In 1979, the Corvette entered its 26th year of production. The "Shark" body had been introduced in 1968 and had gone through several subtle design iterations since that time. The bodylines had been smoothed to reduce the Stingray's drag coefficient and the front and rear spoilers that had been introduced on the '78 Corvette Indy Pace car replica were now an option for the '79. On top of looking good, the spoilers were more than decorative. They decreased drag by 15 percent and upped fuel economy by nearly a half-mile per gallon.
Other refinements included interior upgrades, such as the use of the Indy Pace Car bucket seats. These seats had deeper side bolsters, folded at a higher hinge point to allow easier rear access, and yet weighed 12 lbs less than the 1978 seats. The AM/FM radio, which had always been a popular option, was now standard. In the middle of the model year, the 140-mph speedometer was replaced by an 85-mph unit, an ironic testament to the emasculation of performance cars of the 1970s by the federal government's emission laws. It would several more years before Detroit would learn that computer chips and fuel injection could replace camshafts and carburetors to restore performance.
Reducing weight was an ongoing challenge for Dave McLellan and his team at Corvette Engineering. They took every opportunity to strip pounds from the car, which resulted in better performance and fuel economy. In the late '70s, "miles per gallon" was more important than "miles per hour," even for America's sports Car. The pressure was on to improve Corvette's fuel economy and yet squeeze as much performance out of the anemic powertrain as possible.
Both the 195hp L48 and optional 225hp L82 received small boosts in 1979, thanks in part to a less restrictive muffler-5 hp for the L48-and a redesigned twin-snorkel air cleaner-which added another 5 hp for the L82. Motor Trend and Car & Driver both tested L82 Corvettes in 1979 with somewhat different results. Car & Driver sampled one with a four-speed and 3.70:1 rear gears in their December 1978 issue and recorded a 15.30 e.t. at 95 mph. Motor Trend published their test of an identically equipped model in July 1979. They were only able to pull a 15.74 e.t. at 89.4 mph. The Corvette's only competitor during this time, the Pontiac Trans Am, was dead-even with America's sports Car. Car & Driver reviewed the '79 Trans Am in their January 1979 issue and found it was capable of a quarter-mile of 15.3 seconds at 96.6 mph.
While the Corvette wasn't producing the kind of neck-snapping acceleration that it had enjoyed just a half-decade before, it was selling better than ever. Annual sales began exceeding 37,000 units beginning in 1974 and each year saw a significant rise in numbers, culminating in 1979 sales of 53,807, a record for Corvette that still stands today. The cramped Corvette line at the St. Louis assembly plant was overtaxed to meet the demand, resulting in quality-control problems that were passed along to the dealers to repair.
The Corvette's window sticker was also edging higher. The base price for a '79 Corvette was $10,220.23. Late in the model year, it was raised to $10,926.23 to incorporate air conditioning, power windows, and a telescoping steering column as standard equipment. By the end of the model year, the base price was $12,313.23. The strategy for raising the Corvette's price was simple: With demand so high for the Corvette, the price was raised to whatever the market would bear to increase the profit margin on each car built. The chance to up the margin on a low production car like the Corvette made good business sense. In many respects, 1979 was a watershed year for the Corvette. In the remaining three years of the Shark design, the Corvette would lose more weight, gain a few horsepower, and cost a lot more. Many fans consider the 1979 Corvette to be one of the most desirable of the later models from that generation.
Marc Erwin of Cape Coral, Florida, is one of those enthusiasts. He was the original owner of a '75 Corvette roadster with just 13,000 miles when he spotted this '79 while wandering around Bloomington Gold in 1995. He instantly fell in love with the original-12,000-mile Corvette and bought it from the second owner, who had it from 1980 to 1995.
In 1999, Marc brought the '79 back to Bloomington for Survivor judging. The concept behind Survivor judging is just what the name implies; Corvettes that have never been restored have "survived" intentional or unintentional loss of original markings, paint, or components. If they're 50 percent unrestored or unmodified, they may qualify for Survivor if they remain in a condition that would serve well as an historic guide for others who want to restore a Corvette of that vintage and type (the term "Survivor(r)" is trademarked and can only be used to describe a Corvette that has received a Survivor award from Bloomington Gold).
Marc's '79 easily won a Survivor award and today it has just 32,500 miles on the odometer. It's loaded with options like the D80 spoilers (just under 13 percent of 1979 production were so equipped), power windows, power brakes, power locks, automatic, sport mirrors, mirrored T-Tops, defogger, tilt-tele, cruise, and AM/FM/CB radio.
Marc plans to keep the Corvette as original as when it took the Survivor award. It's not trailer queen, either. Marc drove the '79 from Florida to Nashville and back for the Corvette's 50th anniversary event last year. And that '75 roadster Marc bought new? It sits next to the '79 in the garage waiting for the chance to go out for a drive in the warm Florida sun.
Specifications 1979 Chevrolet Corvette1979 Sales by Engine Option* L48: 39,291 L82: 14,516*No manual transmissions or L82s offered in California
TransmissionsStandard Wide Ratio Manual TransmissionRatios 1st = 2.85:1 2nd = 2.02:1 3rd = 1.35:1 4th = 1.00:1 Rev = 2.85:1 Final drive ratio: 3.36:1 Optional Close Ratio Manual Transmission
Ratios 1st = 2.43:1 2nd = 1.61:1 3rd = 1.23:1 4th = 1.00:1 Rev = 2.35:1 Final drive ratio: 3.36:1
Optional Three-Speed Turbo Hydra-Matic Automatic Transmission
Ratios 1st = 2.52:1 2nd = 1.52:1 3rd = 1.00:1 Rev = 1.93:1 Final drive ratio: 3.55:1
Options and AccessoriesRPO A31 Electric power windows - $141 RPO CC1 Removable glass roof panels - $365 RPO C49 Rear window defogger - $102 RPO C60 Air conditioning - $635 RPO D35 Sport mirrors - $45 RPO FE7 Gymkhana suspension - $49 RPO F51 Heavy-duty shock absorbers - $33 RPO G95 Highway ratio rear axle - $19RPO K30 Cruise control - $113 RPO L82 350-cid 225hp V-8 - $565RPO MM4 Four-speed manual transmission (no-cost option) RPO M21 Four-speed manual close-ratio transmission (no-cost option) RPO MX1 Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmission (no-cost option) RPO N37 Tilt-telescopic steering column - $190 RPO QGR P255/70R-15 Raised-white-letter steel-belted radial tires - $54 RPO QBS P255/60R-15 White Aramid BR tires - $226.20 RPO U58 AM/FM stereo radio - $90 RPO UM2 AM-FM stereo radio with eight-track tape system - $228 RPO UN3 AM-FM stereo radio with cassette - $234RPO UP6 AM-FM stereo radio with CB system and power antenna - $439 RPO U75 Power antenna - $52 RPO U81 Dual rear speakers - $52 RPO UA1 Heavy-duty battery - $21 RPO ZN1 Trailering package - $98 RPO ZQ2 Power windows and door locks - $272 RPO ZX2 Convenience group - $84