Little Known C3 Corvette Stingray Facts
By: Bryan Powell
The Corvette Stingray has long been a popular car with people from all walks of life. The iconic shape of a Corvette Stingray can turn heads even today, 30 years after the last Stingray was produced. This article is intended to provide information regarding the Corvette Stingray to all Corvette fans, whether you already own a Corvette, are considering buying a Corvette, or just like interesting facts and figures regarding classic Corvettes.
The C3 Corvette Stingrays are the generation of Corvettes produced between 1968 and 1982. The general design idea for the Corvette Stingray was modeled after the Mako Shark II concept car. When the term "C3" is used, it refers to the fact that they are the 3rd generation of Corvettes. Each generation of Corvette was given a designation as such. The current Corvettes (as of 2011) are referred to as C6, or 6th generation Corvette. Each generation refers to any major changes that are made, such as body design, drivetrain, etc. Of course, each year model within a single generation varies slightly from one year to the next, yet they still retain the same general look and feel as the rest of their generation. In the case of C3 Corvettes, the engine and chassis components were mostly carried over from the previous generation, however the body and interior were new, thus the new generation designation. This can be very useful when looking for information regarding a specific year Corvette, as most Corvette enthusiasts refer to the generation more frequently than a specific year or range of years.
One of the most obvious facts that stands out about the C3 Corvette is that it was the first use of T-top removable roof panels in a Corvette. Many of the 3rd generation Corvettes had removable glass or fiberglass tops that allow the driver or passengers to remove the roof panels, therefore allowing a more open top.This was a rather novel concept at the time, and it was not the originally intended design. The designers initially wanted to make the car a Targa Top, which means the entire roof panel is removable, hence the shortened name T-Top. After testing, the engineers determined that the lack of a support brace in the middle proved structurally insufficient for the powerful V-8 engines. This combined with the fact that the body was made of fiberglass made for a potential design flaw that could cause the body to flex under acceleration, resulting in cracked windshields, chipped paint, and other complications. As such, the designers added the brace in the middle, which seemed to resemble the letter T. The name remained "T-Top" even though the design was changed substantially from the original and the name was meant to reflect the previous design.
During the C3 years, GM made many attempts to further the development of the Corvette, which ultimately has led to the current design. One such attempt, which is also a relatively little known fact, is that there was once a Rotary Engine Corvette. In 1970, Chevrolet licensed the Wankel rotary engine (similar to the type used in the famed Mazda RX7 and RX8) and began building a two-rotor and a four-rotor Corvette in its testing and experimental department. A fiberglass mockup was approved in June 1971 by then GM President Ed Cole. On September 13, 1973 a 266 cubic inch two-rotor Corvette was displayed in Frankfurt, Germany. The four-rotor 390 cubic inch Corvette was put on display in Paris, France on Oct. 4, 1973, as well as the two-rotor. The 2-rotor engine GM developed was a fuel and oil hungry engine, and wasn't practical for production. On September 24, 1974, GM President Ed Cole postponed the introduction of the Wankel engine, most likely due to emissions difficulties combined with fuel and oil concerns. The rotary engine Corvette never made it to production. This venture did prove useful, however. It helped GM understand the limitations of the car, and venture forward into other areas of exploration.
Another of these innovative ideas was also taking shape around the same time. GM attempted to produce a mid-engine Corvette, to rival the mid-engine sports cars of Italy. It was called the XP-882, and it was first shown at New York Auto Show in 1970. The engine was a 400 cubic inch small block V-8 mounted behind the seats, transversely (like most of today's front wheel drive cars, with the engine sitting sideways). The engineers built two XP-882's. Shortly after the 2 were built, John DeLorean, the man who later started the company bearing his name behind the famous DeLorean cars of Back To The Future fame, became Chevrolet general manager. John cancelled the program, as it was expensive and impractical to build. It was the hit of the auto show, but GM never produced or sold the XP-882 Corvette. At least one, if not both, of these extremely rare Corvettes is still known to exist.
If you are a collector, or want to find a rare and valuable piece of history, look for a 1970 Corvette. 1970 Corvettes are considered by many among the most desirable of the C3 generation, as only 17,316 were produced that year due to production issues stemming from labor strikes. To give you an idea why that number is relevant, the Ford Mustang production for the same year was 190,727, more than 10 times the volume! This was the lowest production number since 1962, and quality examples in good shape are getting harder and harder to find.
If you are looking for rarity, one of the rarest and most desirable of all production C3 Corvette Stingrays is the 1969 ZL1 Corvette. The $4,718 ZL1 package required many other options, including $1,032 L88 Special L88 (all aluminum block) 427 cu. in. 430hp Engine, $81 K66 Transistor Ignition System, $37 F41 Special Front and Rear Suspension, $384 J56 Special Heavy Duty Brakes, and $46 G81 Posi-Trac Rear Axle. Radio and air conditioning were not available with the ZL1 package, and only 2 out of the 38,762 Corvettes made that year had the ZL1 package. The total package price of this car new was approximately $11,000, including the base price of $4781. To put that number in perspective, $11,000 was the price of some small 3 bedroom houses, or a new Ferrari at that time! The same year, a buyer could get a well equipped Pontiac Firebird Trans Am for around $4,300, making this a truly rare and exceptional car.
The C3 Stingray generation are to date the largest generation of Corvettes ever produced, and are the most popular today with collectors. Of the over 1.5 million Corvettes built between 1953 and 2010, over 540,000 were made during the C3 generation, between 1968 and 1982. These are the well-known "Stingray" design, although the slightly different name "Sting Ray" had been used as far back as 1963. Corvette # 500,000 was a white 1977 Stingray. It rolled off the assembly line to major fanfare on March 15, 1977. This is an exceptional collector's car, as it celebrated half a million Corvettes ever made.
It is a well-known fact that all Corvettes today are produced in only one place, which is the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky. However, this wasn't always the case. Up until 1981, Corvettes were made in St. Louis, Missouri. The last St. Louis Corvettes ever built left the factory on June 1981 and July 1981. Are you curious as to why they only produced one each month? Bowling Green production was already in effect, and for several months both factories worked in tandem, allowing the St. Louis factory to assemble as many cars as they could with the parts still left in their inventory. This allowed them to save on shipping and labor costs, as moving large parts for automobiles is a rather expensive and labor-intensive undertaking. After these two cars left the factory, Bowling Green, Kentucky, became the only factory to produce Corvettes. This is the only time when Corvettes were produced simultaneously in two factories. Producing the cars in only one factory allows much tighter quality controls, providing quality over quantity, so that has remained the standard for Corvettes. The very last one built in St. Louis was white and has a build date of July 31, 1981. Somehow, the car managed to survive for 30 years, and is now restored exactly as it was originally built, with all the frame and chassis markings, and every detail exactly as it was when it left the factory. A hidden plaque was originally installed by the plant workers in the cars right front fenderwell to designate the last car down the production line, which helped authenticate the car. The car sported a 350 Cubic inch engine at 190 horsepower and a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 350 automatic transmission.The car was sold at the Barrett-Jackson's Las Vegas auction in September, 2010 for $150,000.
I hope these facts about Corvette Stingrays has proven both useful and interesting. The Corvette has truly been an iconic car, capturing the hearts of generations, both young and old.