Times were tough in 1972. Not just for the musclecar industry, but for America in general. The Vietnam War still smoldered in southeast Asia as the North Vietnamese pushed further south. The U.S. responded with a massive air raid bombing offensive than continued throughout the year. The Watergate scandal was blown open by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, indicting President Nixon with charges of illegal wiretapping and legal obstruction connections. The United States ended all manned missions to the moon, and escalating gas prices created havoc nationwide.
With public transportation a mere shadow of other modernized nations, America's attention turned to economical personal transportation provided mainly by Japanese and European imports. This, in turn, dealt a blow to the bloated domestic automotive industry. The Big Three scrambled to compete, but by the time Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors had facilities ready to produce small, four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive vehicles, Toyota, Honda, and Volkswagen had already taken up most of the consumer market. Frankly, the factory-built musclecars of the '60s were irrelevant.
Many regard 1972 as the final chapter in Corvette's first climb for performance. The '72 model year was the last to offer the venerable 454, but only as an emaciated resemblance of its former self. Once producing 390 hp, the '72 LS5 option only allotted a drastically reduced 270. With less than 300 horses coming out of the heavy rat motor, many Corvette owners opted for the nearly equal LT-1 ranking in with 255 ponies. On the brighter side, sales of the LS5-equipped '72 eclipsed total sales of the 350 LT-1 by double, letting the legend of the big-block-powered Corvette end with an audible bang. Introduced for the '70 model year, the LT-1 option introduced a street worthy 350 mouse motor with solid lifters and a more aggressive camshaft. The LT-1 engine option, like the LS5, would be mothballed throughout the '70s and '80s; finally to return as an advanced, redesigned, baseline small-block in 1992. But the '72 model LT-1 would wield some exclusivity as it was only this year that air conditioning was made available for the stout mouse motor. In fact, only an estimated 240 were said to be fitted with the cabin-cooling equipment that year. The available ZR1 package served as a performance and suspension upgrade, automatically selecting the LT-1 as the powerplant. But this didn't mean all LT-1s were sold with the ZR1 suspension. Checking the box for the ZR1 gave you the 255-horse 350, but also the close-ratio, four-speed manual gearbox, heavy-duty power brakes, a specialty-built aluminum radiator, performance springs, shocks, and front and rear stabilizer bars.
The trick for many would-be big-block challengers on a tight budget was to order just the LT-1 engine with the stock platform-a formidable combination in and of itself. Gary Stanford of Dearborn, Michigan, and his '72 Sunflower yellow LT-1 exemplifies that street-wise ingenuity. Gary now captains his family company: Les Stanford Chevrolet and Les Stanford Cadillac. in the industry since he was born, Gary's love of Bow Tie performance vehicles has matured into a collection of Vettes, including a '54, two '78s (a pace car and silver anniversary), an '88, a '93, a '96, and a '98, as well as a thriving dealership providing the people of Dearborn all their General Motors needs.