Reader Question: Used ‘Vettes?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Mike asks: What do you think about purchasing a used Corvette? There seem to be a lot of low-mileage Corvettes at reasonable prices (less than $20k). In particular, I’ve seen several 1972-1978 small-block examples, as well as Corvettes from 2000-2002 with the standard engines. Appreciate your perspective on the value and operating cost of these American cars.

My reply: I much prefer the Corvettes you mention – early-mid ’70s models – to the new ones, because they have the iconic “mako shark” bodywork that made its debut in ’67 and lasted through 1982. Those cars are, to me, synonymous with Corvette.

But the models you mention – especially the ’73-78 models – cost a lot less than the earlier ones, because the came with lower-compression/lower horsepower engines. For example, the L-82 350 vs. the LT-1 350.

But the later cars were more tractable – easier to drive. The L-82 (and standard 350) had mild hydraulic cams; not fussy solid lifter cams, as the LT-1 did. The L-82 (performance option) is actually a great engine; it is similar  to the LT-1 in that it has a beefy block, good heads – but instead of a Holley carb it has a Quadrajet, plus lower compression and that milder hydraulic cam.

The ’75-up cars will have catalytic converters, but that is easily fixed.

They also don’t have any computer-addled folderol at all (the ’81-82 cars have a little bit of it; computer-controlled carburetors, etc.)

The standard 350 and L-82 350 V8s are not powerful by current Corvette standards but the cars are very enjoyable to drive regardless  and if you want more power, few engines are easier to hop up than a classic small block Chevy – especially one with a carburetor and without electronic flapdoodle. A stock 205-220 horse L-82 can easily and affordably make 320-plus horsepower with a cam swap, headers and some tuning of the fuel/ignition system.

You could also get a big block (454) through ’74. It made 270 hp, stock – IIRC.

These ‘Vettes also have the Muncie/Super T-10 four speed manual, which sings a song no modern manual can match. No overdrive gearing, of course – but that will only matter to you if you plan on extended highway drives and the car has a rear axle ratio more aggressive than 3.23 or so.

I consider these cars under-valued relative to the ’60s/early ’70s Corvettes – and expect their value to rise for the same reason that the value of mid-late ’70s Trans-Ams like mine have: They are basically the same cars as the earlier, more powerful (from the factory) versions – but that is easily remedied, as discussed.

Both the mid-late ’70s Corvette and the TA  also benefit from improvements made to their suspensions; these cars ride and handle better than the earlier cars. Among other things, they were tuned for radial tires – whereas the older cars were set up for bias ply.

Parts are prolific; you can get anything for these cars – so they are easy to maintain and restore.

The driveline is pretty much the same as you’d find in a Nova or Camaro, too – so nothing exotic or expensive.

Main issue with these cars is the condition of the fiberglass – and the frame, which can rust.

When you start your search, bring along someone who knows these cars, to check out any contenders closely.

Be aware that fit and finish are abominable by modern standards; if the car has T tops, they will likely leak – and so on. But this is normal and part of the fun!

Get one – before they get expensive!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I realize this about older vettes but the best corvette buys tend to be those someone is trading in their garage queen for the latest and greatest. These cars tend to be only a few to ten-ish years old or of the previous to current generation. For some reason a lot of corvette buyers tend to ‘upgrade’ for the sake of doing so.

  2. As the owner of a 1972 Corvette and having been a member of several Corvette clubs, I would urge much caution with purchasing a C3, especially one that is later than about 1973 or 74.

    1. Many parts are hard to find and they tend to be very expensive. The engine and transmission parts aren’t bad, since they’re fairly commonplace across GM vehicles of the time, but most other parts are unique to the Corvette and often to a handful of years, and a few parts are not even available any longer.

    2. The fiberglass is fragile and difficult to repair. Even once you fully repair it you will quickly get stress fractures at various locations.

    3. The engine bay is VERY tight and hard to work in, and it is difficult to add go-fast bits that alter the external shape of the engine since there is little clearance between the engine and, for example, the hood.

    4. If you get too new of a model, you’ll be saddled by things like catalytic converters and other emissions parts that you’ll want to avoid if possible. You are required by law to keep such equipment installed and in working order if it came from the factory with such. Thus my suggestion of an early 70s model.

    5. The interior of the C3 is cramped. That gorgeous coke-bottle exterior means very little interior room. The C2 and C4 generations are much roomier. This is particularly important if you are tall (6 foot or taller) and wish to drive a manual transmission model. You won’t have room to manipulate the clutch.

    That said, I think they’re the second-best looking Corvette generation, right behind the C2 Sting Rays. The C3 is the last of the simple Corvettes.

    I also know the later C4 models are less popular and amenable to some serious tuning and speed parts such that they often dominate SCCA racing. They are the first of the “modern” Corvettes, with EFI, computerized stuff, etc, but are still fairly easy to work on, so I understand. More parts are available because they are popular for racing. But they also tend to be more abused by their previous owners.

  3. Oh, BTW, the Super T 10 was the big block version, and like the M series Muncie’s was not a transmission to drive over 15,000 miles without a gear oil change. No, no mention of it in the owner’s manual but you damn well better change it as I found out one day on a 2-3 shift that literally split the housing on the M 21. I loved the close ratio but it wasn’t as robust as the M22. Many years later I’d find an M22 with close ratio gears and stick it in a 70 Chevelle hotrod. Ah, those sounds. I hear them in my dreams…..and those sounds of clutches giving it up. I once had a clutch so strong it broke every part of the clutch linkage including breaking off the ball in the engine block. I replaced everything with C 50 clutch parts and used a high tensile bolt to make an adjustment arm and had no more problems except my left leg looked like the dominant arm of those guys who arm wrestle and don’t bother to work out “the other arm”. It’s still my “Big first step leg” getting up into whatever piece of equipment I’m operating. It’s also still my scarred leg from being the only leg I’ve broken…..playing with my dog.

  4. “These ‘Vettes also have the Muncie/Super T-10 four speed manual, which sings a song no modern manual can match.” Well, except it was a Borg Warner. The Muncie M 22 had a similar sound but the T 10 was unique in that you always knew you were in a manual shift car, the very sound in the 55 Chevy in Two Lane Blacktop.

    Don’t feel bad eric, I’m “steeped” in old Chevy stuff. I was born in a snowstorm, evidently in the sleeper of an old GMC COE.


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