Then..."1977 STINGRAY: Chevrolet continues its updating and upgrading program, making the latest version the most desirable." Thus read the headline on page 10 of the Fall 1976 version of what was then known as VETTE QUARTERLY. Ignoring the fact that Corvettes officially ceased to be known as "Stingrays" for the '77 model year, we'll address the latter declaration, that this "latest version" of the Corvette was "the most desirable." Simply put, the numbers bear that statement out. A record 49,213 Corvette Sport Coupes were built in the 1977 model run, beating the previous champ, the '76 model. To this day, only the '79 and '84 models, which both saw numbers over 50,000, have sold more. And yet, '77s and their smog-motored brethren are often set aside as non-performers when compared to their high-compression, catalytic converter-less ancestors. So why did so many people pony up the $8,647.65 (plus options) that it took to bring a '77 home?
The answer to that question is actually pretty easy. Though its performance figures may pale in comparison to those posted by earlier Corvettes, the '77 version trounced anything else anyone else put out that year. Even the base 180hp L48 powerplant was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Throw in the optional-everywhere-but-California L82, with its 210 hp, and the '77 Corvette could show that it still had some teeth. In a Summer 1977 drive test, the VETTE QUARTERLY crew managed to get a 15.3@91 mph quarter-mile out of their test vehicle, which was equipped with L82, a four-speed trans, and 3.70:1 gears.
Now, those figures may not seem particularly impressive. Remember, though, that there was a constant barrage of government emissions and safety regulations hitting the OEMs. If that wasn't enough, the Arab oil embargoes of a few years before were still fresh in the public's mind, creating a demand for better fuel economy. Given the circumstances, it's a bit of a wonder that "America's only true production sports car," as the dealer brochure called the '77 Corvette, survived at all.
But survive it did, with subtle yet significant changes. As we mentioned before, the "Stingray" moniker was dropped. The earliest '77 had no fender logos, with only the alarm activator switch on the left front fender. The second version featured a new crossed flags emblem to go along with the '77-only nose and gas door logos, which was placed alongside the exterior alarm switch. The final style featured the emblems only, as the alarm switch was incorporated into the driver's door lock in mid-production. Another exterior feature, the luggage rack, which had previously been a dealer-installed option, became factory RPO V54, and was designed to hold either luggage or the T-roof panels.
The interior received extensive changes, most notably in the center console. This all-new unit featured new gauges, contained the heater and A/C controls, and most importantly, allowed the use of standard-sized Delco radios, which gave Corvette shoppers more choices in the stereo department. Along with the console changes, the shift lever on manual transmission models was made an inch longer to ease parking brake use. The RPO N37 Tilt-Telescopic Steering Column option was also redesigned.
The new unit relocated the headlight dimmer switch and the windshield wiper controls to stalks on the steering column, and allowed the steering wheel to be mounted 2 inches closer to the dash for more driver arm room. Speaking of the steering wheel...the universally detested '76 tiller was discarded in favor of a new, leather-wrapped and color-coordinated piece. Unless you opted for a solid column, that is, in which case you were stuck with the universally detested '76-style wheel.
The '77 Corvette featured other firsts. A host of new body colors were offered, and among them was basic black, available from the factory for the first time since the '69 model. Vinyl seats became a thing of the past, as leather sitting surfaces were now standard. (A cloth-leather combo was a no-cost option.) For the first time, cruise control was available; RPO K30, "Speed Control," was only with an automatic transmission. RPO D35made its first appearance. The Sport Mirror option consisted of twin body-colored mirror pods, with the driver's being remote controlled. And power brakes, formerly optional as RPO J50, became a standard feature.
The year also saw a big "last," as the '77 model would be the last of the vertical rear window Sharks. The '78 model gained a "bubble" rear window as part of its "aero" redesign. The bottom line, however, is that car buyers-some of them, at least-were still interested in performance. And for its day, the '77 Corvette delivered in all departments: power, looks, and handling chief among them. Thanks to that performance, Corvette survived-and actually prospered-during tough times.
Editor's Note: As always, we acknowledge Mike Antonick's Corvette Black Book and the Vette Vues Fact Book of the 1973-1977 Stingray, by M.H. Dobbins, as the invaluable resources they are.
...And NowOur feature '77, which is certainly a marvelous example of the breed, belongs to Calvin and Peggy Scott of La Follette, Tennessee. Understandably proud of his ride, Calvin sent us a few photos, figuring that we'd run one of them in The Vette Files. He got more than he bargained for when we called to arrange a full feature shoot, but was happy to oblige us.
"I wanted one for years," replied Calvin when asked about his interest in Corvettes. "I really like the looks, and enjoy them lots." That desire eventually led him to Corvette Connection in Fremont, Indiana. Like many shoppers, Calvin wasn't originally looking for what he ended up with. "I was looking for an older one," he recalls. "Something with double headlights, a '58-62." The dealer didn't have one on hand during Calvin's first visit. There was a solid-axle present the second time around, but the price proved to be prohibitive.
Of course, we all know about Corvette shopping. If one deal doesn't work out, there's always gonna be something else that catches your eye. In Calvin Scott's case, there happened to be a '77 in the showroom, and it got him back for a second look-which turned out to be enough. "I liked the style of it," he remembers. "But mileage and condition were the biggest factors."
Indeed, the '77 the Scotts ended up taking home was an unrestored beauty, showing just a tick over 14,000 miles on the clock at the time. It was nicely optioned, too, with power windows and A/C, along with the aforementioned sport mirrors, cruise control, tilt-tele wheel, and luggage rack. The Classic White-with-brown leather interior coupe is powered by a base L48 engine, and came with an automatic transmission, as did 41,231 other '77s. The original owner showed some sporting spirit, ordering the Gymkhana suspension, and aluminum wheels with the optional White Letter Steel Belted tires.
Calvin is determined to keep the Vette in its ultra-nice, unrestored condition. Besides normal maintenance item like hoses, filters, and belts, the only things that have been replaced are the rear pipes and muffers, from the crossover back. "I hated that I had to do that," Calvin states, "But it was a necessity." Yes, a necessity. Although this car is driven sparingly, it is driven. The Scotts have added just over 4,000 miles in approximately two years, taking the '77 out for late evening and weekend drives through the Tennessee countryside.
That'll probably be the way things go for awhile. Now that he's got a Corvette, Calvin has no intention of parting with it anytime soon. He may not have found what he was originally looking for, but he found a winner nonetheless. And at the pace they're going, the miles will oh-so-slowly collect, while the '77 stays pristine and desirable, just like it was 25 years ago.