In remembering historic Corvettes and "Vetteville USA" in 1966-'67, we'll begin first by dwelling back five years earlier-to compare what was available then. In 1961 and 1962 there were never any factory "big-block" 348- or 409-powered Corvettes. Moreover, Corvette independent rear suspension was a year or so away. Corvette disc brakes first came in 1965. '61-'62 Corvettes had no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, no AM/FM radio, no leather seats and no coupe model. By the '66 intro in late 1965, Corvette had indeed come a very long way- in virtually a blink of five quick years-mostly thanks to motorsports competition and tremendous Corvette engineering/engineers.
In 1966, I was in my second year as the first-ever Owner Relations Manager at the largest Chevy dealership in the USA, Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago. It was my job to call every paying customer to make sure they were pleased with their service/repairs. Many were Corvette owners, both male and female. Most of my weekends were at the drags either tuning or driving for a gaggle of customers and my own '66 L79 Chevy II.
It should be remembered for all-time that back in the '50s and '60s every day was "brand new" and no one knew what parts and packages the Corvette engineers were creating. Remember, there was no Mark IV big-block Corvette prior to 1965. So when the RPO L72 427 was introduced in 1966, it was absolutely "unbelievable." I say this purely from a comparative standpoint. I was undefeated in 1965 in a C/Stock 409. It had everything done to it you could think of. But with the Mark IV L72 427, the same performance came a whole lot easier-and cheaper. It had a lighter rotating assembly plus superior breathing.
Because the '66 and '67 Corvette factory tires back then were 7.75-15 bias-ply, traction with an L72 427 was iffy-even with independent rear suspension offering plenty of downward force. In 1966, far superior "wide oval" tires came on the scene, available over-the-counter. A lot of guys I knew loved to compete against the hottest street cars of the day. Most launched from a 10-mph roll on up to a top-end run from say, 60 mph. Due to Corvette's great power-to-weight ratio and aerodynamics, nothing other than a super light 427 Cobra or a well built street rod could challenge an L72 427 Corvette on the top-end.
Nickey Chevrolet was the first dealership to have its very own aftermarket speed shop within its factory parts department. It sold the very best parts including Bill Thomas Race Car goodies in Anaheim, California. All of the go-fast parts for the '65 396 Corvette engine bolted right on to the 1966 L72 427, namely headers, Hurst shifters, and ignition amplifiers.
A friend named Dick special-ordered a rare Trophy Blue L72 427. Only 1,463 '66 'Vettes were so-colored in 1966 out of 27,720 total. He had no dragstrip driving experience. With 4.56:1 gears, his 'Vette was a handful and a terror at any speed. After reading some of the car magazine drag tests of the day and talking to guys like me, Dick decided to create a "sleeper" to compete in A/SP class and sneak by most anything on the street with lights and license plates. The first modification we did was install a set of Bill Thomas' 4-1 tubular headers. Then we super-tuned the engine. This included carburetor jetting, quicker ignition advance curve, a cool can in the fuel line, a Masonite insulation plate under the carb, a lightweight fuel pump push rod, 160-degree thermostat, colder, extended tip spark plugs, a carburetor velocity stack and Corvair "turbo" mufflers. Knowing dragstrip safety rules, we also installed a blow-up proof Schiefer clutch assembly and flywheel along with a scattershield bellhousing.
With my Chevy II's 9.00-15 M&H Dragmaster slicks, Dick's 'Vette ran 12.20 ETs at 114 mph effortlessly, run after run. Nothing in Class came within 3-4 car lengths. The car's acceleration always made him pucker up mentally (as well it should) but he soon got to where he was a pretty good shoe. He loved racing anybody and everybody during time trials. As such he could then talk non-stop for days afterward at the local drive-ins and hang-outs on who he raced and how much he won by. When Sunday afternoon eliminations came, he handed me the keys. The car remained undefeated in 1966.
When the '67 L88 race cam became available, Dick asked if I'd help him install one. He no longer cared about his car's "sleeper" status because no one would now race him on the street. His 'Vette had made its mark. With some basic front-end chassis mods and 11.0-15 M&H slicks, he now ran 11.70s at 120+ mph. And the 'Vette never broke. The factory original big-block driveline components including U-joints and axle shafts proved their moxie.
At my urging, Dick pulled the engine in late 1967 and had the short-block rebuilt and the rectangle port heads cc'd and ported. I don't think he ever rev'd the engine over 7,200 rpm but he still turned easy 11.40s. By this time, Corvette Chief Engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov put slicks on a '67 L88 Corvette mule and ran 10.70s at 130 mph at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. The L88 had headers, 12.5:1 compression and could not be street-driven. Dick was happy with his '66 L72. I got married in late 1967 and lost track of him. Years later, rumor had it that he got drafted, went to Viet Nam and never returned.
1966-'67 was an unbelievably great two year time period-not only to work within Chevrolet Engineering or at a high performance Chevy dealership but just to own a high performance Corvette or other Chevy. With ALL of Chevrolet's race plaudits earned since 1955, virtually no other RPO engine could compare to the power, revability, prowess and longevity of the '66-'67 Mark IV SHP 427. As a result of its immediate popularity, there was soon a multi-month wait to buy an L72 crate engine through the approximately 5,500 Chevrolet dealership parts departments nationwide. Earlier Chevy and Corvette owners were installing these monsters in '55-'64 Chevys and '57-'65 Corvettes. I did not do much street racing for obvious reasons but I know a lot of fast Chevys and Corvettes previously running modified 283 and 327 small-blocks were now sporting highly modified L72 427s. One of the drive-in /street racing rules back then was you did not get to see the other guy's engine. So much for cleaning house! Corvettes ruled back then.
The Legendary L79
An absolutely superb factory small-block V8 engine was the '65-'68 RPO L79, 350hp 327-first born in 1964 as the RPO L76, 365hp 327. It was the exact same engine except it had a high performance hydraulic lifter camshaft (#3863151). It revved to 6,000+ rpm and ran great day-in and day-out. With the optional RPO K66 transistor ignition, it never fouled spark plugs while offering winning acceleration-especially with steep gears. With a highway gear ratio, an L79 Corvette could get surprisingly good fuel economy while out running the best Brand X small-blocks-and many big-blocks out there.
Corvette Cruising And Street Machining
Like hundreds of thousands of others, my "thing" has always been Chevy and Corvette performance. Let's turn our attention to those who weren't-either due to aptitude or parental controls. There were untold thousands of Corvette owners who just liked to drive them-everywhere. Of the 27,720 Corvettes sold in 1966, 9,755 had the base 300hp 327 engine. In 1967, 22,940 were sold and 6,858 had the base 300hp 327. Some examples of owners or lucky drivers would definitely include most every son and daughter of most every dealership owner and executive. Corvettes were almost always the car-of-choice.
They were everywhere. For the record, mini-skirts also came on the scene for the first time in 1966. Many of my college friends still blabber about the hottest Corvette gal on our campus. Her name was Marta Mounce and her parents owned a Chevrolet dealership. Her Stingray roadster color of choice was red. She was in a class of her own with Miss America looks. Most of us turned into "Barney Fife" of Mayberry RFD TV fame whenever she drove by. Today Marta is in her 60s and we bet she still drives a red Corvette.
Corvette News, Corvette Clubs, And The "Wave"
Chevrolet's Corvette News magazine was flying by 1966-'67. It was introduced in 1957 and was mailed free-of-charge to every new Corvette owner. Its stature grew by leaps and bounds every issue. Its editor, Joe Pike, was a great guy who immediately turned into an icon. He did a great job selling the Corvette plus many of its special owners-including Corvette race owners and drivers, movie stars, politicians, astronauts-you name it. Following Mr. Pike to the Editor's chair a decade or so later was Becky Bodnar. She too did a masterful job for many years.
The National Council of Corvette Clubs (NCCC) was first envisioned in 1957, then it became a reality in 1959. It did much for Corvette owners worldwide-including getting each owner information on a local club to join. Some years later, the Western States Corvette Council (WSCC) was formed for west coast Corvette clubs. You can visit both clubs online.
Chevrolet Motor Division and Corvette News magazine created the Corvette "wave" back in the mid-'50s and it is still going strong today. Corvette owners who pass on the road wave to every other. Smiles are also welcome. No other friendly gestures are allowed.
Coming Next: 1968-1972.