In the mid-'80s, I was sitting in Chevrolet Product Promotion Chief Vince Piggins' office when he told me, "No '69 ZL1 Corvettes were ever built to be sold-none." Well, I referenced that two "supposedly" either got out the back door and were somehow legally licensed or were built elsewhere. One was yellow and restored by a Corvette shop around Houston, Texas, in the late 1980s. A third white Corvette popped up in Ventura, California, a decade ago. The owner dreamed of building a ZL1 and calling it legit. He was going to tell the tale that the owner was a Vietnam GI who never came home. But he knew little about sub-assembly date codes. I knew the gentleman who sold him all the necessary ZL1 parts except the aluminum block. This guy had already bought a heavily damaged aluminum block that had been patched up but not heat-treated. When the engine was assembled, then run on a dyno for break-in, it immediately came apart. So much for '69 ZL1 427 Corvette lore.
1970 was a pinnacle performance year at Chevrolet but not for Corvette. The most powerful big-block street engine, the LS6 (450hp 454) replaced the L78, 375hp 396 in the Chevelle and Nova early on, but was never offered in the Corvette. It was due to lack of assembly plant engine availability, and also because an LS6 454 Corvette would have been a performance monster to most drivers.
As a direct result, 1970 year-end sales plummeted 56 percent to a mere 17,316 (10,668 coupe and 6,648 roadster). There was a mild recession in 1970 and jobs were scarce, but we don't totally blame the economy for dismal sales. For reasons that we still do not know, all solid lifter big-blocks were axed for 1970. So were aluminum heads, the L88 race engine-even the $79 RPO MA6 heavy-duty clutch option.
Corvette did get the Z28 Camaro 350 (called LT1 for Corvette but rated 10 hp higher)-said to be due to a better exhaust system. The LT1 cost more than the '69 L71, 435hp 437 ($437.10 to $447.60). Only 1,287 LT1 Corvettes were sold. Today they are rare-as are all other '70 Corvettes. Lastly, there was also an RPO "Special Purpose Engine Package" called ZR1. It included the LT1, 370hp 350, heavy-duty power brakes, M22 four-speed, transistor ignition, special aluminum radiator, metal fan shroud, and special suspension. Its suggested retail price was a lofty $968.95. Only 25 were sold.
What were other Corvette owners and fans doing during 1968-1970? There are tens of thousands of stories about all of us who could not afford a new Vette. We were buying up C1 and C2 gems for cheap. We bought a red, 82,000-mile '62 Fuelie-less Rochester injection and correct four-speed for $600.00 from a Chevy dealership's used car lot. We still own it today. It essentially has not been driven since 1985.
Back in that day, C1 Vettes were really good deals. Most were priced between $500 and $1,500. A friend bought a nice 2x4 265 automatic, two top '56 Corvette for $450. He then pressure-washed the engine and detailed the car front to rear. He then sold it for a whopping $850 and was very pleased. He actually did not think it was worth much as it did not even have the correct wheel covers. A photo of the car revealed it to have early edition '53 Corvette spinner wheel covers! Like most of us, he has a few dents in his butt cheeks from kicking himself.
During this same time period, C2s were very popular and were usually in the $2,000-$3,500 range. This included '63-'65 fuelies on up to '66 L72 425hp 427s and '67 L71 435hp 427s. Thanks to a neighbor who was a policeman, we had the chance to buy a 2.3-mile white '67 L88 Corvette in pieces for $2,000. The original owner trailered it home brand-new then disassembled it to make it into a drag car. It never went back together. We did not have $2,000 laying around so we passed the deal on to a Corvette dealer. He re-sold it in one day to someone in Minnesota-who then re-sold it for considerably more (still in pieces) to a Corvette buyer in Wisconsin. It's a one-of-a-kind today and worth a fortune.
Got any "Remember When" true stories of your own you can share with Corvette Fever? Email Alan.Colvin@sorc.com.