"Gerald Chouinard is upset. He wants to buy a new Chevrolet near his Aurora, Ill., home, but he says the dealer won’t sell it to him—even though Mr. Chouinard put down a $1,000 deposit last September and never quibbled about the price, which exceeds $13,000. Now Mr. Chouinard has gone to court....”

So began the story in the March 27, 1978, issue of the Wall Street Journal titled “Few Want to Drive This Car, but Many Are Eager to Buy It.” There was already an incredible buzz among the Corvette faithful about the upcoming 1978 Special Edition Corvette, better known as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replica, but this article now broke the news to the rest of the world. Already the market was getting crazy about this car, even though production had just begun the week before the story broke, and no one had seen the car in the flesh.

Only one Pace Car was allocated to each dealer, so the total production was 6,502, and the speculators traveled all over to put their deposit on as many coveted Pace Cars as they could find or afford.

What was missing from all this hoopla was that the 1978 Corvette was a pretty good vehicle. The ten-year-old body was freshened with the inclusion of the large fastback rear window. The all-new interior was much more comfortable with an increase in space. Power was becoming acceptable again, with the L82 option delivering 220 hp. Compared to the other cars of the late 1970s, the Corvette was in a class by itself.

Jim Rathmann, 1960 Indy 500, drove the actual Pace Car—an L82 automatic with Gymkhana suspension—during the 1978 race and reported, “I’ve been told the car is strictly stock, which doesn’t surprise me. I doubt if there’s a stock Corvette that wouldn’t handle well enough or run fast enough to pace the ‘500’.”

It’s a mystery why it took 25 years for the Corvette to be selected to pace the Indy 500, but that wait may have fueled the Pace Car feeding frenzy. And if you were looking for a ’78 Pace Car to buy today, this would be the one. It has the most collectible powertrain with the 350-ci L82 V8 and the 4-speed manual transmission. It is also equipped with the FE7 Gymkhana suspension, like the actual Pace Car. This ’78 has just 158 miles on the odometer, which is not that unusual, but it is one of the rare Pace Cars that escaped the speculators, having been owned by the original dealer until a few months before the sale. The original window sticker is still in place on the right door glass.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1978 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replica
Years Produced:1978
Number Produced:6,502 Pace Cars (46,776 total)
Original List Price:$14,219.21
SCM Valuation:$20,000–$40,000
Tune Up Cost:$150
Distributor Caps:$19.99
Chassis Number Location:VIN plate on driver’s side dash at base of windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad on front of block below right cylinder head
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society 6291 Day Rd. Cincinnati, OH 45252-1334
Alternatives:1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am; 1978 Chevrolet Z/28; 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra
Investment Grade:C

This car sold for $52,800, including buyer’s premium, at the 39th Annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, on January 22, 2010.

In the 93 runnings of the Indianapolis 500, Corvettes have paced the race ten times—1978, ’86, ’95, ’98, 2002, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, and ’08.

The black and silver Pace Car replica is all anybody connects to the 1978 model at this point, but that year also saw a number of changes. The fastback window created more space, but it wasn’t a hatchback, so getting anything back there was a trial. The glass heated up the interior too, but at least there was a retracting cover for security.

Inside, the gauges were redesigned in a squarer mode and a glovebox was added. Door panels were new, with removable armrests, and the windshield wiper and washer controls moved back to the instrument panel.

Chevrolet planned 300 sets of “Corvette” tires

Chevrolet was originally going to build 300 limited-edition cars for 1978, to honor the 300 Corvettes built in 1953. The company even considered making 300 sets of Goodyear tires with the word “Corvette” on the side, but cooler heads prevailed.

Instead, the company bowed to the demands of the 6,502 Chevrolet dealers and built one car for each. Had GM stuck to the original plan, the story of Corvette’s first Pace Car may have been very different. The reality, however, was that supply eventually far outstripped demand.

The speculators who got in early and got the cars and then “flipped” them for a quick sale probably turned a decent profit. Those who paid a premium for their Pace Cars (some paid as much as $75k) and those who held on to them hoping for greater gains, soon learned they owned the investment equivalent of burying cash in a coffee can. Until now.

Plenty of “brand new” examples stashed

It seems most ’78 Pace Cars on the market are high-mile, well-worn examples that sell for very little (but at least these owners got some enjoyment out of them). There are plenty of “brand new” Pace Cars salted away in climate-controlled storage, but they are rarely seen in the market, as their value has been so low.

The sale of this Pace Car for $52,800 changes everything. While it is much too early to claim that the Pace Car’s time has come, I won’t be surprised to see a few more of these like-new cars cross auction blocks in the near future, and it will be interesting to see if this sale was an anomaly, or if the market is finally ready for a perfectly preserved Pace Car with the correct options. The bar has been raised, but until we see a few more sales at this level, I’d have to call this car very well sold.

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