Nineteen-seventy-nine is one of the forgotten years. Like the Corvettes made, for example, in '59, '64, '76, and '85, the '79s have no real defining character. In each instance there were no big changes, no noteworthy accomplishments, no special editions, no exciting options, and no real distinguishing features. As a result, like an automotive Rodney Dangerfield, they just don't get no respect.
Immediately following the '78 models didn't help, either. That's because, in several significant ways, '78 was a very special year for America's Sports Car. It was the 25th anniversary of the Corvette's birth and to help commemorate that milestone, Chevrolet created a Silver Anniversary model. There were several modest but notable styling changes in 1978, the most conspicuous being the new "bubble" back window, and a fairly extensive redesign of the interior. And, of course, 1978 was very special because Corvette was chosen-for the first time-to pace the Indianapolis 500. Exactly 6,502 Pace Car replicas were built featuring special black and silver paint, graphics, interiors, and wheels
The models immediately following the '79s also contributed to that particular year's semi-orphan status. The '80 model got a fairly extensive facelift, including new front and rear fascias with integral spoilers. And 1982 will always stand out because it was the last year for the long-running Shark series, as well as the special Collector Edition commemorative model. And in addition to being the last of the Sharks, the '82s were the first Corvettes to feature electronic fuel injection and an overdrive transmission.
So, when most people think about the later Shark years, the models that immediately come to mind are the '78s and the '80-82 models. Where then do the '79s fit in? When considered in the correct perspective, they are nothing less than great cars. They run, drive, and handle every bit as well as a Pace Car, Collector Edition, or other more collectible Corvette of the era but typically cost far less. And that lower market value means you can buy a much nicer example for a given amount than if you were buying a '78 or '82. And that "lower value" translates into much more enjoyment insofar as a '79 will likely be driven a lot more.
Driving is exactly what New Yorker John Waluk does with this beautiful '79. Readers with unusually good memories may recognize John's name, as another Corvette he owns graced the cover of VETTE several years ago. That car, a Cortez Silver '70 coupe, is powered by an LS5 big-block and features a bevy of desirable options. John had meticulously and correctly restored the '70 to showroom condition and it has won essentially every honor that there is for a Corvette to win. While he does drive the '70 regularly, it is just too nice-and too valuable-to take on long trips where inclement weather might be encountered, where security could be an issue, or where minor road scars are likely to accumulate.
Worry-free and totally enjoyable long trips are exactly where John's '79 earns its keep. He thinks nothing of driving it halfway across the country to a Corvette show or, recently, out to Pocono Raceway to watch a vintage race event. Of course, while he was at Pocono, John took advantage of the special track time allotted to visiting Corvettes. "That's what I bought the car for," he explained. "It's a straight, original car and I take excellent care of it, but I did buy it to drive and I'm really having a ball with it!"
Having just over 41,000 miles means the '79 runs and handles like a dream, attesting to the fact that it was treated gently right from day one. "Actually, it was never even off Long Island until I took it on a road tour to St. Paul with the NCRS a couple of years ago," John noted.
Aside from the relatively low mileage and the crispness and solidity of its ride, the easy life this Corvette has led is indicated by how original it remains over 20 years after it was built. The red leather interior is completely original and looks as good as it did the day it was first installed. This is really quite remarkable when you consider that Corvette interiors of that era are not exactly renowned for their durability.
As with the inside, the exterior of the '79 is factory original. Its code 13 Silver lacquer paint still shines and remains unblemished despite the passage of two decades since it was applied, which is remarkable since GM's lacquers, particularly dark colors and heavy metallics like silver, did not hold up for long if exposed to the elements. The paint on Waluk's '79 is intact and very presentable because the car has been garaged its entire life, thus protecting it from environmental hazards.
The underhood and mechanical components on the '79 are, like the interior and exterior, remarkably original. The only items in the engine bay that have been changed are normal maintenance items like the battery, belts and hoses, and spark plugs. The engine is the one and only optional powerplant offered in 1979, the 350ci, 225hp L82. The L82 developed peak horsepower at 5,200 rpm and utilized four-bolt-main bearing caps plus a forged crankshaft, connecting rods, and pistons. A new, larger diameter exhaust system was fitted in 1979, raising the rated horsepower by five over the previous L82.
In addition to the L82 engine, John's Shark was ordered with numerous other desirable options. Aluminum wheels and air conditioning, features that buyers would expect to be standard equipment today (especially on a high-end car like a Corvette), were extra cost options in 1979, as were power windows, a tilt/telescoping steering column, the aforementioned leather seat trim, and glass removable roof panels (in lieu of solid, body-colored T-roofs), and all are found on this car. A wide-ratio four-speed manual transmission was standard equipment in '79, with a close-ratio four-speed or the three-speed automatic listed as no extra charge options. John's '79 is one of the 41,454 '79 Corvettes fitted with the automatic.
That is one of the factors that attracted John to it. "I drive the car strictly for pleasure, and I find it much more relaxing with an automatic, especially if I get caught in a bit of traffic."
If you're contemplating the purchase of a Corvette from the '68-82 period, and want to maximize the fun factor, give some thought to a '79. It may not have the collectability of an early big-block, an LT-1, a '75 convertible, a '78 Pace Car, or an '82 Collector Edition, but neither does it have the substantially higher price tag. A '79 is the sort of Corvette you can drive anywhere, and leave parked anywhere, without excessive worry or cares. It's the kind of vintage Corvette that can still be used exactly the way they were intended to be used in the first place-as a driver.