1965 chevrolet_corvette__396_425_coupe_17

In its first year of production, the 396/425-hp big-block-equipped 1965 Chevrolet Corvette was at its rarest in coupe form, a fact that today makes this beautiful example a rare find. It has been driven just 2,200 miles since the completion of its restoration in 2002, which included refinishing it in the original color combination of Nassau Blue with a blue interior. Mechanical details include the professionally built 396-ci engine (suitable for running on pump gasoline), a rebuilt 4-speed transmission and rebuilt brakes.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Chevrolet Corvette 396/425 coupe
Years Produced:1965
Number Produced:23,564 total (all Corvettes), 2,157 L78s
Original List Price:$4,984 (as equipped)
SCM Valuation:$69,000–$131,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$19.99
Chassis Number Location:VIN tag under glovebox door, on engine pad surface, driver’s side upper frame rail and transmission case
Engine Number Location:Block pad on passenger’s front of engine, below cylinder head
Club Info:NCRS
Alternatives:1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS 396, 1968 Plymouth Road Runner, 1968 Pontiac GTO
Investment Grade:A

This 1965 Corvette, Lot F193, sold for $48,760, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Monterey auction in Monterey, CA, on August 17, 2012.

When it comes to classic Corvettes, the market favors cars with documentation and original equipment. Cars with NCRS awards and Bloomington Gold certification tend to bring some of the highest prices, with buyers hunting the most-original and best-documented examples available, down to date-coded hoses and original alternators.

What the NCRS and Bloomington Gold have both done for the Corvette hobby can’t be stressed enough — the hobby now places great appreciation on Corvettes as historic automobiles, thanks to the efforts of these organizations, which is something that you didn’t see even 15 years ago. Special consideration is now given to cars that are as they were when they rolled out of the St. Louis plant on the day they were built. Collectors know and appreciate what a car “typical of factory production” looks like, and when it comes to value, buyers now pay premiums for proper, original-style finishes over glossy restorations.

That’s quite an achievement.

But there’s a time and a place for everything, and while I appreciate originality, I also think that Corvettes were meant to be driven. And by driven, I mean right on the edge of reason, with the rear end hanging out wide, the rear tires belching white smoke, and the engine in full 3,500-rpm song. That’s why my neighbors hate me, and it’s why I love this ’65.

Bigger, badder, brutal

The big block made its Corvette debut in 1965. Rated at 425 hp, the 396 was the most powerful Corvette engine to date, featuring a solid-lifter cam, 11:1 compression, large-port heads, an aluminum intake, and a Holley 4-bbl carburetor. The package also included a domed hood, which instantly tipped everyone off to what was underneath it. By 1966, displacement grew to 427 cubes, making the L78 a one-year Corvette option.

This was the only year in which both the fuel-injected small-block and the big-block were available at the same time. Most buyers went for brute 396 power over the sophistication of the injected 327 mill — by a factor of more than two to one — which helped spell the end of Corvette injection and the rise of the 396, 427, and 454s that would come to define the muscle era, at least for GM and the Corvette.

Other ’65 firsts included standard four-wheel disc brakes, available sidepipes, and optional teak steering wheels — imagine a midyear Corvette and I’d be willing to bet the car you’re visualizing in your head has all three. Our subject car does, too. Consider that a bonus.

A driver’s car

The market currently places the value of a good #2 condition L78 coupe at between $69,000 and $131,000, depending on options and condition. This car was a lot cheaper but appears to be in pretty good shape. What’s going on here?

Well, as I mentioned before, originality and factory-style restorations tend to bring the most money at auction. And this car, while nice, is a mix of things. There are no claims of originality, no photos of documentation, and no Bloomington or NCRS awards on display. We don’t even know if it was a big-block car to begin with. It’s a driver’s car — it looks generally right but can actually be used without the owner having to worry about tearing up an original. The price paid reflected all that.

Underhood, there are both original-style and modern-style hose clamps, an oiled K&N-style air filter element, missing ignition shielding, and more. And that 396 isn’t stock inside either — the Mecum copy is clear that it’s been built to run on pump gas, which means no 11:1 compression slugs. They’ve probably been replaced with some that come in closer to 9.5:1 or 10:1. But modern cam and head technology can make up a lot of what you’d lose by dropping static compression by a point or so, which means there’s no reason to believe this 396 won’t scream like an original. It may even be faster, depending on what was done to it, and it’ll run on pump premium fuel. Those are also bonuses for a car you’re driving in the modern world.

The car has also been fitted with aftermarket salt-flat-style rims and fresh radial rubber, and inside, a modern stereo and a Hurst shifter have been fitted. All of this was done in the name of usability and style over originality, and since almost every Corvette wore aftermarket rims at some time in its life, the look is not all that jarring.

Dump the clutch

As it sits, this is no candidate for a preservation award and no totem to which other Corvette restorations need aspire. It’s just a great driver with good options, a great engine, and a lot of street cred. This is the kind of car you buy and drive to Hot August Nights, or drive to work for an entire summer, rain or shine. Why? Because you can. 

It’s not that you wouldn’t be able to do those things with an award winner or preserved original, it’s just that you probably wouldn’t want to for fear of damaging its value in one way or another. And while knowing how Corvettes looked and felt from the factory is critically important in today’s hobby, so is knowing what it was like to use one the way they were intended to be used. That includes the waves, smiles, and shaking fists you’re sure to get when driving one properly. In my book, $48k is a deal for a sparkly example with a 396, a 4-speed, and a great look, original or not. Well bought. 

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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