This Monza Red 1970 Corvette 454/390 LS5 coupe has its original black interior, T-tops with removable back glass, and AM/FM radio. It is well documented with the original tank sticker, build sheet, Protect-O-Plate, warranty booklet, and dealer packet, and was treated to a no-expense-spared, professional restoration. The car is pristine, with a completely detailed engine compartment, and comes with both NCRS and Bloomington awards as a result.

SCM Analysis


This car sold for $66,000, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s Palm Beach Collector Car Auction in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 2, 2010.

The 1970 LS5 Corvette was born in the USA at a time of political and social upheaval. This followed the era of the Summer of Love in San Francisco and the Woodstock Festival in New York—and the heyday of the hippie counter-culture, where the idea “less is more” took root and the Volkswagen minibus became a cultural icon.

Simultaneously, governmental pressure was forcing the American automobile industry to become more socially and environmentally responsible, and the long-held belief that “What’s good for GM is good for America” was clearly being challenged.

In response to an onslaught of new emission and safety standards, engineering was redirected from increasing horsepower and performance to reducing emissions, increasing fuel efficiency, and utilizing lower-octane fuels. Sound familiar? The glory days of American muscle cars were clearly numbered.

Corvette had already undergone a major transformation for 1968 with the introduction of the third-generation “shark,” so named for its evocative body design. And while the power, prestige, and pride associated with the Corvette may have been somewhat out of sync with the times, Americans maintained their love affair with the automobile and “motorheads” were still more interested in horsepower than flower power.

As a result, Corvette sales had continued to grow in 1968–69, and each year saw production and sales at their highest level since Corvette debuted in 1953.

Multiple changes for 1970—some even good

The 1970 model year, the third for the latest Corvette design, saw numerous subtle styling refinements, including a new egg-crate grille design, a change from round to rectangular front turn signal lamps, flared wheel openings to reduce body damage caused by debris kicked up by the wider period tires, revised cross-hatched fender louvers, larger side marker lights, and rectangular exhaust tips replacing the previous round tips for a more aggressive appearance.

However, the biggest change for the ’70 ’Vette lurked underhood, with the introduction of the big-block LS5 454/390 engine and the LT1 350/370 small-block. The 454 V8 was a member of Chevrolet’s existing Mark IV engine family, which started with the 396 V8 of 1965, evolved into the 427 V8 for 1966, and matured with the 454. In different configurations, the 454 lasted in Corvette through the 1974 production year.

Chevrolet originally listed the ultimate fire-breathing version of this motor in the guise of RPO LS7, which was rated at 460 hp and featured aluminum heads, mechanical instead of hydraulic valve lifters, high-compression 11.25:1 pistons, a higher-lift camshaft, and transistorized ignition. However, the option was withdrawn and never installed in any 1970 production Corvettes offered to the public.

As a result, the sole big-block engine available for 1970 was the LS5 454/390 found in our subject car. The $289.65 option included the 454-ci engine equipped with hydraulic lifters, 10.25:1 pistons, and a single four-barrel carburetor. Exactly 4,473 Corvettes, or nearly 26% of the total 1970 model-year production run of 17,316 units, were so equipped.

LS5 big-block performance didn’t disappoint

Credited with producing 390 hp and a staggering 500 ft-lb of torque, the 1970 LS5 offered the full thrill ride associated with previous big-block Corvettes. When fitted with our subject car’s M40 Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, the driver enjoyed an effortless ride in a rocket ship. These transmissions shift with ease in traffic, yet when offered an open road where the gas pedal can be mashed to the floor, the power lights the tires with every gear change, each of which also shoves the LS5 violently forward and pushes both driver and passenger hard into their seats.

When Road & Track tested an LS5 with the M40 transmission back in the day, the editors clocked 0–60 mph acceleration in 7.0 seconds, a 15.0-second quarter-mile at 93 mph, and a top speed of 144 mph—not too shabby for a 1970 production car. Come to a turn, though, and you’d discover this heavy-steering big-block would much rather keep traveling a straight path. This is not a nimble Corvette like its small-block LT-1 brother, whose lower weight and higher-revving mill are ideal for road racing. Instead, the LS5 is a street drag racer, pure and simple.

Two owners and low mileage a plus

The Monza Red 1970 LS5 coupe sold at Barrett-Jackson received a first-rate (and perhaps somewhat better than factory original) restoration a few years back. While still presenting well, the restoration is no longer fresh and shows some minor flaws and mild aging. But having a relatively low 34,000 original miles and being highly documented with a Protect-O-Plate, tank sticker, dealer packet, and original registration are definitely a plus in our current buyer’s market. A red Corvette is always a head turner, especially with a big-block hood. Its offering by only the second owner, who purchased the car at the same West Palm Beach auction in March 2008 for $68,200, is another plus. Limited and clear ownership history is always appreciated.

As noted in the auction copy, this LS5 has an NCRS Award and Bloomington Silver Certification to its credit, but the NCRS award level—and whether it was achieved at a Chapter, Regional, or National Meet—was not stated.

Documentation and nationally recognized awards definitely add to a car’s market value; however, they won’t bump any Corvette up to investment-grade level if the car’s features, options, and provenance don’t warrant this. While possessing the highest-horsepower engine for 1970, lot 370 still lacks the all-important power steering, power brakes, and AM/FM radio options.

So while this particular Corvette can’t be considered high-grade investment material, the buyer still did just fine, because someone else already wrote the large checks for its restoration. Put another way, the cost of restoring an average 1970 LS5 to this car’s present condition would probably exceed the auction price paid here.

And what of the seller? Given that he paid $68,200 for the car in 2008, getting $59,400 (after deducting the 10% seller’s commission) after two years of enjoyment isn’t bad in a weak economy. Since the recent past has not been a very good time for Corvette speculation, in today’s marketplace this transaction should be considered a very fair deal for both buyer and seller

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