1975 was the nadir. The base motor was down to 165 hp-the lowest since Chevy abandoned the Blue Flame Six in 1955

The 1970s included some great years for the Corvette-Corvette fans still get slightly dizzy at the mention of the L88 and L71 engine options. Unfortunately, those were the other '70s, the pre-disco, Vietnam-era early '70s that were really more like a brief encore to the '60s. The real '70s, the post-1973 Watergate/disco '70s, were not especially kind to America's only sports car.

The twin whammies of bumper and pollution legislation hit all the major manufacturers with full force in 1974. They responded with varying degrees of success. Nobody got it completely right. Among the worst was MG. A terrible response to the bumper regulations and power that went from adequate to a joke. Porsche seemed to do best. Their answer to the bumpers was excellent, and electronic fuel injection plus a displacement increase coped with the pollution issues while keeping power up (only later did owners discovere that the engines cooked and disassembled themselves).


The Corvette, like most of the others, got it half right. The urethane-covered front and rear bumpers that debuted in 1974, while maybe not as flashy as the chrome they replaced, were nonetheless a surprisingly clean solution. In the power department, however, the car let down the legions of Corvette fans. The big block 454 expired (along with real dual exhaust) in 1974. But by then, the big block was down to a pathetic 270 hp, or adjusted for gross vs. net horsepower, about what the base small block put out a few years earlier. News was worse for the 350-the base motor was under 200 hp, putting out just 190 hp. It only got worse. 1975 was the nadir. The base motor was down to 165 hp (the lowest since Chevy abandoned the Blue Flame Six in 1955). The "hot" L82 gave only 205 hp.

The only good news was that everyone was suffering, and these Corvettes were still among the most powerful cars of the model year. A few undeniably positive things occurred during these years. Former options like power steering, power brakes, and leather upholstery were made standard. And lamentable as these 'Vettes may be to the faithful, they really aren't that bad to live with, nor are they as pitifully slow as one might think.


Most road tests reported 0-60 times in the mid sevens to the mid eights, as fast as a contemporary 911 or a Ferrari 308GT4 and considerably quicker than a Datsun 280Z. Handling, while hardly nimble in the Porsche or Alfa mold, was respectable, especially with the Gymkhana suspension option. And the urethane bumpers left most of the "mako shark" looks intact until 1978, when, unable to offer anything radical like the promised mid-engine or Wankel Corvettes, an ungainly fishbowl rear window was added.

Like the 1968-73 cars, the 1974-77 'Vettes are starting to look better as the years go by, especially with the slotted alloy wheels that became available after 1973. They are certainly plentiful enough, and at the prices they are trading for, it makes no sense to buy a project.


Accident damage and frame rust are the primary issues to look for. Feel behind panels for factory bonding strips and rough or poorly finished areas indicative of repairs. Headlights should go up and down in unison and fit well when retracted. Another quick way to check for accident damage is to open the fuel filler lid. The gas cap should be centered-if the frame has been tweaked at some point, the tank and the filler neck will have shifted, moving the cap off center.

Panel fit on Corvettes should be reasonably good. Doors and hoods were often ground or trimmed to fit when the cars were assembled. Finally, a certain amount of waviness is acceptable on the sides of the car. They are, after all, plastic rather than steel.

While Corvette bodies don't rust, chassis certainly do. The most likely places are just in front of the rear wheels and where the frame curves up over the rear suspension. Always have an expert check the condition of the chassis.

Corvette interiors present no particular restoration issues. There are no expensive wood veneers to refinish or wool carpet to replace. A complete interior can be purchased inexpensively and an advanced do-it-yourselfer is capable of installing it.

Corvettes are notoriously robust mechanically, and the cast-iron pushrod engines are tough as nails. If the C-3 Corvette has an Achilles heel, it is the rear suspension. Hubs, half shafts, wheel bearings, and differential mounts should be looked at carefully, especially in 454-ci cars, although with less horsepower and torque to deal with, this is less of a problem than in earlier cars.


Aside from a convertible, the car to have would probably be an L82 four-speed with air and alloys in a good period color like orange. But from a collecting standpoint, these cars will always lag far behind the chrome bumper C-3 cars with real horsepower. (Of course, by now, most of the Corvettes from this era have been updated with far more powerful engines, often at the expense of originality.) Nevertheless, the aforementioned convertibles, discontinued in 1975 as part of the great open car mass-extinction, and L82 cars do bring a bit more money.

In general, 1974-77 Corvettes have been appreciating modestly. A few years back, they were plentiful in the $7,000-$8,000 range for a standard coupe. Now, $10,000 is more like it. For that money, they represent a tremendous bargain. While an underachiever for a Corvette, you still get a V8 rumble, decent looks, and reasonable performance. When your alternatives for around $10,000 are a Datsun Z car and something like a Triumph TR8, a mid-'70s 'Vette can look fairly compelling.

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