Q: Hey Greg since you haven’t written about Corvettes in a while I’ll throw a tough one your way. If you could own just one Corvette from the classic years, what would you pick? Also, I know the new Corvettes are great, so how about a word on those, too? Thanks much. John K., retired and living in New England year round. (Go Patriots).
A: Well John, that’s one way to get me going. So, if I had to pick just one Corvette from the classics, it would have to be a 1967 L88 Corvette, of which only 20 were ever built that year. The low production number came because the L88 was built for racing, and every one of the 20 had a mandatory radio and heater delete and was promoted by Chevy for off-road use. However, all L88s would pass state inspection.
L88s were intentionally listed at only 430-horsepower, five less than the 435-horse L71 427 Tri-Power that cost $437.10. There was also an L89 aluminum head L71 option, which added another $368.65 to the option. Both L71 and L89 were 435-horse, 11 to 1 compression 427 big block with three Rochester two barrel carburetors.
The best selling big block in ’67 was the L71, with 3,754 sold. Only 16 other buyers spent the added monies for the L89 aluminum heads, which didn’t increase horsepower but being 80 pounds lighter, improved weight ratios front to rear for better handling and also delivered a bit better in acceleration. (Not much, just a bit).
The L88 “off-road” option cost $947.90 and featured a 12.5 to 1 compression 427 with better breathing aluminum heads (rectangular ports), high lift solid lifter cam, special 2.19 intake and 1.88 exhaust valves, beefy valve springs and special L88 “dimple” 7/16 bolt steel rods that connected to the best forged steel crankshaft Chevy offered. It was topped with an 850-cfm Holley carburetor on an aluminum intake and put out closer to 570 horsepower than the advertised 430.
If you liked to cruise with your L88 in town, the spark plugs would foul quickly and because of the solid lifter cam, setting the valves became a necessary regular chore. Additionally, you had to run at least 103 octane fuel, which even back then was not available at every gas station.
Thus, if you had an L88, you were most likely a serious car collector, drag or road racer, but for sure not a daily cruiser around town. Those who took care of their L88s, as most did, now own on one of the most popular and expensive classic cars of all time, worth way more than any 426 Hemi or Mustang Shelby 500 ever built.
Considering the Corvette in ’67 sold 8,504 coupes and 14,436 convertibles for a total of 22,940 units, that “only 20 L88s were ever built” sentence becomes even more noteworthy. As for performance, with the 4:56 optional rear gears, a bone stock L88 was an easy 11-second quarter mile performer with some slicks and a set of headers.
In 1968 Chevy introduced the C3 third-generation series Corvette Stingray, featuring a more aerodynamic design that many fans initially didn’t like. (I was one of them). But Corvettes have a way of growing on you, and after a few years everyone liked it or accepted the style. As for the L88, it was available in 1968 and a final year in 1969, with similar engine specs. The final L88 production numbers for the 1968 and 1969 L88s were 80 and 116, respectively, for a grand total of just 216 ever produced.
Believe it or not, a consumer could order a few options if he checked off the L88 on the order list. Offered were power windows, removable hardtop, leather seats, tinted glass, speedometer “speed minder” (yea, right), those loud side pipes, engine block heater, rear window defogger, head rests, tilt-telescopic steering and then in 1969, a better clutch that came with the standard M22 “rock crusher” four speeds. Similar to the radio and heater delete, power robbing air conditioning and power steering were not available.
So John, the ’67 Corvette L88 (coupe or convertible with a coupe preference) would be my Corvette classic car selection, surely not a surprise to any real Corvette lover. Honorable mentions go to a ’67 Coupe L89, ’63 split window with fuel injection or a ’69 Coupe L71/L89, the latter which I walked away from in 1974 during the fuel crisis. I could have had it for $5,500 at Stoudt Corvettes in Reading, Pa. (Now, I’m hurting!)
As for the modern era, I was recently a member on a question and answer panel at a car show and we were asked by an enthusiast "what is the best buy in the current muscle car market?" Several on the panel said the Dodge Challenger Demon/Hellcat series, but my choice is the entry level, brand new 2019 Corvette, a 460 horsepower beauty that goes for $55,495. It is dollar for dollar the absolute best buy out there. So, with this in mind, I’d probably choose a new 2019 Corvette, but I’d probably go for one of the 500-plus horsepower Z06 models just for fun. I’d also opt for the 8-speed automatic these days, as they are quicker than the 7-speed manuals.
Thanks for your letter and maybe one day I’ll own a Corvette…but not a multi-million dollar L88. They are way out of my current “size of wallet” purchase capabilities.
Way, way out.