I feel like I’m the only car guy in the world that doesn’t care about the upcoming mid-engine Corvette. Of course, it’s a huge leap for a car that started life 60 years ago as a fiberglass body dropped on the technological equivalent of a covered wagon, but there’s something to be said about the Corvettes of old. Recently, I had the opportunity to drive a 1969 C3 convertible — and it showed me what new Corvettes are missing. See the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette models for sale near you
The fiberglass wonder I drove has the classic 350 cu in. engine, which puts out 350 horsepower through a 4-speed manual transmission. It was the first classic Corvette I’ve driven, from a time before malaise-era regulations choked the Corvette’s performance down to laughable numbers. Even without the big block, this car manages a 5.9-second 0-to-60 time — but that doesn’t matter. It could take twice as long, and the C3 would still be more fun than a new Corvette.
When I turned the ignition in this old ‘Vette, I could feel the moment the switch completes and activates the starter. When I revved the growling V8, I could feel the feedback of the springs on the carburetor through the throttle cable. Shifting gears also felt so mechanically satisfying. Of course, it feels the same driving any car from this era, but the C3 is unique in the surprisingly modern way that it handles the road. It doesn’t feel as heavy as other 1960s muscle cars — and it benefits from power disc brakes, an independent rear suspension and plenty of modern comforts.
This great driving experience is made more entertaining by its crazy looks. The giant raised side fenders and razor-sharp edges make the car unmistakable — and hilarious. It’s amazing this wild body was the next evolution from the more tuxedo-looking C2 Corvette that preceded it, especially when car styling got more conservative as the ’70s kept on truckin’. The Corvette I drove was customized probably around the same time disco died, with a 2-tone silver on purple paint scheme — which the body manages to pull off surprisingly well.
Of course, future generations of Corvettes offered major performance and safety improvements, but they never looked as bonkers as the C3. While the C4 and C5 were major evolutionary steps, I feel the progress made since then hasn’t been all that impressive. It doesn’t take much to build a C5 to perform as well as a new Corvette — and say what you will about its cheap interior and blobby styling, but a C5 (or any Corvette generation before it) would never be mistaken for anything else. With the current generation, you could put a Ferrari badge on the front, and most people wouldn’t know the difference.
I suppose I should be proud of an American sports car being seriously compared to an Italian exotic — but just being a Corvette used to be a benchmark on its own. In 1969, this was one of the coolest cars on American roadways — a car for astronauts and celebrities. These days, that honor belongs to Tesla, or certain versions of the Mustang, or maybe even an Escalade — but the ‘Vette has aged out.
Of course, the new Corvette is one of the best performance values out there — but that’s not what made this sports car a legend. Surely a Corvette can be a big performance contender, but I think it can also still have a unique, unmistakable look — perhaps starting with the return of pop-up headlights? A guy can dream… Find a 2017 Chevrolet Corvette for sale