Chronological History of C3 Corvettes

 

History of the third generation Corvette 1968-1982: A brief look at 15 years of corvette production though reference material, factory literature, and personal observations. 

These are my observations of 15 years of Corvette history.  The car grew over the years and the emphasis was more on interior refinements and creature comforts, softer rides and better fuel economy.  For all it’s size and optional features, the car remained true to it’s original design, a car able to enter a corner with speed and come out of it with great control, a car capable of covering the road with a sprint and spirit that made the driver smile as he/she drove through the gears.  I hope that you enjoy reading one man’s personal recollection of the most successful run in Corvette history.  And despite some trepidation, when government infringed itself on the industry, the Corvette remained true to itself as a two seat sports car.

Author: Chris Merckx - Respected Corvette Enthusiast and Historian

1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1968 Corvette

A new body introduced that sat on the framework of the mid-year Stingray (1963-1967), the new '68 was a toned down version of the 1965 Mako Shark ll show car.  It came in convertible and coupe styles.  On the coupe, some stylistic features included the industry’s first t-top roof with two removable roof sections and a removable rear window giving the car a convertible feel.  Very exciting for the times, the car had hideaway headlights, hidden windshield wipers and a new three speed Turbo-Hydramatic transmission to replace the previous Powerglide.  There were six engine choices available from a 327 to a 427 with numerous horsepower ratings available.  A long list of optional features allowed the customer to build the perfect sports car suited to their individual tastes.  This was the first American car design to eliminate the side vent window from the door.  A base 1968 sold for $4,663.00 and included a 327 300 hp and a three speed manual transmission with a vinyl trimmed interior.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1969 Corvette

For '69 a new door entry handle was introduced that eliminated the push button and hand flap from 1968.  Instead, the release mechanism was incorporated into the hand flap, a very futuristic design for it’s day!  The passenger compartment was widened by one inch.  This was accomplished by shrinking the thickness of the door panels.  Also, air induction was improved to help alleviate the car’s proneness to overheating.   The passenger side of the dash received three little pockets that came to be known as “map pockets”.  Buyers still had the choice of no fewer than six engine /transmission combinations.  Wheels were widened to 8 inches and tires were still of bias ply construction.  The base  motor  was now a 350 and 1969 was the last year for the three speed manual transmission.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1970 Corvette

A new design on the side fender vents brought a crosshatch grill type cover.  Refinements continued as the fenders were now flared to reduce stone chip damage.  Big block displacement increased to 454 cubic inches.  This year saw the introduction of the solid lifter LT-1 producing 370 HP  in the 350 engine.  Also, 1970 was the first ZR-1 designation for a “special engine package”

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1971 Corvette

If you liked the 1970 model, then you loved the 1971. There were very few changes, mainly due to a strike which shortened the production run.  Engine choices were down to just four and this was the last year the fiber optic light monitor system was on board.

 

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1972 Corvette

Appearance changes were few for 1972, the last of the true chrome bumper (front and rear) Corvettes.  The fiber optics system was gone, a bright egg crate grill was introduced, side fender grills were functional and this was the last Corvette that the rear window could be removed and stowed (coupe).  Engine choices were now down to three.  The base 350, the special 350 LT-1  and the 454 big block were now designed to run on the soon to be available and mandated low lead fuels, a sign of the changing  times and a peek at things to come.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1973 Corvette

This was the car that became the whipping post for Road and Track magazine as they were already and had even projected an “all new” mid engine Corvette!  When the ’73 model debuted with some more subtle changes, mainly a new urethane covered front bumper that could withstand a 5 mph bump and the now fixed rear window, plus the first year that Corvette rode on steel belted radial tires; well, they were a bit embarrassed and from this point on, the Corvette (to them) became a car to bemoan and put down.  My personal observations do not reflect those of R&T.  On the '73, better sound insulation knocked down the interior decibels and the body mounts were redesigned to give a softer ride.  There were a reported 4000 VINs missing from 1973 production (24001-28000) and production totaled 30,464.  However, the VINs end at 34464.  The hood was redesigned to eliminate the windshield wiper hatch.  There were steel beams in the doors now to give some added side collision protection and generally speaking, the car was becoming more of a personal car rather than a brutish sports car.  The first oil embargo was about to grip the nation and something Americans had always taken for granted suddenly became threatened.  Engine choices were now down to three.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1974 Corvette

1974 was a year of more refinements, less power output, and the last year for the big block engine.  Rear bumpers were now urethane covered with a center split, radial tires were available in black sidewall, raised white letter or white sidewall stripe.  A couple of suspension options included RPO FE-7 gymkhana suspension which was designed for those who liked a slightly stiffer ride,  and RPO  ZO-7 was an off road suspension and brake package.  Only 47 cars were ZO-7 equipped.  Once again, the car was growing more in the flavor of boulevard cruiser than flat out sports car and the options chosen by the buying public reflected that.  Out of the total production run of 37,502 only 3,494 big blocks were ordered and only 6,690 of the L-82 higher output 350 were ordered.  The majority of consumers felt the base motor linked with the manual or automatic was plenty sporty enough for them.  Also, this was the last year for true dual exhaust and the last year Corvette could run on regular leaded gasoline (91 minimum  octane).

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1975 Corvette

New for ’75 was a one piece rear bumper cover along with the front and rear bumpers receiving two little black extensions known as bumperettes.  The big block was gone!  Engine choices were now down to two.  The base L-48 350 was rated at 165 BHP and even the optional L-82 only produced 205 BHP.  This would be the last year for the convertible body as the buying public opted more and more for the coupe, plus the fact that convertibles were being phased out industry wide.  Corvette firsts for 1975 included catalytic converters which required unleaded gasoline, no true “dual exhaust” as the pipes were routed into a forward “y” pipe through a single converter and split into twin mufflers by a rear “y” pipe and high energy ignition which supposedly lengthened the service intervals for tune-ups and such.  Still, for a sticker price at around $7,000.00 with options, it was still considered a bargain in high performance machinery.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1976 Corvette

America’s bicentennial saw minor exterior changes for the 1976 Corvette and a “4 spoke” steering wheel outraged many corvette owners as the wheel could be found on several Chevrolet cars including the Vega.  The engine data plate would make it’s last appearance and the car was gearing toward creature comforts.  The hood was a one year design as air induction by the windshield was “tunneled” through a hollow duct on the underside of the hood to bring in air closer to the radiator eliminating more interior noise.  Earlier production '76 rear bumper covers had a tightly scripted corvette emblem which was replaced during later production by a larger script.  The Stingray script on the fenders would also make it’s last appearance.  All in all, still a great and reliable sports car.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1977 Corvette

A “carry over” year (much like the 1967) the refinements were numerous throughout the production run.  Early cars had orange painted engines and no fender script.  The only fender adornment was the alarm key tumbler for the early '77 production.  The interior was ramped up with leather seats now standard, the rear view mirror was now affixed to the windshield and the sun visors actually swiveled to the side to give some protection from side glare.  A new three spoke leather wrapped steering wheel adorned the optional tilt telescopic column, engine HP remained the same as 1976, 180 for (L-48), 210 for (L-82), the shifter was shortened by one inch and the steering column by two inches to aid entry and exit.  A pair of cross flags appeared on the front fenders after a few thousand cars had been built.  Later, the alarm switch was incorporated into the driver’s door tumbler and only cross flags adorned the fenders.  The brushed aluminum  horn cap was recalled as a safety issue to have it replaced by one painted to match the interior color, the firestone 500 steel radials were also a subject of recall due to the steel belts separating.  The Goodyear Steelgard radials were not affected.  The interior’s redesigned console allowed for the entire line of Delco radios to be installed and the buyer could now opt for an 8 track tape player as well as the mono and stereo am/fm radio.  This was the first year cruise control was available in Corvette with the automatic transmission, headlight high beams, wiper/wash controls were now incorporated on the turn signal stalk.  1977 proved to be a super Corvette and even today, it is one of the most overlooked bargains in sporting machinery.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1978 Corvette

1978 was the 25th anniversary model with a new “fastback” glass roof line that looked like it should have been an open hatch style but was fixed.  And, Chevrolet produced a stunning two tone light silver over charcoal paint scheme (RPO B2Z) which was the most popular color choice for the year that produced 15,283 Corvettes in that combination.  To mark this historic milestone in the car’s history, Corvette for the first time was chosen to pace the 1978 Indianapolis 500 in May of that year.  Chevrolet produced 6502 replica pace cars from March through May of 1978 with each car having it’s own special VIN ending  in 900001-906502.  These cars were priced to reflect the “limited” production run with a price tag over 13K.  For this you got the special B78 paint scheme of black over silver with red accent stripe, front and rear spoilers (bolt on) leather/cloth leather interior in silver only, new clamshell seats that were lighter and folded flat allowing easier access to the rear stowage area, glass roof panels in a silver tint finish  and decals to adorn the car that were to be dealer installed at the customer’s request.  We saw a speculator’s market ensue these cars pushing the asking prices up into the mid-twenties (even higher) in some cases.  Today, a decent pace car will still bring mid 20-30 K.  New for this year was a larger fuel tank that was increased from 18 gallons to 24 gallons by the introduction of the smaller spare tire.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1979 Corvette

1979 saw a new front nose emblem and gas lid emblem.  Cross flags were the exterior adornment for 1979.  Production topped out at a whopping 53,807 coupes which still stands to this day as the all time sales/production record for Corvette.  The interior received the clamshell seats that were similar but not quite the same as those on last year’s pace car.  The pace car spoiler package was carried over as optional equipment and the car was just a great all around sports car.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1980 Corvette

1980 saw a new shovel nose bumper incorporating spoilers and the rear bumper redesigned to include a spoiler as well.  The cross flags were elongated and flattened out a bit, the optional aluminum wheels were now highly polished and the engine choices grew to three including, the base L48, a 305 and the optional L-82 which required an automatic transmission.  Although there have been numerous claims over the years of a “few” early manual L-82 equipped corvettes being produced, I have personally never seen one and the sales brochure does not list it as an option in the power team choices. Lastly, a 305 CI engine was mandated for California only, also with the automatic transmission.  Inside we saw the speedometer federally regulated to read no greater than 85 mph and the rear stowage compartments behind the seats were now a two door design.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1981 Corvette

'81 was the last year for the manual transmission and engine choice (well you never had a choice) was down to one Federally  approved L-81 190 HP power plant that was certified in all 50 states.  More interior refinements included power mirrors and power driver’s seat.  A new state of the art facility opened in  Bowling  green,  Kentucky which replaced the St. Louis plant at the end of the model run.  For two and a half months Corvettes were produced at both St.  Louis, Missouri and Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Interesting fact here was that St. Louis still used lacquer paint while the Bowling green facility started a basecoat/clear coat paint finish.  Also, the two tone optional painted Corvettes were produced at Bowling Green,  About 100 cars that employees who worked at St. Louis and ordered Corvettes were able to have them two toned.

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1968 1969 1970 1971

1972

1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982

1982 Corvette

Once again for 1982, a one year engine choice, the L-83 “cross fire” fuel injected engine.  A special  beige commemorative edition was available throughout the production run and had special cloisonné emblems and turbine spoke wheels that harkened back to the knock off wheels of the mid year corvettes.  A special beige leather interior with multi colored accents and a rear window opened hatch style was included on the collector edition only.  There were 6759 collector editions produced in 1982 and the fuel economy was improved due to the injected engine and 4 speed automatic transmission.

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