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."
It turned out that the chief's son bought the car brand new but, unfortunately, passed away from Hodgkin's disease a few years later. "He and his father were close, and when he passed away, his father kept the Vette in his garage for 20 years. He'd just drive it around the block, pull it back in the garage, and leave it there." That was why, when he went over to look at it, the first thing he noticed was that it still had the original tires on it.
Kevin also noticed something else about the '75. "The front and rear bumper colors were almost yellow, and they had cracked quite a bit," he recalls. And, after he'd bought the Shark and was driving it himself, he noticed that those covers would crack a little more each time that he drove it. Fortunately, at a Vette show at a dealership on Long Beach Island, he found out how to keep his Vette's color the same from bumper to bumper. "They'd emptied the showroom out and moved all these exotic Corvettes in there. Almost every one of them had custom paint by Rob English. I said, 'Wow, I could never afford something like this-look at the jobs the guy does.'" Fellow show-goers told Kevin that Rob was a nice guy who'd work with him, and Vettes were all he painted. Kevin said he was going to repaint the whole car after replacing the bumper covers, but Rob told him not to. "He was the one who said, 'You'll never find paint like this again. Let me paint the front and back covers, and I'll fade it in and match the colors.'" As you can see, the '75 doesn't look like it's had any paintwork done to it. "I dare you to find the difference," Kevin says of Rob's work. "He really did a fabulous job!"
Items like the belts, hoses, and spark plugs have also been replaced over time, as were the OEM tires. That happened soon after the first time Kevin showed his Shark. "People came up to me and asked, 'How far did you drive to get here?' and I said, 'About 60 miles.' They said, 'You'd better be careful, because these tires dry-rot from the inside, not the outside.'" Kevin may not have taken their concerns seriously at first, but those tires started ballooning outward on his way home. "That was the end of those tires," he says, noting that it was a good thing they didn't blow out. "The Garden State Parkway was the road I had to take for 60 miles, so I would have been going about 60 miles an hour, and there would've been fiberglass all over the road."
What's this Vette like to drive? "It's like brand new," Kevin says. "It only has, right now, about 14,000 miles on it. The engine, trans, rear end-everything is brand new, completely the way it was."
Though this is his first Vette, it isn't his first performance-oriented Chevy-he's had a 396-powered Camaro, and a full-size '63 that he turned into a muscle car. But he's got something to say to those who don't know Vettes and their history. "People say to me, 'Is it fast?' And all I say to them is, 'It's a Vette!' And I leave it at that." He adds, "In that car, I don't go 60-65 (mph) in it anyway, but I wish I could say that I was pushing 350 (hp) or something. It's hard to believe that a new Impala has more horsepower than me, but I tell people, 'It's a Vette!'"
Kevin considers his C3 to be a real time capsule. "It was the first year of catalytic converters and the emission controls that led us to today, and the first year with electronic ignitions. It seems like that was when technology started to strive forward." And, when it comes to the Corvette, strive forward it did.
Data File: '75 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe
Owned by Kevin J. Smith, Linden, New Jersey
Original production '75 Stingray coupe body
Repairs/restoration: Front/rear bumper covers replaced by Rob English at Restoration Connection, Mays Landing, New Jersey
Paint: OEM Bright Green Metallic acrylic lacquer (replacement bumper covers painted to match rest of car by Rob English at Restoration Connection, Mays Landing, New Jersey)
Original production '75 Stingray, with original frame
Suspension: OEM '75 Stingray four-wheel independent suspension (Front) Coil springs with upper/lower A-arms, anti-sway bar and tubular Delco shock absorbers (Rear) Independent rear suspension with lateral struts, radius rods, transverse 9-leaf spring bundle and tubular Delco shock absorbers
Steering: OEM GM/Saginaw recirculating ball, power-assisted
Brakes: OEM GM /Delco four-wheel disc brakes, power-assisted
Wheels: OEM silver-painted steel Rally wheels, 15x8 inches, with '75-vintage center caps and trim rings
Tires: Goodyear Eagle GTII, 235/70R15 RWL
Chevrolet overhead valve small-block V-8, cast-iron block, RPO ZQ3 (casting #3970010)
Displacement: 350 cubic inches
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Cylinder heads: OEM Chevrolet cast iron, casting #333802
Ignition: OEM GM/Delco "High Energy" electronic ignition with Delco HEI distributor (#1112888)
Induction: GM/Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor (#7045222) atop original cast-iron intake manifold
Camshaft: OEM Chevrolet with hydraulic lifters
Exhaust: OEM '75 Corvette system with cast-iron manifolds, single catalytic converter, and twin steel tail pipes
Horsepower: 165 @ 3,800 rpm (advertised)
Torque: 255 ft-lb @ 2,400 rpm (advertised)
Original TurboHydraMatic 400 automatic (RPO M40) with OEM console-mounted shifter
Rearend: Original '75 Stingray with fixed differential containing 3.36 rear gears and Positraction, plus U-jointed half shafts
Original production '75 Stingray
Interior options: RPO N37 Tilt/Telescopic steering wheel
Seats: OEM Medium Saddle vinyl
Carpets: OEM Medium Saddle nylon loop-pile
Instrumentation: OEM '75 Stingray: 0-160 mph speedometer (with new-for-'75 0-220 kph markings), 0-7,000 rpm tach with 5,500 rpm redline, plus ammeter, oil pressure, coolant temperature, and fuel level gauges.
Sound system: OEM RPO U69 GM/Delco AM/FM radio
HVAC: Original GM/Harrison RPO C60 Four Season air conditioning system with integral heater/defroster