Corvette History Part 3: The Best of Times, The Worst Of Times

The third generation of Corvette was an exercise in contradictions.  It had some of the better marketing, what with all the special edition and pace car versions, yet it had one of the worst public debuts.  Some came with an engine so powerful that the actual horsepower isn’t known, yet most would have their asses handed to them by my mother’s Nissan.  And while this generation would pump out the second rarest version, it would also set the Corvette’s all-time sales record.

It all got started back in 1966, when the Chevrolet company dropped off the 1967 ‘Vette for safety testing.  And like the 14-year old kid that never could settle down and study for the big math test, the Corvette flunked.  Badly.  So bad in fact, that the ’67 Corvette wouldn’t show up on dealer lots until 1968.

In the meantime, Chevy’s marketing department licensed out the Corvette’s stylings to Mattel for a new toy called “Hot Wheels.”  Of course, no one at General Motors thought to call Mattel and let them know what’s up with each other’s product releases.  And so it was that the first Hot Wheels fleet was released weeks before the ’68 Corvette, complete with a 1/64th scale version of the ’68 Corvette.  Sadly, this meant the legendary car would be the first vehicle to debut at Toys R Us.

However, the embarasment would soon subside, leaving nothing but the skill to kick ass and take names.  The third generation also came with some great new options, such as a removable rear window, removable glass roof panels (aka T-Tops), and an all-new 3-speed Turboglide transmission.  The first engines weren’t too shabby either, continuing the previous generation’s 327 small-block, in 300 and 350 horse configurations.

Things got even better in 1969, with what would be the biggest, baddest Corvette engine until this year’s 2008 ZR-1.  This engine was known as the ZL-1, a 427-cubic inch monster fitted with every high-performance part that GM could muster up.  Heck, if there was a high-output kitchen sink on the 1969 Performance Parts catalogue, it would have been part of the option package.  In the end, the motor was rated at 430 horses, although most estimates put the real power between 550 and 680.  The total cost of the package on its own was $4,700, almost more than the base model’s sticker price.  As a result, only two were built, making it the second rarest Corvette to date.

Unfortunately, the insane horsepower party wouldn’t last.  Storm clouds were brewing on the horizon, signalling a new era for the entire automotive industry.  President Richard Nixon proposed and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who, in turn, helped to create a series of changes to the Clean Air Act, including the parts about no leaded gas and catalytic converters on every new car and truck.  Although we are all less likely to die horrible lung-disease related deaths thanks to these changes, it was a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who wanted to go fast.  After 1972, the trusty 350 small-block never got above 249 horsepower.  In fact, the 1975 model hit an all-time low of 165 ponies, the same year that Nixon’s EPA required GM engineers to replace speed parts with smog parts.  Thanks, Dick.

That didn’t stop people from buying up the Corvette in huge numbers.  Since every vehicle’s performance took a kick to the groin in that era, the public still saw the now-lowly vehicle as a supercar.  The fact that it was named the official pace car of the 1978 Indy 500 did nothing but good for its reputation, helping to sell 53,807 cars in ’79.  To this day, this number stands as the record for most Corvettes built in one year.

The C3 became the longest-running generation of Corvette, spanning three decades with only minor body and mechanical changes.  It had seen the biggest and smallest production runs, and set records for total sales and pure, unadulterated power.  In short, it was a hell of a car, and The General wanted to send it off the right way, with a “Collector’s Edition” ‘Vette.  The standard fare of custom paint and insignia were added, and the standard steel wheels were replaced by aluminum wheels reminiscent of the 1967 model’s bolt-on wheels.  However, it also became the only C3 to feature a fuel-injected engine and a glass hatchback, both features that were ironically meant for the C4 being developed at the time.  After all, how else would you say goodbye to a car already full of contradictions?

Like what you see?  stop by the shop and find out how to get prints made from any image on this website.  And if your walls are already full, we also have T-shirts and mugs ready to be printed with your favourite picture from this site!

Want this unique content in your magazine, newspaper, newsletter or website?  Contact Jordan Morningstar at (204) 997.8827, or jordan.morningstar-at-gmail.com to find out about licensing images and text for your media outlet.


2 Responses to “Corvette History Part 3: The Best of Times, The Worst Of Times”

  1. October 7, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Great Corvette photos. I love going to cruise-ins… Good luck.

  2. March 14, 2009 at 6:23 am

    This is the first time I comment here and I must say you provide us genuine, and quality information for other bloggers! Good job.
    p.s. You have an awesome template . Where did you find it?

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