The Carchive: '74 Corvette (C3)


On Monday Rob posted a reminder that, lest we forget, Chrysler once showed us that they still had blood running through their veins by giving the world the Viper. This was a car that went into production (and turned up in The Carchive here) with surprisingly little dilution from the show-stopping prototype.

The ’92 Viper had been a bolt out of the blue from a company who had long been putting out some of the most conservatively designed cars on the market. Crowds exclaimed “Where the hell’d that come from?” Now, of course I wasn’t there at the time, but I would imagine that the C3 generation of Corvette must have generated a similar stir among GM followers when it first arrived in ’68. Let’s take a look a a mid-term brochure for that car to jog our memories.

The third generation Corvette has become so engrained on our psyche that we forget that there was ever a time when it wasn’t around. It’s somehow both the worst Corvette while also being somehow definitive. When I drove a C3 a few years back I declared that it was basically terrible yet intensely memorable and joyous. Of course, the brochure puts it rather differently.
“We know what it’s like to possess (and be possessed by) a car so exciting to look at that it makes the scene wherever it stops. Or turns heads wherever it goes….By the time we finished our wind-tunnel testing, we had it all. We also had a big bonus: one of the greatest looking shapes on any road”
Having been previewed by the Mako Shark II prototype, the C3 Corvette appeared in ’69 looking damn near as awesome as that show car had been. The C2 had become one of the most recognised cars on American roads, and the C3 had a very hard act to follow. Thankfully, it was contoured like nothing else on the road.
The ’74 models had received some stylistic alterations and not without controversy. Of debate was the success of the newly tapering polyurethane rear end with its inset lights, replacing the former chrome steel bumpers. Steel front bumpers had already been eradicated the year before.
“To make everything go, Corvette’s standard power team gives you a responsive 4-barrel 350-cube V8, coupled to a fully synchronised 4-speed manual transmission. Of course, there are other outstanding power teams available, too”
Yup. It should be mentioned that this here is a GM Canada brochure, and the engine choices are 195 or 250hp 350-4 (The latter being the L82), or the 454-4 worth 270hp (LS4). All output figures by now were Net, so presumably actually meant something.
“If the outside of Corvette is exciting, the inside is fabulous”
My principle memory of the C3 cabin was how brittle everything felt, and how the switches all felt that their next operation would be their last. It clearly wasn’t designed for my inconveniently-scaled frame, either- once I was installed I became permanent equipment.
The C3 had a very long life, surviving to ’82 by which time it was understandably looking quite dated. The next model, the C4 (though attracting its haters and its devotees) was far more in tune with the times. Yet, as impressive as it looked at time of launch, I can’t imagine it as having seemed quite as out-of-this-world as the C3 must have in ’68.
Every Corvette since the C4 has been pretty much the ‘Vette that everybody expected. We’ve Mitchell and Shinoda’s Mako Shark II to thank for the C3 seeming like such a fish out of water.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. I’m off to find a copy of Corvette Summer on Region 2 DVD)

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  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    I don’t think I knew there was a Mako Shark 2. The original Mako Shark showed up at the Larz Anderson museum for a while and I’ll always remember that one!

  2. CraigSu Avatar

    There were a lot of people who couldn’t understand how Chevrolet could have screwed up the C3 so badly on the heels of the C2. For many enthusiasts the Last Corvette is the C2.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      I love the C2, but I still like the C3. The C3 restyle cured the front end lift problem that the C2 had.

    2. Stephen Avatar

      Meh, I think the C2 coupe is the best looking vette ever, but it the powertrain options and chassis aren’t exactly amazing. It’s all an evolution. If anything, the C3 was a victim of the how the world and American auto industry had changed. They have their place in history.

  3. Tomsk Avatar

    Interestingly, 1974 was the only year that the urethane rear bumper cover was comprised of two halves. From ’75 til the end of the C3 in ’82, it was a one-piece unit (but looked pretty similar). And ’74 was the very last year the Big Block was offered in the Corvette.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Yeah, the split cover is weird. It must have been because of a limitation of the process of making the parts. The way to tell the difference between the ’75 and ’76 is that the ’75 still used the individual chrome letters on the back that spelled out C-O-R-V-E-T-T-E (like the ’74), while the ’76 used a single emblem in the center. The change is ’77 was the switch to flat black for the front windshield reveal molding and A-pillar trim.

  4. Stephen Avatar

    “My principle memory of the C3 cabin was how brittle everything felt, and how the switches all felt that their next operation would be their last.”
    I still think it’s a cool looking car. It endured through an otherwise poor era of styling. They beg to be restomodded today. Nobody wants a numbers-matching late-era C3.