1978 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replica

“Gerald Chouinard is upset. He wants to buy a new Chevrolet near his Aurora, Ill., home, but he says the dealer won’t sell it to him—even though Mr. Chouinard put down a $1,000 deposit last September and never quibbled about the price, which exceeds $13,000. Now Mr. Chouinard has gone to court….”

So began the story in the March 27, 1978, issue of the Wall Street Journal titled “Few Want to Drive This Car, but Many Are Eager to Buy It.” There was already an incredible buzz among the Corvette faithful about the upcoming 1978 Special Edition Corvette, better known as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replica, but this article now broke the news to the rest of the world. Already the market was getting crazy about this car, even though production had just begun the week before the story broke, and no one had seen the car in the flesh.

Only one Pace Car was allocated to each dealer, so the total production was 6,502, and the speculators traveled all over to put their deposit on as many coveted Pace Cars as they could find or afford.

What was missing from all this hoopla was that the 1978 Corvette was a pretty good vehicle. The ten-year-old body was freshened with the inclusion of the large fastback rear window. The all-new interior was much more comfortable with an increase in space. Power was becoming acceptable again, with the L82 option delivering 220 hp. Compared to the other cars of the late 1970s, the Corvette was in a class by itself.

Jim Rathmann, 1960 Indy 500, drove the actual Pace Car—an L82 automatic with Gymkhana suspension—during the 1978 race and reported, “I’ve been told the car is strictly stock, which doesn’t surprise me. I doubt if there’s a stock Corvette that wouldn’t handle well enough or run fast enough to pace the ‘500’.”

It’s a mystery why it took 25 years for the Corvette to be selected to pace the Indy 500, but that wait may have fueled the Pace Car feeding frenzy. And if you were looking for a ’78 Pace Car to buy today, this would be the one. It has the most collectible powertrain with the 350-ci L82 V8 and the 4-speed manual transmission. It is also equipped with the FE7 Gymkhana suspension, like the actual Pace Car. This ’78 has just 158 miles on the odometer, which is not that unusual, but it is one of the rare Pace Cars that escaped the speculators, having been owned by the original dealer until a few months before the sale. The original window sticker is still in place on the right door glass.