Sunday, April 19, 2020

Danville Street Sighting - 1977 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Many of you are no doubt stuck at home during the now infamous COVID-19 lockdown. I've been out of the loop on blogging for the past months and not producing much content, even though I continue to photograph cars and have a fair number of them archived. So, for your viewing pleasure, let's look at a 1977 Chevy Corvette Stingray. I enjoyed photographing this one during the sunny summer months last year.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the third generation (C3) Corvette. I adore the early ones, 1968 to '72. After that, the gradual addition of federal crash bumpers and smog equipment made the cars a little less "muscle car" and more "disco cruiser". The Corvette wasn't alone; that's where the whole industry was going during the decade. Laws are laws and beyond that, market forces drive car design. Whatever GM did was working. Corvette sales increased during the 1970s, hitting a peak of nearly 54,000 cars in 1979. The outgoing 2014-2019 C7 Corvette never moved more than 41,000 units in its best model year. The only other Corvette that ever approached the C3's level of sales success was the all-new 1984 C4, a game changer after twelve years of the Coke-bottle C3. (Nearly 51,000 units for those keeping score). What was it about this plastic fantastic sports car that made the C3 such a hit?

Well, one possible reason is that the 1970s and early '80s were the era of the personal luxury coupe. That may have had something to do with it, since you can't get much more "personal" than a two seater sports car. The Corvette is a halo model, even if the luxury aspect is lacking. It's a luxury car the way Burt Reynolds' Trans Am was a luxury car. Kind of brash, a little bit exotic, fast enough to set it apart from most other cars on the road, well appointed inside, and yet still affordable enough that a middle class buyer could get one working a decent job. If you wanted an actual luxury coupe, save up for a Coupe DeVille, Continental Mark series or maybe a Mercedes. None of those would handle or go (...or stop) like a Corvette. It seems highly unlikely to me that anyone in 1977 cross-shopped a Corvette with other supposedly sporty options like the Mustang II Cobra or Dodge Charger SE. Maybe a higher spec Camaro Z-28 or a Datsun 280Z. A Corvette was a choice, a car you bought because you wanted it. If you had Porsche 930 or Ferrari 308 money you probably went upmarket and bought one of those. A Mercedes 450SL was $22,000 at a time when you could get a brand-new Vette for $9,000. In today's dollars that's equivalent to $96,000 for the Benz and a mere $38,000 base price for the Corvette.

Corvettes sold in California had their own special engine specifications thanks to California's relatively onerous emissions standards -- a good thing for the environment but frustrating to this day for car enthusiasts. Thanks to our hard exemption cut-off date of 1975, this car must be emissions compliant in perpetuity or until the unlikely event the law changes. Cali-spec Vettes received a 350 cubic inch L48 V8 engine with a whopping 180 horsepower and 270 lb/ft of torque standard. Ticking the L82 option box netted 210 horses with higher compression, but less torque at 255 lb/ft. Both engines could be had with a four speed manual or three speed automatic transmission. Both would get you up to the 55 mph speed limit adequately. Interestingly, option YF5, California emissions certification, accounted for only 4,084 cars. Did Chevy really only sell so few in the Golden State that year?

The car you see here represents the last year the C3 was marketed as the Stingray. Late '77s switched from "Stingray" script badging on the fenders to the trademark crossed flags seen here. It is also the last year the Corvette had a flying buttress roof design, as the '78 introduced a wraparound fastback rear window for aerodynamics, visibility and more storage space. This one is a T-top car finished in a fetching, non-stock burnt orange metallic described as "Copper" on the for sale sheet. Notably the '77 came stock with the windshield frame painted black for a thinner appearance, but that wasn't done here on the repaint. The for sale sign listed the car as having new 15-inch Rally wheels and a lot of work done to the powertrain and suspension. I am guessing the interior was recently redone as well, since it has 1978 25th Anniversary edition seat medallions. This one began with the base L48 engine, but it was retrofitted with a 5-speed manual transmission and an Edelbrock performance intake among other upgrades.

Some of the great things about a late C3 Corvette are they're fairly common, not prohibitively expensive to buy and build, and have a lot of aftermarket support for parts and body components. They're eye-catching, even with the abundance of painted plastic in place of cool '60s chrome. The biggest downside is for people like me in California who have those pesky smog laws. I'm sure a GM crate 350 runs plenty clean while making lots more power than the 8.5:1 compression lump it came with. You can do amazing things with a GM small block. And a Vette like this can be a fun toy for back roads, highways or just cruising in town with the T-tops off, soaking up the California sun.

Photographed June 2019

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