Q: Greg with all the talk about the great new C8 mid engine Corvette, do you feel the C3 generation Corvettes built after 1974 are decent buys in the collector car hobby? I am currently browsing the internet and looking at 1975 and up C3 prices, and there are some great buys out there and many for less than $10,000. I understand these are probably the slowest Corvettes built, but do you feel there is any future price upside for these Corvettes? Also, how about the market for vintage race cars? It seems to be growing really big. Alan L., RI.
A: Alan, let’s start with vintage race cars. There is a very active market for these cars, especially the drag racing cars from the 1960s and 1970s. There was a big vintage race car auction held at the Mecum Auction featuring the Don Wallace collection in January of 2020. The highlight of his drag car collection was the famous Grumpy’s Toy XI Pro Stock, a 1974 Vega powered by a 331-inch small block that took the pro stock field by surprise back then.
This Vega was the car that Jenkins’ employee/mechanic turned Pro Stock driver Larry Lombardo drove to his first ever Pro Stock win in his first ever time behind the wheel at the ’74 Summernationals in Englishtown, NJ. Wallace purchased the car in 2008 from baseball star Reggie Jackson and the car is signed by the late Bill Jenkins on the rear deck lid. Lombardo is today a noted engine builder residing in Bernville, Pa., and will be at the Mecum Auction signing autographs and meeting fans. The Wallace Collection consisted of 27 cars, including Bob Glidden’s ’72 Ford Pinto, TV Tommy Ivo’s “Showboat” four-engine Buick dragster and the Sox & Martin ’71 Plymouth Hemi Cuda' Pro Stock all sold at no reserve. (See Mecum.com for auction results).
As for the C3 Corvettes, the early C3s from 1968 to 1973 are solid buys and way more expensive while anything from 1975 and up, in my opinion, is not the Corvette I would choose for any type of price appreciation.
However, if you are looking for a great car to buy to enter the collector car hobby, a 1975 to 1982 C3 Corvette is a good way to join everyone at the car shows and enjoy the hobby without spending an arm and a leg. But forget money appreciation and concentrate more on hobby appreciation.
Again in my opinion, the later year C3 Corvettes from ’75 to ‘82 might one day uptick a little bit but will never be one of the “high-priced” C3 units like a ‘68 L-88, a ’69 427/435 or the many strong small-blocks from 1968 to 1973.
Further, the 1975 L-48 Corvette is the lowest horsepower C-3 generation ever built, producing just 165-horsepower from its smog controlled, low compression, catalytic converter equipped V8 engine. This was the year when all of the clean air controls were fully mandated, resulting in less than happy performance enthusiasts. Muscle car fans were left in a state of confusion as the “real” muscle cars of the 1960s and early 1970s were sitting on used car lots as the gas crisis and lower octane fuels made owning them a misery. This is why you could buy a ’70 Dodge Challenger 440, ’68 Mustang Cobra Jet 428 or even a ’68 Corvette 427/435 at blow-out prices.
Thus, new and used car dealers wanted muscle cars in all shapes and sizes off their lots as quick as possible as every time the price of a gallon of gas went up, the price of these great muscle cars went lower in unison. So, to the very few who had a keen vision of the future (not many of us back then) and cash to work with, this time period offered a chance to own a performance car that could be worth $100,000 down the road that you could buy for $2,000 in some instances. Yes, it was that bad.
However, a 1975 Corvette today can be a good buy, especially if you just want to have some fun and not buy for appreciation. And, thanks to the aftermarket industry, whatever an L-48 Corvette lacks in power can quickly be corrected thanks to a few bolt on performance products that will instantly add some big horsepower, especially with cams, headers and a different induction setup. (Remember, all C3 gen Corvettes used carburetors except for the final year 1982 Corvette that came with the new twin port throttle body fuel injection).
I hope this helps Alan and if you check at the auction sites like eBay Motors, Hemmings or Auto Roundup, you’ll find some really great deals on 1975 to 1978 Corvettes, all powered by these lower horsepower Chevy 350 engines. I see many out there right now in very good shape for less than $10K. Good luck with your search for a Corvette.
Trivia? The most C3 Corvettes ever sold in one year, surprisingly, was 1979 with 53,808 sold. Fewest C3s sold was 1970, when just 17,316 were delivered.