Corvette Automotive History - Remember When

Thoughts From The Automotive Past: 1975-'81

Doug Marion Jun 28, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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Most of us veterans remember 1975 vividly. Well, at least as Corvettes go! We all liked the new capacitive-discharge high energy ignition (HEI) because more spark to the cylinders meant more overall efficiency with a little extra power, too. We didn't like the new 2-1-2, catalytic converter exhaust system. Both head pipes merged into some sort of emissions-removal box, exited at the rear of same, and then split back into dual exhaust pipes. But when all was said and done, it was a great item and very good for Mother Earth. Tests also revealed that horsepower losses on the already low-output 350 engine were in the neighborhood of five percent.

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The overall Corvette corporate expression and reaction to this was not anywhere near as boo-hoo as I just mentioned. Chevrolet truly had its finger on the Corvette pulse. Would you believe that every sales year surpassed 1974's sales record of 37,502?

Sadly though, 1974's retail base price of a little more than $6,000 for a coupe model was never to be seen again. Prices not only went up; as a matter of fact, within five consecutive model years prices doubled. The sales record in this era was 53,807 units in 1979, with a retail base price of $10,220. In 1980 and 1981, the MSRP jumped to $13,140 and $16,258, respectively. In both years, sales totals amounted to just over 40,600 units, a drop that could probably be due to the 1979 oil crisis and the recession our country was stuck in during the early 1980s.

All of us who were products of the ultra high performance fabulous '50s and sensational '60s were continuing to learn a lot about style, handling, braking, and overall Corvette drivability. This particular era (C3) really hit the nail on the head. Performance rebounded from the low compression, slow ignition advance and retarded camshaft woes of the early '70s. Corvette engineers worked practically around the clock on the RPO L82 350 to put some vroom back into the Vette. Take a bow everyone, wherever you are today.

I was hired as a feature editor at Popular Hot Rodding, Super Chevy and other Argus magazines in mid 1976. My 17 years of drag racing and 14-plus years of hands-on super-tuning knowledge put me where my heart was: in the wild world of Chevrolets and Corvettes. Having a '62 fuelie since 1970 didn't hurt, either. Oh yeah, my wife and I also had another '62, a '57, a '64 and a '68, at one time or another.

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My first bona fide Corvette road test was in 1978. Chevrolet then approved Super Chevy to have a long-term Corvette test car. We ordered it in Code 52 Corvette Yellow with Code 152/L silver leather interior. The driveline consisted of an RPO L82 350, RPO M21 close-ratio four-speed, and 3.70:1 gearing. Ironically, Corvette Yellow was the Corvette color least ordered in 1978 (only 1,243 sold). We know it was even rarer with the Code 152/L silver leather interior. We then outfitted the four corners with Center Line Wheels' latest Championship aluminum wheels and Pirelli radial tires. Bilstein shocks also got the nod.

This '78 did everything well. We were used to previous, low compression Corvettes running in the low 15s. None, though, were L82-powered. Hmm, what's that sound? A lumpy idle! The L82 had a performance cam similar to the age-old RPO L79 cam in the 350hp 327. Because we had to give the Corvette back to Chevrolet legal and in one piece, we did not make any underhood mods. At Orange County International Raceway (OCIR) the Vette cranked off 14.70s at just over 96 miles per hour, run after run.

It was a sad day when we returned this Corvette to Chevrolet. But in a blink, the 1978 Silver Anniversary and pace car models perked everyone up.

Lastly, those of us who could not afford a new Corvette quietly continued to buy up '50s and '60s Corvettes (and Chevys) for unheard-of bargain prices. The first gas crunch in 1974 set things in motion.

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