In the six decades that the Corvette has been in production, several of its major generational makeovers have coincided with anniversary years. The C2 debuted 10 years after the first Vettes rolled off the Flint assembly line in 1953; the shark era started on the Vette’s 15th birthday; and production of the C4 began in 1983, a launch that took place on the Corvette’s 30th birthday even though those cars were marketed as ’84 models.
For the Corvette’s silver anniversary, no such changeover was in the plan. Instead, the car went through some evolutionary revisions and was offered with anniversary badging and an optional two-tone anniversary paint scheme. Aside from the paint, the most noticeable difference for the ’78 model year was the new, fastback-like glass backlight, which not only changed the car’s lines but also opened up the view out the rear window substantially.
Motor Trend displayed the new roof panel prominently in this cover photo from its Dec. ’77 issue. Parked alongside was a “Polo-white-and-Powerglide-only” ’53 model, to illustrate just how far America’s favorite sports car had come in 25 years. Far indeed: C. Paul Rogers’ article opened with a sobering reminder that, in the years before the Vette’s small-block infusion, its success was by no means guaranteed. “As radical and sporty as it was,” he wrote, those first two years of Corvettes “were less than sensational. As a matter of fact you have to be a real Vette buff to remember that in 1953 and 1954 Chevrolet restricted sales of Corvettes in each community to mayors, celebrities, industrial leaders and favorite customers. How did this marketing ploy work? Not well. The VIPs of the ’50s tended to be unimpressed by drafty side curtains and a Blue Flame Six which wouldn’t outrun the quicker sedans of the same era. By 1955 an astute car collector with a very clear crystal ball could have picked up a stable of early Corvettes at bargain prices.”
There were no such issues for the silver anniversary model. Despite its being the most expensive Corvette to date (with heavily optioned models stickering “in excess of $12,000,” Rogers said), it was a sales success for Chevrolet, buoyed, no doubt, by the backlight redesign, the potentially collectible anniversary paint scheme, revisions to the instrument panel, a larger fuel tank, and more horsepower from both of the available small-blocks. Rogers called it “the nicest all-around package ever. Not the quickest, certainly, but the quietest and most refined, with some excellent handling built in.”
Anniversaries are times to look forward as well as back, and Rogers’ prognostications for upcoming Vettes may sound familiar: “Anyone interested in forecasting the future shape of Corvette only need look at the Aero Vette (which was shown with a four-rotor rotary engine) to have a preview look at the next-generation Corvette. The best guess is that we won’t see a completely retooled Corvette until 1980, or more likely 1981, or maybe later. Sleek, smaller and lighter, a two-seater, it will carry a midships-mounted V-6, possibly turbocharged, and combine good economy, emissions, performance, handling and safety.”
It seems we read that last sentence a year ago about the C7.