1971 Chevrolet Corvette 454/365 coupe
Jeremy Cliff, courtesy of Mecum Auctions
  • 71,000 original miles
  • Original matching-numbers 454-ci, 365-hp LS5 engine
  • 4-speed manual transmission
  • One of 1,455 equipped with the factory alarm system
  • Four Season air conditioning (not operational)
  • Power steering and brakes
  • Original AM/FM radio
  • Original luggage rack
  • T-tops with original covers
  • Pop-out rear window
  • Original order copy
  • Original owner’s manual in plastic sleeve with brochure
  • Engine rebuilt and clutch replaced at 60,000 miles
  • Modified with fiberglass rear springs, gas shocks, polyurethane bushings and BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires
  • Documentation and receipts dating back to the 1970s
  • One owner for past 21 years

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1971 Chevrolet Corvette 454/365 coupe
Years Produced:1971
Number Produced:14,680 (all 1971 Corvette coupes)
Original List Price:$5,496
SCM Valuation:$30,500
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$35
Chassis Number Location:Plate on lower left windshield pillar
Engine Number Location:On block in front of right cylinder head
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society
Alternatives:1970 AMC AMX, 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396, 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 383
Investment Grade:B

This Corvette, Lot S36, sold for $40,700, including buyer’s premium, at the Mecum auction in Chicago, IL, on October 7, 2017.

With a Skunk Works beginning as the Chevy “Mystery Motor” used in Junior Johnson’s Impala at Daytona in 1963, the “big block” occupies hallowed ground for Chevy performance devotees, and its reputation remains unabated among collectors today. The axioms used to describe a big block — and Chevrolets in particular — are as bold as the idea of a seven-liter V8: “There’s no replacement for displacement,” and my personal favorites, Porcupine Motor and Rat Motor.

Although the original Chevy big-block NASCAR motor displaced 427 cubic inches, R&D developed it into a 396-ci version for the 1965 Corvette. Here, the big block lasted through two Corvette generations and all the way through 1974, after which emissions regulations brought about its demise. Corvette big-block displacements were 396 ci in 1965 (2,157 built), 427 ci from 1966 to ’69 (48,149 built), and 454 ci from 1970 to the endpoint in 1974 (21,577 built). The most popular year for the big-block Corvette was 1969, when a total of 15,441 427s were sold.

The real deal

The big block wasn’t smoke and mirrors, as were so many of Detroit’s marketing ploys at the time. In various guises, it raced to numerous wins on the world stage, including Can-Am, particularly with the 7-liter Chevy-powered, papaya-hued McLarens of Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme, and in many other U.S. drag-racing and oval-track events.

Of course, there are big blocks and then there are big blocks, just as there are ’Cudas and Hemi ’Cudas, Camaros and COPO Camaros, and Mustangs and Boss 429 Mustangs. Big-block power output is directly tied to desirability, with the 1967–69 L88s at the top of the pyramid; the range of median values for these cars is estimated at $500,000 to nearly $4 million.

“Everyday” big block

The subject of value brings us to the 454-ci, 365-hp LS5 featured here. It was the entry-level big block of the 1971 model year, and arriving right in the middle of the big block’s reign, it was a great product and marketing move for Chevrolet.

Its rated output was right in between the base small-block 350-ci engine (270 hp) and 454-ci LS6 (425 hp). So was the price, with the LS5 adding just $295 (5%) to the base price of the Corvette coupe, compared to $483 (9%) for the 350-ci LT-1 and $1,221 (22%) for the LS6.

Key point here, during the “Big-Block era,” the 365-horse LS5 was just right for the everyday guy who wanted an extra dose of performance — and the street credibility that went with it.

And now back to our subject car, the War Bonnet Yellow 1971 coupe, one of 5,097 C3s made for ’71 with the 365-hp 454. As noted above, this car was mid-level on the Corvette performance scale. The entry-level big block, it offered the best of both worlds — only a modest price premium over the base 270-hp 350 engine and nearly 100 more horses.

Our subject 454 drives through a 4-speed Muncie gearbox, now considered desirable versus the Turbo Hydra-Matic 3-speed automatic, which was a no-cost option that nearly half of all 1971 Corvette buyers adopted.

Just nice enough

This particular car features the most popular options of the time, including power steering and brakes, an AM/FM radio, and the now nonfunctional a/c. It also has a relatively rare alarm system, which is activated by a key just above the rear Corvette letters — when active, opening a door or the hood will cause a horn to honk. Altogether, it’s a nicely equipped but not particularly special car.

Another important matter is the body style. The 1971 models are the next-to-last of the “chrome bumper” Sharks, and as such hold a strong styling edge over the following, plastic-baby-bumper Corvettes that lasted until — well, actually, they never went away. 1972 was the last year for full-metal-bumper Corvettes of any stripe.

Now to the condition, originality and history. In terms of investment potential, to me this car has a decent scorecard. It’s a sanitary and well-presented example of a chrome-bumper, big-block C3 in an arresting color with no known issues, aside from the air-conditioning. That’s all good. However, it’s rated as only a “B” in ACC’s Pocket Price Guide, where it is outplayed by the high-output LT-1 small-block and the low-production LS6 big-block of the same year. Niggling points include that nonfunctional a/c and the rear ride height, which appears a bit high thanks to that new fiberglass spring.


The price paid was 30% above the ACC guide’s median value of $30,500, appropriate for this car’s excellent presentation and suggesting that the buyer and seller each got a fair deal.

My bottom line: The buyer got a respectable car that will make a great careful driver, and the seller got solid money for the model.

Down the road, this LS5 is likely to be a reasonably safe investment because it’s a nicely preserved big-block whose odometer is still on its first trip around the block, but it will likely never break out because it’s a low-spec big-block. Also of concern, the performance world is turning toward smaller displacements, fewer cylinders, turbos and hybrids. And so, when Millennials age up onto their peak toy-buying years, it’s impossible to know whether big blocks will become more valued… or more vilified.

In either case, all that remains today is for the new owner to fix the air conditioning, strap a suitcase onto the luggage rack, grab a map and go use and enjoy this throwback from 46 years ago — intimidating a few Priuses at the next stoplight while he’s at it. And while on the road, let’s hope he remembers to take that alarm key!

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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