Thanks to both to logistics and finances, most Corvette enthusiasts have to wait until long after their schooling is completed before they can acquire the car of their dreams. Not so for State University of New York at Stony Brook psychology major Danae Treutlein, who is fortunate enough to enjoy her dream machine right now.
"I've always loved the Indy Pace Cars," she explains, "ever since I was a little girl. The fastback styling appeals to me, and black and silver is a fantastic combination that really highlights the body's curves."
The Corvette was first honored as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car in 1978. Those of us who are old enough will always remember the incredible excitement when it was announced that Chevrolet would build a limited number of Corvette Pace Car replicas. In typical Chevy fashion, exact specifications and total production numbers changed an intolerable number of times before being finalized. In the end, 6,502 of the Indy 500 replicas were sold, roughly one for every Chevrolet dealer in the United States.
Even though that's not an exceptionally low production figure, it did little to stem the frenzy that developed in dealerships across the nation. Asking prices quickly skyrocketed past the $13,653.21 sticker, in some instances approaching $50,000! Greedy dealers recognized an opportunity to price gouge, and equally greedy customers saw their own opportunity to make huge profits by locking the dealer into a price and then immediately reselling at a much higher number.
Many dealers who committed to a sales contract experienced seller's remorse because prices seemed to be escalating every day. Some simply refused to deliver a Pace Car at the agreed upon price and more than a few wound up settling their differences in court.
Putting all of the hype, price gouging and legal maneuvers aside, the '78 Pace Cars really are very special. Obviously, they benefited from the same re-design that all '78s underwent. Gone forever was the unusual notchback rear body treatment introduced in '68. In its place designers penned a handsome "fastback" look, obtained for the most part by virtue of a very large backlight.
Many were disappointed that the big back glass did not pivot open in hatchback fashion, but everyone appreciated the considerable extra cargo space the re-design provided.
Portending what would become standard on all Corvettes in the near future, all '78 Pace Car replicas were fitted with two spoilers, one underneath the front, and the other atop the rear deck. They combined to give the cars a more purposeful, aerodynamic look.
In addition to the special spoilers, a number of other items distinguished Indy Pace Cars from other '78 Corvettes. The most noticeable is obviously the black-over-silver paint scheme, separated where the two colors meet by thin silver and red tape stripes. Also readily noticeable is the "Limited Edition" decal applied to each front fender just beneath the crossed flag emblem. An assortment of other stickers detailing information about the race in Indy were provided with each Pace Car, and could be installed by the dealer if the purchaser wished. Many, including Danae, consider the bold graphics somewhat ostentatious and prefer to leave them off.
A less noticeable but nonetheless lovely exterior feature unique to Pace Cars is their wheels. Aluminum rims, which were a $340.00 option on '78 Corvettes, were part of the Pace Car package, and thus included with every one built. Unlike with other '78s, however, each of the highly polished rims installed on a Pace Car was treated to a thin red stripe around the circumference near the tire bead. These red stripes complemented the tape stripes separating the two-tone paint and added just the right dash of color to the cars.
The special cosmetic treatment seen on the exterior was carried over into the Pace Car's interior as well. Each example was fitted with unique silver colored upholstery and trim. The rather subdued shade of silver chosen really brightened up the passenger compartment and gave the cars a very classy look.
Largely due to regulatory constraints and cost considerations, Pace Cars did not differ mechanically from other '78 Corvettes. In addition to the base 350 engine, buyers had their choice of the optional L82, which was rated at a respectable 220hp. They also had their choice of either a three-speed automatic or four-speed manual transmission.
As with other Corvettes of the era, the most desirable and thus most valuable Pace Cars tend to be those fitted with an L82 engine and four-speed gearbox. The four-speed is much rarer than the L82 engine with less than 10 percent of all '78s so equipped.
Unlike many collectors, Danae is thrilled that her Pace Car is automatic equipped. "I never learned how to drive a stick," she admits, "so the automatic is perfect for me."
Besides the more powerful L82 engine and four-speed, which was actually a no-cost option, buyers of Pace Cars could chose just about anything else on the order sheet they wanted. Many Pace Cars, including Danae's, tend to be highly optioned with desirable items such as Gymkhana Suspension and period-perfect AM/FM stereo with integral CB radio. Danae doesn't get much use out of the CB, but does absolutely love taking occasional pleasure drives in her Corvette during the Spring and Summer when the weather is cooperative. What does it feel like to drive a car that was born before she was? Even though the title says it is 23 years old, the odometer tells a different story. With a measly 6,505 miles since day one Danae reports that it still rides and drives like a brand new car.
When asked what the future holds for her low mileage Pace Car, she answers without hesitating for an instant. "I never intend to sell it because it's all original, in beautiful condition, and best of all it's my dream car!"