1978 Chevy Corvette - Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Edition

The real-life adventures of a rare-optioned, Canada-sold Pace shark

Vemp 1301 01 1978 Chevy Corvette Front 1/10

Thought you'd seen every version of the '78 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car edition? You haven't, until you've seen Joel Shapiro's.

It's one of the rarest of that one-year-only shark, says the Bronx, New York, resident. "A total of 6,502 ('78) Pace Cars were made. Roughly 600 of those were four-speeds, and only 202 of those were L82s. Add the FE7 Gymkhana Suspension, which this car has, and you're cutting your numbers down even more." As in 12 of those 202 going to Canada, with six known survivors—including this one.

Ordered by a dealer in London, Ontario, it sat on his showroom floor beyond May of 1978. "The dealer bought it to keep for a while, because…you know the story on the Pace Cars," says Shapiro, who has The Wall Street Journal's early-'78 article on the IPC and its supposed collectibility in his memorabilia collection.

How does this IPC differ from the U.S.-spec ones? "The differences are very subtle, like the metric speedometer," Shapiro says, noting that it wears stickers showing compliance with Canadian safety and emissions regulations. Additionally, all the printed materials that came with it were in both French and English.

That Chevy dealer kept the car until around the time the C4 came out. "He had it on his showroom floor for six years, and then he sold it to the guy who owned the Black Angus Steakhouse chain in Canada," says Shapiro. The new owner, who lived in London, put about 8,000 miles on it over the next 15 years as a summer driver, including trips to see his Black Angus franchisees across Canada. In 1999, he sold the car to someone who lived outside London, and who only put 1,200 miles on it before advertising it for sale.

You'd think that such a rare Vette would have sold the day the ad appeared, but according to Shapiro, the car languished for more than two years before he spotted it during his search for an L82/four-speed shark, IPC or otherwise.

The asking price was $26,500—about what you'd expect for a non-IPC (or non-25th Anniversary '78) L82/four-speed '78. After determining there was nothing wrong with the car, Shapiro asked the seller why it had been for sale for so long. "Look where I live," came the reply, "and the car sits six months out of the year."

Vemp 1301 04 1978 Chevy Corvette Rpo Muncie 21 Transmission 5/10

Eventually, Shapiro traveled up to western Ontario to see the car. A look underneath revealed a lot of dirt, but none of the expected rust. Asked about the condition of the undercarriage, the seller replied, "Look at the roads: We live in the sticks, and there are a lot of dirt roads around here."

"This ended up being the savior of the car, which I call my ‘diamond in the rough,'" says Shapiro.

After buying the car, he made arrangements to get it home. But with an international border crossing to contend with, it wouldn't be as easy as a trip home from, say, Carlisle.

"There was no tax or duty on the car because it was made in St. Louis," Shapiro says. "But when I got it back to New York, I'd have to take it to Customs to get it examined before I could register it." That would mean an expensive flat-bed trip to the Customs inspection station at Kennedy Airport, and a daylong (or longer) wait to get the car inspected before he could register it.

Fortunately for Shapiro, he shipped his Pace shark via TFX, whose valets picked it up in London, stored it in their heated, secured warehouse in Toronto until spring, then took it to the Port of Entry at Niagara Falls, New York. That's where U.S. Customs inspected it, then hauled it to Shapiro's home in time for the spring cruising and show-going season.

The guy didn't even write 'Pace Car' in [the ad]. He wrote, ‘'78 Corvette, silver and black.'

Shapiro's biggest surprise came when he washed off the underbody road dirt. "I was stunned to see every paint code and crayon marking stood out like they were put on yesterday," he recalls. "The caked-on dirt preserved everything!"

Thanks to that "preservative," there was also no rust underneath. That helped the IPC score an NCRS Top Flight Award in 2010, with a score of 99.7.

How is this low-mileage Pace Car to drive? "It's a pleasure," says Shapiro in words easily translated into French (or any language). "I take it to cruise nights. It's a great car to drive."

If you're looking for a Vette, whether or not it's a rarity like this '78 Indy Pace Car edition, Shapiro has this advice: Get one that's done. "Don't get project cars, because they're too expensive. Get the best car for your money, and get the best deal you can."

Vemp 1301 02 1978 Chevy Corvette Stock Rpo Tires 9/10

The car was already 95 percent correct when current owner Joel Shapiro bought it in 2003. Now fully restored, it's a regular at shows and cruise nights throughout the Tri-State area.

Spec Sheet
1978 Chevy Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Edition
Owner Joel Shapiro; Bronx, New York
Block Stock L82 cast iron
Displacement 350 ci
Heads Stock L82 cast iron
Valves Stock
Camshaft Stock L82 hydraulic
Pistons Stock forged aluminum
Compression Ratio 8.9:1
Crankshaft Stock forged steel
Rods Stock forged steel
Intake Stock cast iron
Carburetor Stock Rochester Quadrajet
Fuel Pump Stock mechanical
Ignition Stock HEI electronic
Exhaust System Stock
Transmission Stock RPO M21 close-ratio four-speed manual
Clutch Stock
Suspension Stock four-wheel independent with RPO FE7 Gymkhana Suspension option
RearEnd Stock with 3.70 gears
Brakes Stock four-wheel discs with power assist
Wheels Stock RPO YJ8 cast aluminum with IPC red accent stripe, 15x8 (front and rear)
Tires BFGoodrich Radial TA RWL, 255/60R15 (front and rear)
Current Mileage 10,200 original

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