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.