The 1970s included some high points for the Corvette; ’Vette people still get weak in the knees at the mention of the L88 and L71 engine options. Unfortunately, those were the other ’70s, the pre-disco, Vietnam-era, early ’70s that were really more like a brief holdover from the ’60s. The real 1970s, the post-Vietnam, Watergate/disco ’70s, were not especially kind to America’s only sports car. The twin whammies of bumper and pollution legislation hit all the major manufacturers with full force in 1974, and most responded with varying degrees of success. Nobody got it completely right. But for a retrofit to a design that dated to the early ’60s, the Corvette’s urethane-covered bumpers (front only in 1973 and front and rear for 1974) were well integrated, if not as attractive as the thin chrome pieces they replaced. Not as successful was Chevy’s approach to emission control. Where more expensive European rivals like Porsche went with Bosch electronic fuel injection for 1974, Chevy stayed with a carburetor and relied on lean running, air injection, retarded timing, and lowered compression to tackle emissions regulations. Letting down the legion of fans As a result, the 1974 version let down the legions of Corvette fans used to the pavement-pounding cars of the ’60s and early ’70s. The LS4 454 option expired (along with real dual exhaust) after 1974. But by the last year of the big block, it was down to just 270 net hp, or, adjusted for net vs. gross horsepower, little more than what the base small block put out a few years earlier, and just 20 hp more than the L82 350. News was worse for the base L48 motor. Its output sank below 200 hp; it was rated at just 195 hp for 1974. Nineteen seventy-five was the low point. Output of the base L48 motor sank to 165 hp (the lowest since Chevy abandoned the Blue Flame Six in 1955). The “hot” L82 gave only 205 hp. Four-speeds became relatively rare and sadly, the convertible was dropped after 1975 when it looked like the U.S. would outlaw convertibles; truthfully, the model had been sagging in popularity. Recession, inflation, and post-Vietnam malaise, rising insurance rates, and stringent pollution regulations made for sad times in general. It’s no wonder people constantly had to remind each other to “have a nice day.” The only good news was that everyone was suffering and even the 1974–77 Corvettes were among the fastest and most powerful cars of their respective model years. And a few undeniably positive things occurred during these years. Former options like power steering, power brakes, and leather upholstery were made standard. And lamentable as these ’Vettes may be to fans of mid-year cars and early C3s, they really aren’t that bad to live with, nor are they as pitifully slow as one might think. Not as slow as you might think Most road tests reported 0–60 times in the mid-sevens to the low eights and quarter-mile times in the mid-15 second range, depending on the engine option. This meant they were as quick as a contemporary Porsche 911, Jaguar E-type V12, or Ferrari 308 GT4 and considerably quicker than a Datsun 280Z. Handling was as good as the C3 platform got when the Gymkhana suspension option was ordered. There was no domestic car of the era worth the comparison, as the Mustang was virtually missing in action with the Pinto-based Mustang II. Ford’s real sports car, the Italo-American DeTomaso Pantera, with a 264-hp 351, cost double a Corvette, was half as practical, and twice as troublesome. Accident damage and frame rust are the primary issues to look for with any C3 Corvette. Feel behind panels to make sure the factory bonding strips are still there. Rough or poorly finished areas indicate fiberglass repairs. Headlights should go up and down in unison and fit well when retracted. Another quick way to check for accident damage is to open the fuel filler lid. The gas cap should be roughly centered. If the frame has been tweaked at some point, the tank and the filler neck will have shifted, moving the cap drastically off center. Panel fit on Corvettes should be reasonably good. Doors and hoods were often ground or trimmed to fit when the cars were being assembled. Finally, a certain amount of waviness is acceptable on the sides of the car. They are, after all, plastic rather than steel. While Corvette bodies don’t rust, chassis certainly do. The most likely places are just in front of the rear wheels and where the frame curves up over the rear suspension. Always have an expert check the condition of the chassis and the “birdcage”—the steel windshield and cowl support. Corvette interiors present no particular restoration issues. There are no expensive wood veneers to refinish or wool carpet to replace. Leather seat covers generally cost a few hundred more than vinyl. It’s a nice upgrade, as the vinyl patterns on some of the 1974–77 cars are not particularly attractive. A complete interior can be purchased inexpensively and an advanced do-it-yourselfer is capable of installing it. Corvettes are notoriously robust mechanically. Cast iron pushrod engines are tough as nails. If the C3 Corvette has an Achilles heel, it is the rear suspension. Hubs, half shafts, wheel bearings, and differential mounts should be looked at carefully, especially in 454 cars, although with significantly less horsepower and torque, this isn’t as much of a problem as in earlier big-block cars. Starting to look better as time goes by While no match for the ’68–72 cars, the ’74–77 Vettes are starting to look better as the years go by, especially cars with the handsome slotted aluminum wheels that became common after 1975. They are certainly plentiful enough and at the prices they are trading for, it makes no sense to buy a project. From a collecting standpoint, a 4-speed LS4 convertible from 1974 probably stands at the top of the heap, followed by a similar coupe. Expect to pay well over $20,000 for a good big-block convertible. After that, a 1974 L82 convertible would be relatively desirable. But any well-optioned coupe with air in a funky 1970s color like Orange Flame or Bright Yellow would be a pleasant driver. In general, 1974–77 Corvettes have been appreciating modestly. A few years back, they were plentiful in the $6,000–$7,000 range for a standard coupe without issues. Now, $8,000–$9,000 is more like it. For that money, they represent a tremendous bargain. While perhaps an underachiever for a Corvette, you still get V8 rumble, good looks, and reasonable performance. When your alternatives for an under-$10,000 V8 “performance” car from the 1970s include a Mustang II Cobra, the Corvettes of 1974 to 1977 look fairly compelling.
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