Corvette is America's only true production sports car." Thus starts Chevrolet's sales brochure for the '76-model Corvette, and this statement was certainly as true as it had-or has-ever been. The domestic car industry was under pressure on all fronts. Stiffer safety and emissions regulations were coming from the government on a regular basis. Public desire for better fuel mileage (thanks to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and '74) brought competition from overseas, and prompted domestic manufacturers to put most of their development efforts into their own fuel-efficient cars. The great musclecars of the late '60s and early '70s were indeed shadows of their former selves.
Even though more people bought '76 Corvettes than any previous model, it's tempting, in retrospect, to dismiss these cars as dim stars in the Corvette cosmos. In the context of the times, however, Corvette was still at the top of the performance heap. An article in the very first issue of VETTE, titled "The Stingray Lives," makes both points:
"For 1976 the Corvette Stingray is truly a mixed bag. It's more sophisticated, more luxurious and, according to government standards, is safer and "cleaner" than previous models. However, it is also heavier, slower and more expensive than last year's offering."
The same piece then goes on to say, "...the '76, while it is a far cry from the solid-lifter, high-compression killer cars of days gone by, is still America's only entry in this elite marketplace."
A look at what the competition had to offer is also telling. The tarted-up Pinto that was the '76 Ford Mustang did have a V-8 option, which put out a staggering 140 horsepower. The Corvette's stablemate, the Camaro, matched the Blue Oval offering with a new 140-horse, 305ci base engine; 145- and 165-hp 350s were also available. GM sibling Pontiac offered a 160-hp 350, a 185-horse 400, and a 200-horse 455. Those looking for more sporting capability than a '76 Vette with the 180-hp L48 or the optional 210-horse L82 had to look to Europe and the Porsche 911 Turbo to satisfy their power lust.
Still, it's evident from Chevrolet's 1976 sales brochure that the evolution of Chevrolet's premier offering was heading in a different direction (i.e., more luxury and, believe it or not, better economy.) The first section under "What you get" is "To help you save money." The Chevrolet Efficiency System, which included a new catalytic converter for 1976, also featured a new air induction system that fed the carburetor from the front of the car rather than the cowl, and "Early Fuel Evaporation" for more efficient warm-ups. The brochure also trumpets the new Vette's extended service intervals, including 22,500-mile spark plug changes
The majority of the rest of brochure is taken up by sections on exterior and interior features, and "Plenty of comfort and convenience." As for the exterior, not much changed from the '75 version, though there were several note-worthy changes. First and foremost, and for the first time in Corvette's history, you couldn't get a convertible-coupes only, please. You could, however, finally get the optional aluminum wheels that were first announced for the '73 model, though only 6,253 buyers ponyed up the extra $299 to do so. There were two different rear bumper logos used during the model run, one using recessed lettering, and a later, larger emblem that wasn't recessed. And the gas cap emblem was a '76-only item. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the '76 Corvette was the last to wear the hallowed "Stingray" moniker on its fenders.