Buyer Guide: Chevrolet C3 Corvette

Photograph Courtesy GM

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Classic Motorsports]

One of the most iconic sports cars ever built–the 1968-’82 Corvette–can fill nearly any niche, from entry-level classic or open-top roadster to six-figure heirloom or big-block bruiser. 

Plain and simple, it is beautiful,” says Dave Hardy, a longtime SCCA official and autocrosser who recently purchased a 1972 Corvette coupe for his wife as a surprise birthday present. “It’s one of the top five most beautiful shapes ever put onto four wheels, and the most accessible of them by far. An E-type or a Miura is also beautiful, but the buy-in is a lot higher. Couple this with the Corvette’s relative simplicity and good bit of GM parts-bin carryover and–as long as you get one with good bones–they are not too painful on the wallet to own.

It’s a great weekend cruiser/occasional commuter,” he continues. “I had very low expectations for the actual driving dynamics going into the purchase and was pleasantly surprised.”

The 1968 Corvette–fresh, flowing, Coke bottle styling and all–actually launched to mixed if not mediocre reviews. Road & Track noted that the new car represented exciting fiberglass bodywork “laid around a chassis that seemed fairly modern in 1962 but is now quite dated by the march of progress.” The review also flagged the car’s increased complexity, subpar fit and finish, and diminished interior space compared to its predecessor. “The new Corvette is big on the outside and small on the inside,” they added. 

Didn’t matter. Chevy had a bona fide hit on its hands. Sales were up nearly 25% just that first year as the 1968 lineup covered many bases: Initial powerplants ranged from the 300-horsepower, 327-cubic-inch V8 to the 560-horsepower 427 powering the now-famed L88 package. Buyers could go with a convertible or a coupe, the latter featuring lift-off T-tops. 

C3 Corvette production history could easily fill a book–and plenty have been written–but here’s the short version: Even as performance fell from favor in the ’70s, sales remained strong. The Corvette’s best year ever–ever–came in 1979 with nearly 54,000 units sold. That year’s standard engine offered only 195 horsepower, with the optional one delivering only 225. Production of the third-generation Corvette ran through 1982.

All those cars and all those variants mean there’s something out there today for nearly any budget.

Shopping Advice

Our Expert:
Jeff Romm
Corvette Mike

The early ones, the chrome-bumper cars, are certainly more popular. They’re also more money, too. The later cars are more drivable. It’s really a matter of how much money someone wants to spend and how comfortable they want to be.

There are lots of different configurations of these cars. They can range in price from the teens to six figures.

Dollar for dollar, a shark-body car is a better value [than an earlier Corvette]. They won’t bring in as much down the road, but they cost a whole lot less to get into.

If you’re over 6-foot-2, you’re going to have a tough time. If you have a long torso, your line of vision is going to be over the windshield in a convertible. The seats in later cars–from the late ’70s through the early ’80s–were designed a little differently to fit a wider person. 

The early cars had chrome bumpers. Starting in the mid-’70s, they came with the urethane bumpers. The ’73 cars are kind of a hybrid, with urethane bumpers up front and chrome ones in back. 

Those urethane bumpers crack, so you have to get a fiberglass replacement. You can’t tell [the difference] unless you push against it. 

Up until ’72, you could remove the back window so that you had a Targa. 

Models from 1978-’82 came with a fastback window. They’re roomier—you can fit stuff in them—have more of the creature comforts, and are more drivable, but they have less horsepower. 

The ’79s are good values because Chevrolet made a ton. If you can find a good example, you can probably get it for a good price.

You gotta watch out for leaks, especially with the coupes. You can end up with a Swiss cheese frame because the rubber seals on the T-tops will dry up, leak down to the A-frame, and rot it out. Rust can be an issue.

Condition is more important, but as you get into these later cars, people don’t always care as much about them being perfectly original. 

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Bardan
Bardan New Reader
8/28/22 2:33 p.m.

A little more detail on the rust issues would be helpful. No mention of the "Birdcage" that supports the passenger  area body panels. It can rust heavily and be hard to detect. "A frame" rust? That's the wrong end of the frame to look for disaster. The "kick up" just ahead of the rear wheels is the initial frame problem area. And it's easy for an unscrupulous seller to spray thick rustproofing goo over the frame to hide it. Another issue is the vacuum system in early cars. It operates the headlights and windshield wiper cover. Tracking down a leak here can be time consuming.
If you aren't familiar with the C3, find someone who is before shopping.

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