Corvette has always occupied a truly unique niche in the industry, but it was in no way immune from the twin ravaging elements of tightening federal control and dramatically increasing competition from overseas that came to bear in the early '70s. Despite these potentially crippling factors, however, America's Sports Car continued to prosper, warts and all.
As with all 1975-model cars sold in the U.S., Corvettes had to meet stricter emissions standards established by the EPA. In addition to a catalytic converter, every 1975 Chevrolet Corvette also came equipped with several other new emissions components, including something Chevrolet dubbed "Early Fuel Evaporation" or simply EFE. By sharply reducing engine warm-up time the EFE system cut emissions significantly.
There was no denying the toll the myriad array of emissions control equipment took on performance. In addition to adding many pounds of unwanted weight they directly diminished performance by consuming engine power for their own actuation, reducing compression, inhibiting free flow of intake and exhaust gases, and dictating camshaft specifications.
New and ever-increasing safety standards dictated from the nation's capital also took a discernible toll on performance in the '70s. Front and rear impact-absorbing bumpers, already a requirement in 1974, were further strengthened for '75. Underneath the Corvette's front urethane bumper cover was a rather complex plastic honeycomb assembly, and beneath the rear fascia lay a steel and aluminum framework with a pair of chassis-mounted hydraulic shock absorbers.
In theory, at least, the impact-absorbing bumpers prevented damage to the car from low-speed collisions. In reality, damage almost always still resulted and all the added components intended to prevent it added plenty of weight and unwanted additional expense to the Corvette.
The mandated bumpers also strongly influenced styling, necessitating very large overhangs front and rear. Today, fans of the "rubber bumper" Sharks profess to find the front and rear body treatments attractive, and to some they undoubtedly are. Most people however, are probably more used to it than anything else. Even Corvette News, Chevrolet's own in-house Corvette magazine, had trouble finding something positive to say about the required look. Writing in the October/November '74 issue they said "In talking to Corvette owners across the country we have found that most have gotten used to the rear-end design which was introduced in '74."
Besides the steep toll on performance exacted by the endless stream of rules and regulations cascading out of Washington, Corvette also had to contend with increasing competition in the marketplace. As in past years, traditional foes like Jaguar's XKE and the latest from Ferrari were of no great concern, owing to their relatively steep price tags and low production volume. Likewise, Triumphs, MGs, Alfa Romeos, and other diminutive sports cars posed little threat because of their scant production figures and comparatively anemic performance. Beginning in 1970, however, a new challenger for the already tight sports car market had already gained a solid foothold in this country, and by the mid-'70s it was outselling Corvette by thousands of units per year. When Datsun's 240Z came to these shores in 1970 it caused an instant sensation. Offering superbly balanced performance at the bargain price of about $3,500, it evolved into the 260Z and then the 280Z in '75. The Japanese invasion was not in full swing, but it had surely begun in earnest and though many failed to recognize the obvious, the handwriting was clearly on the wall.
So in the face of choking mandates from the federal government and stiffening competition from overseas, how did the Corvette survive? Just as it did early in its history, and again in future troubled years, the marque simply toughed it out, relying on its inherent strengths and loyal following to see it through.
Also, keep in mind that while the '75 Corvette was the heaviest example yet at about 3,690 pounds, and the most expensive as well at $6,810 for a base coupe and about $9,000 for a fully loaded convertible, the competition was also getting fatter and more costly. In fact, whether it was a mainstream machine like the Datsun 280Z or an offbeat contender like General Vehicle Inc.'s Bricklin SV-1, Corvette's competitors faced all the same problems it did. So while stricter emissions and safety specifications took a discernible toll on both performance and appearance, the 1975 Corvette was still a relative standout. It did not have the blinding acceleration of earlier models, nor, in the eyes of many, their svelte good looks. But the same could be said for everything else in the sports car arena, and thus the '75s still attracted the performance-minded public, selling a record 38,465 units by year end.
The 1975 coupe featured is one of numerous low-mileage, unrestored Corvettes owned by brothers Bruce and Ken Silber. It features a number of desirable options, including the L82 engine, close-ratio four-speed manual transmission, air-conditioning, and full power. While the long list of options was certainly an enticement, it was not the only thing that attracted the Silber brothers to this car. There was also that eye-grabbing hue, appropriately dubbed Bright Yellow. Though we now think of it as symbolic of the '70s, only 2,883 buyers opted for this color in 1975. While it is more often seen in combination with a black interior, Bright Yellow looks especially rich when joined with Saddle, as here.
In addition to the bevy of options and attention-getting color, this car also offered a third prize to the Silber brothers. It has never been wrecked or abused and to this day remains almost entirely unrestored. Even normal expendables like belts, hoses, and tires are factory original units.
Critics of mid-'70s Corvettes have plenty of shortcomings to whine about, and they often do. Conversely, devotees of the rubber-bumper Sharks have plenty of attributes to extol, and they always do. But regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, it is impossible not to appreciate an example such as the coupe shown here. A quarter-century after it was initially built, this coupe remains one of the best examples of the breed in existence.