Facts & History
The C3 (1968-1982)
Under Bill Mitchell’s direction, Larry Shinoda designed the third-generation Corvette, which was based on the Mako Shark II show car designed by Shinoda and displayed in 1965. The 1968 Corvette had a flamboyant shape with fenders arching over the tires, minimal chrome, sleek pop-up headlights and a slight duck-tailed rear-end. The coupe featured removable roof T-tops. Although the body was new, the chassis and drivetrain were carried over from the previous generation. The base engine was a 300hp 327ci small-block V8 with a four-barrel carburetor. Engine options included the 350hp 327ci engine and the big-block 427ci engines.
The 1968 Corvette was a success with the public and GM sold 9,936 coupes and 18,630 convertibles. The 1969 Corvette was similar to the 1968. A “Stingray” script was added to the front fenders, and side mount exhausts were an option. In 1970 fender louvers replaced the four vertical slots used in the 1968-69 models. In addition, a special solid-lifter version of the 350ci engine was available, designated the LT1. It generated 370hp. The 427ci engine was replaced with a big-block 454ci engine.
The 1970 production was shortened by a labor dispute, and the 1971 Corvette was treated as an extension of the 1970 production. There were minimal changes although federal emission controls became stricter, resulting in lower compression ratios. The 1972 Corvette was the “end of an era.” It was the last C3 to feature front and rear chrome bumpers and side-fender grills. It was also the only year the LT1 engine was offered with air conditioning.
The front bumper was redesigned in 1973 to meet federal standards. The steel front bumper was covered with a urethane plastic while the rear bumper remained unchanged from 1972. For the first time, radial tires were standard, and the side vents were replaced with single openings. Power was dropped - the base 350ci engine produced 190hp and the optional “L-82” 350ci engine produced 250hp. The 454ci engine was rated at 275hp.
1974 was the last year of the big-block 454ci engine. In addition, the transition to “soft” bumpers was completed with a rear body colored bumper to match the front. After 1974, Corvettes were tuned to run on unleaded gas, and there was a switch to catalytic converters in 1975. Demand for convertibles waned, and in 1975 only 4,629 convertibles were produced. In 1975 the small-block “L-82” was the only engine option. 1975 was the last C3 convertible.
In 1976 the carburetor air induction system was revised, and the hood was unique to that year. The base “L-48” engine produced 180hp, and the “L-82” engine was rated at 210hp. In 1976 and 1977 there were record sales of Corvettes. Leather upholstery had become standard in 1977.
Chevrolet celebrated the Corvette’s twenty-fifth year in 1978 with a new “fastback” rear end styling. There was a large rear window with more luggage space behind the seats. The interior was also re-designed. The base “L-48” engine produced 185hp while the “L-82” engine was rated at 220hp. The Corvette was chosen as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 and 6,502 replica Corvette pace cars were produced. These cars had two-tone paint, black over silver metallic, with a bright red pin stripe between them.
The twin-snorkel air cleaner was used in all Corvettes in 1979. In addition, the “L-82” lower back-pressure mufflers were used. These changes gave the 1979 base “L-48” engine an increase in horsepower to 195hp.
The 1980 Corvette was 250 lbs lighter and Chevy sold 40,614 coupes. The 1981 Corvette was built simultaneously in two locations - the new factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky and in St. Louis. The 1981 Corvette had a twin throttle-body fuel-injection system instead of a carburetor. This was the first Corvette “fuelie” since 1965. The 1982 Corvette was the last of the C3 generation and Chevy offered a Collector Edition. This Corvette was the first to break the $20,000 price barrier.