelly. “This one had an L88 engine, Turbo Hydramatic, and little else that you could see. But heavy-duty disc brakes, special-purpose suspension, transistor ignition, and Positraction rear axle have to be ordered first. The thousand-dollar L88 option buys the motor and a bubble-top hood,” he added. “Things like power steering, radio, and electric windows can’t be had.”

002 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible L88 Engine 2/14

Apparently low-speed operation couldn’t be had, either. “At stop lights, with the trans left in gear, the engine pulls down low on speed, and will sometimes quit running. It will surge when in gear at rest, and the only effective control is to put one foot on the throttle and the other on the brake, or to put the lever up to Neutral. Then the idle speed goes over 1,500.”

High speed blasts were another thing entirely: “When the throttle is kicked down at mid-range speeds (normal ones), say 30-45 mph, the gear downshifts all the way to low, and it’s ‘hang on, ’cause we’re goin’” time. What a good sound it makes as it snaps to 6,500, bangs into the next gear, and starts the climb again!”

005 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible L88 Open Headlights 3/14

Kelly ordered the Vette with a 4.56 rear gear, but it came with 3.36 cogs, “which in some Chevrolet spec books is called a ‘performance’ ratio,” he said. “Evidently Zora Arkus-Duntov isn’t writing spec books.” The tall gear hampered quarter-mile performance; the 13.56 e.t. was “two seconds from where it should be. The only ‘performance’ that big rear gear netted was when it got us over 10 miles per gallon for one tank of gas. [Kelly averaged 8.30 mpg for the test.] It absolutely must have a lower ratio, preferably nothing less than 4.11:1, to do any good quarter-mile work. Just as it’s passing the last speed light in the traps, the engine wants to go to work.”

Kelly had nothing but praise for the “special-purpose suspension required with an L88,” saying it “plays an important part in its being the best-handling car built in this country. It outdoes many imports, some of them costing twice the Corvette price.”

008 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible L88 Fender Gills Stingray Emblem 4/14

He did note that the manual steering “is a real arm-bender,” and “almost impossible to crank the wheel at rest.” The quick steering ratio, though, did mean “that cornering requires very little wheel movement.” He also warned readers that the heavy-duty disc brakes “take breaking-in before they feel right.” They felt “sluggish” at first, “but they need to get blistering hot once or twice, seating them in, and then they feel firm and positive.”

The various Corvette history books on our shelves describe Vettes equipped with the L88 (and its all-aluminum ZL1 cousin) as essentially race cars that could be driven on the street, but probably shouldn’t. Kelly said as much back in 1969: “The L88, even in showroom form, is closer to being a racer than a cruiser, and it would seem almost sacrilegious to see an L88 Vette serving duty as a transportation machine only.” Vette

Photos by Eric Rickman, Pat Brollier, and Petersen Archives

MORE PHOTOS

VIEW FULL GALLERY
X

Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

sponsored links

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print
CLOSE X
BUYER'S GUIDE
SEE THE ALL NEW
NEWS, REVIEWS & SPECS
TO TOP