1966-1967 Chevrolet Corvettes - Remember When...

Thoughts From The Automotive Past

Doug Marion Feb 2, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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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.

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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.

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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.

True Story
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.

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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.

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