You've got to start somewhere, and the rebirth of the Corvette into a world-class sports car began here. 1975 was when strict federal emission-control laws kicked in, which led The General to mandate catalytic converters and require the use of the more costly (at that time) unleaded gasoline in all of its '75-model passenger cars. That was the same year that the steel-bodied Chevys also took big hits, performance-wise-no more Z/28 Camaros and no more 454-powered Chevelles-but the rest of the U.S. auto industry had it even worse. (Can you say Pinto-based Ford Mustang II and AMC Pacer?)
Corvette saw major changes in its engineering and styling heads during that model year. Zora Arkus-Duntov retired as Corvette's chief engineer as of January 1, 1975, and was succeeded by Dave McLellan, while Jerry Palmer became the head of Corvette's design team. Also retiring over the next couple of years were two men whose involvement in Corvette's evolution was huge: Ed Cole, who rose through Chevrolet's engineering ranks to be the division's general manager and, later, GM's president; and Bill Mitchell, successor to Harley Earl as head of GM Styling.
Not ready for retirement yet was the small-block V-8, though-thanks to emission controls and lower factory power rating methods-its power output was nowhere near what it was just five model years before. But the engine long rumored to be its replacement, GM's Wankel rotary engine, was shelved in September 1974. By then, after millions of hours of R&D time (and millions of R&D dollars), all of GM's engineering talent couldn't solve the Wankel's inherent emissions, apex-seal, and fuel-consumption issues.
What was there to talk about in the '75 Corvette that was an improvement? How about electronic ignitions? 1975 marked the arrival of Delco's first electronic High Energy Ignition (HEI) system, which did away with breaker points and condensers. HEI also meant no more distributor-driven tachometers, as the Vette's rev counter became an electronic unit. The rear bumper cover was now a seamless one-piece unit, and the mechanicals underneath it and the front one were redesigned for better impact absorption. Both covers also got rubber "bumper guards" on them as standard equipment.
Changes to the 23rd edition of America's Only True Sports Car added about $800 to Corvette's base sticker prices, raising them to $6,550.10 for the convertible and $6,810.10 for the coupe. (Remember that 1975 was also the year that the term "sticker shock" entered common usage, thanks to the industry-wide adoption of catalytic converters and radial-ply tires.)
There had been a three-month-long strike at St. Louis Assembly from late June to early September 1974, and Chevrolet extended the '74 Corvette's model run by three months to make up for it. Unlike the time following the previous St. Louis strike in 1969, Chevy's top brass didn't shorten the following Corvette model year. That was a good thing, because Vette sales were increasing in a time of decreasing horsepower. 38,465 '75-model Corvettes rolled out of St. Louis that year (33,836 coupes and 4,629 "last" convertibles), an increase over '74's total of 37,502.
This one was sold new in August 1975 at Sullivan Chevrolet in Roselle Park, New Jersey, and it's now in the hands of its third owner, Kevin Smith of nearby Linden. He says he wasn't in the market for any car, much less a Corvette, one day about ten years ago. "I was out raking leaves, and my next-door neighbor yells over, 'Kevin . . . do you want to buy the Corvette?'" he recalls. I said, 'Joe, I can't buy a Corvette.' And the first thing he says is, 'it has 10,000 miles on it.'"
His neighbor, who'd just retired as Linden's fire chief, was moving to Florida and not taking the Bright Green Metallic coupe with him. He wanted Kevin to have it, so-in short order-it was Kevin's. "I couldn't pass it up," he adds. "I figured that I'd never see another one like it."