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Corvette: America's Sports Car Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Hardcover)
Corvette: America's Sports Car Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Hardcover)

Corvette C3 Evolution and History 
Patterned after the Makro Shark II concept car designed by Larry Shinoda, the Chevrolet Corvette C3 was the third, and longest-running, generation of the popular Corvette. It was produced from 1968 to 1982.

Hot Introduction

The C3 was introduced to the world in a most unusual fashion. It's first production year, 1968, was also the inaugural year of a popular new toy: Mattel's now-famous Hot Wheels line of 1/64-scale die-cast cars. GM had meant to keep the car more of a secret until it was ready to launch, but the release of the first Hot Wheels cars included a "Custom Corvette" a General Motors-authorized model of the 1968 car about to be introduced.

Evolution of a Legend

While the original C3 was produced in 1968, it very quickly began to evolve. In 1969, a year after its introduction, GM had already enlarged their small-block V8 to 350 cubic inches (5.7 Liters) and the ZL1 option was offered, which included an all-aluminum 427 big-blog engine, which was rated at 430 hp, but could actually achieve at least 530 hp according to anecdotal evidence, which unfortunately makes insuring your Corvette much more expensive for this model. This option came with a price tag that was $4,700 higher than the base price of the car, and only two such models were ever built.

In 1970, it was the 427 big-block V8's turn to grow, and it was enlarged to 454 cubic inches (7.4 Liters). The 1970 and '71 Corvette C3's represented the peak of C3 power, with the LT-1 small-block (1970) pushing out 370 hp and the 454 big-block spending its last year (1971) of serious power output cranking out 425 hp.

In 1972, General Motors moved away from the SAE Gross standard of measuring power to the SAE Net standard currently in use. The result was lower values of reported horsepower. This, combined with a concurrent move to unleaded fuel and its lower compression ratios, catalytic converters and emission controls, pushed engine power into a steady decline that would finally bottom out in 1975 with the base L48 engine, which provided only 165 hp, while the optional L82 came in at 205 hp. Together, these engines represented the lowest ever Corvette power since the first year of production. Despite the reduced power, Car and Driver magazine listed the Corvette's zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 7.1 seconds to be the fastest American car of 1976.

For the rest of the Corvette C3's lifespan, power remained pretty much steady, with all California-spec Corvettes receiving a smaller 305 cubic-inch V8's with automatic transmissions in 1980, because of that state's more stringent emission regulations, but that was for one year only, while the rest of the U.S. had Corvettes with 350 V8 engines, and a choice of an automatic or four-speed manual transmissions. The C3 ended production in 1982 powered by the 200hp L83 engine. 

Style Trends

Powertrains may not have evolved every year, but the Corvette C3 did go through several style changes, though most were subtle. In 1973, the front chrome bumper was replaced with a urethane-compound "5 mph" bumper, though the rear bumpers were unchanged. In 1974, the rear bumpers were also replaced with the urethane version.

1975 was the last model year for the convertible Corvette, while the glass bubble rear window was introduced in 1978 for the car's 25th anniversary production would peak the next year, with 53,807 units sold in 1979. 1980 gave the Corvette an integrated aerodynamic redesign that significantly reduced drag. The same year also saw the introduction of many weight saving components, including thinner body panels, and an aluminum Dana 44 IRS differential.

In addition to the standard Corvette C3's there were also:

  • 1982 Collector Edition the first Corvette hatchback, with a cross-fire TBI fuel-injected engine pushing 200hp, and featuring aluminum wheels that echoed the look of the 1967 car. This was the first Corvette with a price over $20,000. The base price was $22,537.59.
  • Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars The C3 Coupe was chosen as the pace car for the 1978 race, and Chevrolet celebrated with a limited edition replica pace car (6502 units were produced) that had a two-tone black and silver color tone and sticker emblems.
  • ZR1 This was a special racing option package sold only with the LT-1 engine. It included power brakes, a revised suspension, and a solid-lifter small-block engine with a heavy-duty four-speed transmission. As a competition-legal car, power windows, power steering, air conditioning, wheel covers, a rear-window defogger, and a radio were all unavailable.
  • ZR-2 A one-year option planned for 1970, but officially released in 1971, and including all the features in the ZR1, but with the LS-6 engine. Only 12 cars were produced as ZR-2's.

Through many design changes, and a change in focus from speed and power to interior enhancements, smoother rides, and better fuel economy, the Corvette C3 had the most successful run of any car in Corvette history, remaining true to its initial concept to the last: a two seat sports car that cornered well, could sprint down the road, and always put a smile on the face of the person behind the wheel.


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Corvette (Vette) Model Years on this site: 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 30 C3 Vette Registry