Piggybacking on my recent article on Chevrolets at the three January Scottsdale, Arizona classic car auctions I attended, here I will show some examples of those most essential fixtures at car shows: Corvettes and Camaros. Probably rivaled in auction ubiquity only by tri-five Chevies and Mustangs, Chevy’s sportiest models are among the most beloved of classic cars. Click through to peruse 20 Chevy favorites.
Bear in mind, these cars are emphatically not typical curbside classic material. None of the featured cars would likely ever be parked on the street. Maybe a driveway or parking lot briefly, before retreating back to their climate controlled indoor storage. They are fun cars, though, and while looking at them is not nearly as good as driving them, they are still great fun to see.
To give you an idea of how popular these are, out of the 1700 vehicles at Barrett-Jackson, they had 154 Corvettes and 102 Camaros. That’s 15% of the whole auction! As with other common vehicles at the auctions, I didn’t try to photograph or spend a lot of time looking at every one, just the ones that struck me as interesting or particularly fetching. I’m sure I missed some good ones. Though there will by necessity be plenty of talk about engines, I decided not to feature any engine pictures. Feel free to click on the vehicle links to see auction house engine pics, if interested. I’ll group these cars by generation.
FIRST GENERATION CORVETTE:
As with most American car brands, Chevrolet had for its first fifty or so years sold only one basic car at a time. There may have been multiple wheelbases, engines and trim, but they were built on the same platform and shared most body parts. Chevrolet broke with that practice in 1953 by selling a sports car alongside their regular models. The Corvette was put into production as an only slightly modified version of their Motorama show car.
Clearly Chevrolet coming out with a sports car model was an event! Production started in June 1953, with 315 hand-built cars made through the end of the year. Production moved to St.Louis in 1954, becoming mass-produced and building 3,650 for 1954.
’53-’54 Corvettes were all powered by a 150 hp 235 cid straight six backed up by a 2-speed Powerglide automatic. This was a massaged version of the standard Chevrolet engine, a 33% power increase with its triple one-barrel sidedraft carbs, hotter camshaft and higher compression. It was a modest beginning, but much more power would be on the way when Chevy came out with its small block V8.
This 1953 Corvette was the flagship car at Silver Auction, parked directly in front of the auction tent and the only car that was roped off. Apparently Silver is not the place for high rollers as it did not meet reserve and was a no sale. Barrett-Jackson had one this year, which sold for $319,000, though probably in a bit nicer condition.
By the Corvette’s ninth model year, Chevrolet was selling 10,939 of them, including this very pretty baby blue 1961 Corvette. It was unfortunately a no sale at Russo and Steele.
Russo and Steele had some very professional beauty shots on their webpage. It has the neat two toned side coves, making their final appearance. The ’62 still had the coves, but did not offer two tone treatment.
The other interesting thing about the 1961 is the new rear styling. I think it is very reminiscent of the 1963, perhaps serving as a preview of the upcoming new ‘Vette. From the rearward edge of the rear wheel openings back, the design is very similar to my eyes.
You just can’t beat that sweet sixties interior styling! I have to say, though, that hitting that steering wheel hub with your unrestrained chest doesn’t look like it would be very pleasant. Drive carefully!
SECOND GENERATION CORVETTE:
After ten years of increasing sales, Chevrolet came out with a clean sheet redesign for the Corvette and it was spectacular. Arguably the high point of design chief Bill Mitchell’s career, it was a styling tour-de-force and a big performance upgrade as well.
Who doesn’t love a red Corvette? Russo and Steele had this red on red 1964 Sting Ray convertible which sold for $65,000. With 300hp, it has the second of the four available versions of the 327cid small block V8. The 250hp and 300hp engines could have the famous two speed Powerglide automatic, though this car’s original owner was one of only 11% of buyers to choose that easy cruising option. For serious performance fans, the 327 could be had in solid lifter 365hp or fuel injected 375hp guises.
Noteworthy in the auto industry’s era of yearly styling revisions, the second generation Corvette had only detail styling changes over its five years. The biggest change was to the rear window of the coupe. The one year only, split rear window 1963 Corvette is probably now the most coveted of the generation. That little strip of sheet metal commands a big premium. B-J had five ’63 coupes ranging in price from $115,500 to $170,500 in stock form, plus a customized car going for $297,000.
The biggest engineering headline was the adoption of an independent rear suspension. That basic design would live through the C3 until 1982. An interesting fact I never realized before is that 1963 had the highest coupe production in the second generation, though the lowest total production. Every other year, convertibles far outsold coupes, generally close to 2:1.
If you just want a nice, clean looking ‘Vette and aren’t into big blocks or rarity, this 1965 Sting Ray convertible would do nicely and would have set you back $50,600 at Barrett-Jackson. It also has the 300hp 327 , though for 1965 it was the base engine. The four speed manual transmission in this car was optional, but still sold to almost 90% of buyers. I like that this car has the standard hubcaps as well, one of only a small handful of the 44 C2’s at Barrett-Jackson to have them.
On the other hand, if you were a bidder who’s into big power, you might have looked closely at this 1965 Sting Ray convertible. For $126,500, you got more than just the intense 425hp 396 big block. You also got a car that the seller claims is mostly original including the paint. It has been thoroughly gone over and refurbished mechanically as needed.
The beauty of the design jumps out in side profile. 1965 was the first year for four wheel disc brakes. Power assist was optional. Chevrolet sold over 23k ‘Vettes during the ’65 model year, a new record to that point.
Most all the C2’s I snapped were drop tops but I did photograph this 1967 Sting Ray coupe looking really nice in white. It was a no sale at Russo and Steele. A similar one, in my favorite color (see below), sold at Barrett-Jackson for $165,000.
For 1966, the big block got bigger and in 1967, even more powerful. This coupe has the L71 435hp 427, which wasn’t even the most powerful option. You could get the L88 with 12.5:1 compression ratio, aluminum heads and just about every trick in the bag. Basically a street legal racing engine, it was available through 1969 and cost about $1000. Nominally rated at 430hp, five less than the L71 to keep it under the radar, most sources approximate it at 560hp.
This was my favorite C2 of the week, a 1967 Sting Ray convertible in dark green, which they call Goodwood Green Metallic, with tan interior and top. Love, love, love the colors and it even has gold stripe tires to match. It doesn’t show up well in the picture, but it has a black stripe on the hood and scoop. A lucky bidder at Russo and Steele bought it for $58,000.
This car has the 400hp 427 with 4 speed. I like that it is a big block car but doesn’t have the very common side pipes. Side pipes are cool, but I also like the cleaner, lighter look of plain sides. This is one of those cars that made me really wish I had $58k to spend!
The top selling Corvette, by far, was this curious creation. It is an original GM cutaway publicity show piece, made from a ’65 Corvette and sold at Barrett-Jackson for $1.1 million. Wow! I encountered it after the batteries on my camera died, so I didn’t get a picture of my own, but it was really interesting to look at. The height of the body is adjustable. I don’t know if I’d want to spend that much money for the privilege of looking at it at my home…still it was really cool.
FIRST GENERATION CAMARO:
Chevrolet’s Mustang fighter debuted for the 1967 model year, after leaving Ford over two years to sell a kajillion Mustangs with no significant competition. Like the Mustang, the Camaro could be highly personalized, with four series, eight engines and a long list of options to choose from.
This 1967 Camaro RS/SS is pretty much top of the line, besides not being a convertible. It has the top 375hp 396cid big block and was unfortunately a no sale at Russo and Steele. The special 290hp 302-powered Z/28 coupe did have a slightly higher base price and only 602 were made for ’67.
For Camaro’s second season, Chevy pulled out all the stops and offered 12 different engines during the model year! This 1968 Camaro RS/SS convertible at Barrett-Jackson sold for $64,900.
Like the ’67 above, it has the RS/SS packages. The RS (Rally Sport) is an exterior dress up package most quickly identified by the full width grille with hidden headlamps. It was available on the base, SS or Z/28 models. Chevy continued this practice when they introduced the 2010 Camaro, though the enhancements are hard to spot. The SS (Super Sport) model came standard with a 295hp 350, but this car has a 325hp 396 with a four speed manual transmission.
That brings us to 1969 and yet another iconic Chevrolet! Like the ’57 Chevy, it was heavily facelifted for the third and final year of its generation and somehow they absolutely nailed the styling, at least in the opinion of myself and many others. To lots of folks this car is synonymous with “Sixties muscle” like the ’57 Chevy is with “Fifties fun”.
The yellow over yellow of this 1969 Camaro Z/28 is very unusual and really worked for me. Bidders seemed to agree, driving the price to $117,700.
As with previous years, the grille could be had with and without covered headlights. On ’67/’68 models, I prefer the covered headlights of the RS grille. The deep set standard grille for 1969 strikes me as pretty perfect for the lines of the car, though the RS version is certainly nice, too.
Besides having bucket seats and driver controls in more or less the same places, there is basically nothing this interior has in common with modern cars. The fake wood somehow looks good and doesn’t seem out of place even in the sportiest model. I’m certain today you can’t get a yellow interior in any mass produced car (but Chevy did offer yellow accents in some of the 2010-up Camaros). Vinyl and houndstooth upholstery was unique even at the time. Is there any car (not truck) even available now with vinyl seats?
Another Barrett-Jackson ’69 Camaro in an unusual color was this 1969 Camaro RS/SS selling for $93,500. It has special order Powder Blue paint, repainted in the original color.
Camaro SS’s came standard with a 300hp 350, which this car has along with a Turbo Hydramatic transmission. Chevy managed to top even 1968’s prolific engine selection by offering 14 various choices.
Barrett-Jackson had 37 1969 Camaros to choose from, 15 of them customized, but of course only one in this color.
THIRD GENERATION CORVETTE:
As you doubtlessly know, the Corvette third generation arrived for 1968 with all new body work and mostly carryover chassis and engines. For me, any third generation car would not be my first choice. The second generation ‘Vette is my ultimate dream car when it comes to a classic sports/muscle car. Still, the C3 does make a bold visual statement and it’s just as fun to drive as any Corvette. For 1968 only, the Sting Ray name disappeared, but returned the next year as a Stingray.
As established above, dark green is a great color for a Corvette, IMO, so naturally this 1969 Stingray caught my eye. No slouch in the performance department, it has the L71 435hp tri-carb 427 making its last appearance. Automatics were available on all engines for 1969, even the L88, though this car has a 4-speed manual. A/C was not available on L71 cars. It sold for $83,600 at Barrett-Jackson.
Coupes outsold convertibles for the first time in 1969. Early C3 coupes all had removable T-tops and rear window. The owner switched tires prior to Barrett-Jackson. As a fan of originality, I prefer the thin white stripe look. Raised white letter bias ply tires were first available in 1970. Radial tires first appeared on 1973 Corvettes as standard equipment, with white letter radials available midyear. As far as I can tell, white stripe tires were available through 1976.
Looking good in silver over red, this LT-1 1970 Stingray sold for $77,000 at Barrett-Jackson.
For 1970, Chevrolet introduced the LT-1, a solid-lifter 350cid small block putting out 370hp (still gross rating). It came with a four speed manual transmission, automatic and A/C not available. It was made for three years, through 1972.
The C3 Corvette styling necessitated a narrower interior. It’s still handsome, in a close-coupled way.
Thankfully, the Corvette sidestepped the worst effects of the bumper regulations and emerged possibly even sleeker with its new nose and tail. The only year it got grazed by the ugly stick was in 1973 when it looked a little awkward with the new nose coupled to the old rear end.
1974 is considered a good year by Corvette collectors because it was the only year with the new front and rear ends before catalytic converters and a precipitous drop in power ratings. The optional L82 350 had 250hp and the 454 big block was available with 270 hp (and 380lb/ft of torque, net ratings since 1972). 1975 would see the big block gone and 205hp the most available power, while also being the last year before the convertible took a 10 year hiatus. 1974’s final big block had the highest horsepower and torque ratings in any Corvette until 1990’s 370hp ZR1.
This red 1974 Corvette convertible sold at Barrett-Jackson for $17,600. It has the base 195hp 350 with automatic.
An interesting fact I noticed in researching is that when the ‘Vette was available in both coupe and convertible from 1963 to 1975, the price for the convertible was always about $200 less than the coupe.
A fairly common car at auctions is the 1978 Corvette Pace Car, here selling for $35,200. The Pace Car model was considered an “instant collectible” at the time, so quite a few of the approximately 6,100 sold were stored away and seldom driven, or not driven at all. This car has 1,411 miles, which would normally be considered amazingly low, and it looks perfect. However, at Barrett-Jackson there were two others with lower mileage including one with only 44 miles!
The 1978 Corvette was also available with a Silver Anniversary package with special silver and charcoal two tone paint. The Silver Anniversary and Pace Car specials were the first factory two toned Corvettes since 1961. ’78 models also saw one of the biggest visual changes of this generation, with a new large curved fastback style rear window. Amazingly, Chevy didn’t think to make it a lifting hatch until the final year of the car in 1982, and then only on the special Collector Edition model. I think the fast rear glass looks really good.
Pace Cars had a special new silver interior with silver leather seats. 1978 Corvettes got a revised dashboard with square gauge housing and an actual glove box replacing the map pockets.
A funny thing happened in the ’70’s as the C3 design aged and power levels dropped: sales went through the roof. For the first five years of the design, they were generally selling 20-30k. Starting in 1973, almost every year saw an increase, peaking out in 1979 at almost 54k (in the car’s 12th year!). A curious thing about this phenomenon is that prices increased significantly every year, about $1000 a year from ’75-’78 and a huge $3600 jump in 1979.
SECOND GENERATION CAMARO:
This 1973 Camaro Type LT isn’t a Z/28 or anything exotic, but it is a really pretty example of the early second generation styling. It’s a restored car and sold for $20,300 at Barrett-Jackson. As on all ’70-’73’s, a full width bumper was standard and ’73 models got rubber faced vertical bumper guards, to comply with regulations. RS package cars continued to have the unique impact absorbing grille surround and small bumperettes on either side, which somehow managed to still be legal for this last year.
This beauty shot captures the color a lot better than my shot. The small, delicate (and useless) bumpers look great, as do the round taillights. The Type LT was the Luxury Touring model, first available for 1973. It came standard with a 2-barrel 145hp 350, optional 4-barrel 175hp 350. The seller didn’t specify which one this car has.
Not as charming as the first gen interior, but still not a bad place to pass time. The seats look more comfortable (don’t know if they actually are).
Same car, two years later: 1975 Camaro Type LT. It appears to be a mint 16k mile survivor, though the seller description was short on useful specifics. It sold at B-J for $17,600.
1975 was the all time lowest-performance Camaro, with no SS or Z/28 model and the top optional engine a 350cid V8 making only 155hp. The seller didn’t specify if this car had the standard 145hp 350 or the optional engine (how much difference would it make?). At least this car made up for the lack of power with an awkward looking vinyl roof and pinstripes!
It’s a nice car, but the Camaro definitely didn’t make it through the early Bumper Era gracefully. However, which car would you rather back into a pole with?
I don’t personally think the new taillights compare well to the pretty round ones. The wedge shaped taillights would become a trademark through the end of the Camaro’s fourth generation in 2002. A wrap around rear window was new for 1975.
For 1978, Chevrolet cured the Camaro’s ugly bumper syndrome by wisely using body colored integrated vinyl bumpers for a much more attractive look, as seen on this 1978 Camaro Z/28 which sold for $16,500 at Barrett-Jackson.
The first generation Camaro ran for three years, the second an amazing twelve years! The final year was represented very well by this 1981 Camaro Z/28. It is an amazing, original-down-to-the-tires survivor with 2600 miles. Though hardly desirable like the early second gen cars, the final bid of $30,800 doesn’t seem too unreasonable for the cleanest ’81 Camaro in the world.
By the way, the ’72 El Camino in the background was pretty darned nice as well, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Camaro interiors didn’t change drastically over the long generation. Dashboards got more squared off. Upholstery looks rather burlap-like in this photo, but I’m sure it’s comfortable.
The final Z/28 certainly looked sporty, but you wouldn’t want to drag race any cars from before or after the malaise era. The standard drivetrain was a 175hp 350 with automatic transmission. The 350 was not available with a manual transmission, so for buyers who wanted to row gears a 165hp 305 with four speed manual was a no-cost option.
When I was in high school in the late 80’s, a friend’s older brother had a black 1980 Z/28 with the 305/4-speed which I rode in once. I remember thinking it had some decent get up and go, but then I was driving a ’76 Oldsmobile Omega with a 260 V8 at the time so anything seemed fast by comparison.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through the rise and fall of Chevrolet performance in the ’60’s and ’70’s! Thank goodness modern technology has allowed more recent Chevies to meet and exceed the performance of the late 60’s with much improved emissions, gas mileage and handling.
If you missed them, here are previous articles in my auction series: