Vintage Views: C3 Corvette


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If you grew up during the ’70s and ’80s, then you know there’s nothing much cooler than a C3 Corvette: those curvy lines, fat alloys and, of course, the strongest V8 of the day. The C3 Corvette was so cool that Luke Skywalker starred in a movie about one. Sure, the earlier Corvettes have more collector appeal and the later ones offer improved performance, but the 1968-’82 Corvette is today’s value classic.

“When I bought my car about 10 years ago I thought it looked amazing, and I still do,” explains 1977 Corvette owner and Car and Driver Features Editor Jeff Sabatini. “It’s one of the most outrageous designs ever to go into mass production. What I didn’t realize was how much attention the C3 gets. I routinely drive some pretty exceptional vehicles because of my job, and few new cars attract the sort of pointing, waves and thumbs-up that my Corvette does.”

Although it’s often associated with the low-output models of the mid-’70s, the C3 Corvette–so named as it’s the third generation offered–actually came out of the box swinging. The initial C3 Corvette could be ordered with a 427-cubic-inch, big-block engine packing 435 horsepower. High-winding small-blocks provided a lightweight alternative.

Today that performance can come with a price. Although values for pre-1970 Corvettes have settled after a recent spike, top-tier examples can still easily push up against the six-figure barrier.

That’s when you start looking a bit newer. According to Hagerty, a decent 1973 Corvette Coupe fitted with the 454-cubic-inch engine is a sub-$30,000 purchase. Still too much? How about a nice later model in mid-teens–or even less?

These later cars are easy to identify, too: Look for the urethane bumper covers. The 1973 cars paired a body-colored urethane front bumper with a chrome rear bumper, but starting the following year the rubber bumpers appeared at both ends. A fastback glass rear window gave the Corvette a new silhouette for 1978, and an aggressive nose became standard for 1980.

When shopping for a post-1973 Corvette, you’re pretty much looking at a 350-cubicinch V8 making about 200 horsepower–give or take a few depending on the year and exact engine spec. Most cars are going to have an automatic, and fuel injection didn’t show up until the 1982 model year. Even so, expect a zero-to-60 time somewhere in the 6-to-7-second range–about on par with a Porsche 911 of the day.

“I had no intention of doing anything with the car other than cruising or taking my daughter to the A&W, so the lack of performance was not really an issue,” Sabatini adds. “And since C3 coupes had removable T-tops, there was the attraction of an open-air car without paying a premium for a convertible.”

Looking for a value-priced cruiser–or a possible starting point for a track monster– that still turns heads decades after its introduction? The C3 Corvette may well scratch that itch.

Shopping and Ownership

Eckler’s Corvette has been serving that market for more than half a century, and the company’s R.J. Schmieder knows the model inside and out.

If you want the best deal on C3 performance, you’ll want a 1979-’82 model. Driver-quality cars can be had for as little as $3000 and make a great platform for your project.

Inspect the windshield posts, frames, door hinge pillars, rear crossmember, and under-dash bracing for visible rust. Because T-tops were prone to leaking, the windshield posts–known as the bird cage–were especially vulnerable to rust. Repairing them requires windshield removal and front end removal–a very difficult and expensive situation. Place a white towel under the door and open and close it a few times. If rust flakes appear, you’ll know you have serious rust issues.

Rewire any Corvette that’s 30 years old or older. This can get expensive, but it’s money well spent. Generally, it’s difficult to strip wiring more than 30 years old–oftentimes it crumbles. If you don’t address this problem, you will likely find yourself plagued with shorts and potential fire hazards.

You don’t need big-brake upgrades unless you’re driving on the track. High-performance brake pads, stainless brake lines and slotted rotors can do wonders.

A coil-over system is ideal for those who will be autocrossing or want more modern handling.

The Steeroids rack and pinion is lighter, more reliable, and provides improved feedback and better on-center feel.

Parts, Service and Community

Eckler’s Corvette
ecklerscorvette.com
(800) 284-3906

Mid America Motorworks
mamotorworks.com
(866) 350-4543

C3 Vette Registry
c3vr.com

The National Council of Corvette Clubs
corvettesnccc.org

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Comments
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Marc82
Marc82
4/17/18 12:36 p.m.

That 6-7 second 0-60 mph time for a 1975-82 Vette is a little optimistic. Road & Track got 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds for the Porsche 911 SC, and 7.7 seconds for a Corvette of similar vintage. The last 4 barrel C3 R&T tested got 0-60 mph in 9.2 seconds!! They got 8.2 seconds with a BMW 528i around the same time. Think about that, the BMW had 169 hp from 2.8 liters, the L48 Corvette 190 hp from 5.7 liters, both with 8:1 compression and 4 on the floor. C3s from the malaise era are cool, I have loved them since they were new, but the stock level of performance was sleepy. This applied to most cars of the era. Trouble was, with a 2 way cat you had to tune the motor to pass emissions (read lean out the carb and retard the ignition system), with a 3 way cat and lambda sond exhaust oxgen sensor and fuel injection, like some of the expensive imports had, you could tune the motor for performance and let the cat converter (a fancy filter) deal with the pollutants.

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Reader
4/17/18 12:54 p.m.
Marc82 said:

That 6-7 second 0-60 mph time for a 1975-82 Vette is a little optimistic. Road & Track got 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds for the Porsche 911 SC, and 7.7 seconds for a Corvette of similar vintage. The last 4 barrel C3 R&T tested got 0-60 mph in 9.2 seconds!! They got 8.2 seconds with a BMW 528i around the same time. Think about that, the BMW had 169 hp from 2.8 liters, the L48 Corvette 190 hp from 5.7 liters, both with 8:1 compression and 4 on the floor. C3s from the malaise era are cool, I have loved them since they were new, but the stock level of performance was sleepy. This applied to most cars of the era. Trouble was, with a 2 way cat you had to tune the motor to pass emissions (read lean out the carb and retard the ignition system), with a 3 way cat and lambda sond exhaust oxgen sensor and fuel injection, like some of the expensive imports had, you could tune the motor for performance and let the cat converter (a fancy filter) deal with the pollutants.

The late 70s to 1980 optional 4 bolt main l82 made in the 220 to 230 range stock.

And for early c3 remember the 435 tripower wasn’t the top there was the l88 Holley 850 carb and more cam with 12 to 1 and 12.5 to one compression ratio. And then the zl1 aluminum 427 which only 2 official production cars were made. It had even more cam then the l88.

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
4/17/18 4:51 p.m.

I've driven and worked on some C3s and they are very underwhelming in a lot of ways, but i will readily admit that they are still cool. Nuts and bolts are easy to me, so i can make a car faster and sharper and blah blah but i don't have the skillset to make something look like that, and even if i did it wouldn't have all the history attached to it that Corvette does. They're cool.

grover
grover Reader
4/17/18 5:08 p.m.

I had a 1979 red vette as a senior in hs in 1998.  It was pretty much a dog even then, but was fun to drive around.  Had a bit of trouble with rear end clunk, but it was a neat car.  I can legitimately say that you could see the gas gauge move on that thing when you stomped it.  Girls seemed to like my  1992 Celica GT-S I got later that year a lot better.  This mattered to me quite a bit at the time.  

mistanfo
mistanfo UltraDork
4/17/18 5:47 p.m.

But can you easily stuff an LSx and T56 in it? I ask only partly in jest...

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Reader
4/17/18 5:53 p.m.
mistanfo said:

But can you easily stuff an LSx and T56 in it? I ask only partly in jest...

The l48 and l82 can be built up to make plenty of power aswell.

te72
te72 Reader
4/17/18 9:52 p.m.

You know... I have a love / hate relationship with these cars. Love how they can be made to look WILD with some of the IMSA inspired widebody kits. Hate that they devolved into such a turd in the 70's, they talk the talk but then get walked away from by most sporting cars made in the decades since.

 

That said, those early C3's, with the more restrained styling? Really love those.

jdoc90
jdoc90 New Reader
4/17/18 11:44 p.m.

iron vortec heads  cam , performance intake ,msd, used supercharger , scrap metal bolts , tubing , bam .much more cubic fun units pretty cheaply , if spendy add a gearvendors , rear gear change , and get pretty good mileage too or a used 200 4r with a shift kit . these are like sports car mustang 5.0's build it any way ya want . My bro in law picked up an automatic 1979 for 1500$ needs floor pan repair and misc little stuff . he wanted a manual but my sis refuses to learn  lol.

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Reader
4/17/18 11:50 p.m.

And let’s look at amore expensive car for the period. The  Ferrari 308 fuel injection smog made a grand total of 202 hp initially .

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