Summertime warmth now seems like a dream to me, now that we in the Midwestern United States are in the middle of Winter 2015 – ’16 in our lovely hemisphere. I felt that this would be a welcome time to recall a late-summer encounter with a ’77 Corvette from several years back. This isn’t my first post on the C3, so it’s no secret I’m a fan of this generation of Chevy’s Plastic-Fantastic Wonder. There’s nothing I could possibly add to anyone’s factual knowledge of a car that has had veritable volumes written about it, with much of it available on the internet. However, what I find almost as interesting as dimensions, drivelines and dollars is how an individual’s experience of a car is completely subjective, which goes along with the premise of Curbide Classic: that every car has a story. Part of that story can include what a car elicits in the eyes and imagination of its beholder.
In the case of this Corvette (which is roughly my age), my visual experience of it is married to its historical context – what was happening in the world and in popular culture when it was making its presence known on America’s roads. It was our only true, homegrown, mass-production sports car – emasculated as it was (compared to earlier Corvettes) by federal emissions regulations. I’ll go so far as to say that it by ’77, the Corvette had become as much a mere rolling fashion statement and status symbol as serious sports car, though it was still very quick for its day. A ’77 with the base L48 version of the Chevy 350 small-block V8 with 180 hp would have been good for a 0-60 mph time in the mid 8-second range. A car equipped with the 210-hp L82 would have been even faster.
I’ve read many references to this generation of Corvette (with ’77 being the first model year since ’68 not to bear the “Stingray” sub-moniker) as the “Disco-vette”. This fits. Those bulges over the front and rear wheel wells are flared out like bell-bottomed slacks of the finest polyester. The exaggerated, dramatic styling just screams “Kalifornia Kustom” like few cars of the period. This example in “Corvette Dark Blue” was one of 4,065 examples in that color produced for the model year, out of a total of 49,213. It’s as curvy as one of Charlie’s Angels, and every bit as alluring and all-American, not to mention as jiggly for all the rattles and vibration that are common to the C3.
All Corvettes of this generation featured both t-tops and pop-up headlights, both of which used to be synonymous with sporting machines, and both of which are completely obsolete in 2016. Since the removable roof panels on this car are opaque, I suppose its interior of black vinyl and leather would be less of a rolling torture-chamber in the summer than if the tops were of tinted glass. I also imagine that wind buffeting during open-air motoring would be pretty significant in this car with the lack of a removable rear window, which was standard on the C3 Corvettes from only between 1968 – ’72, and unavailable thereafter (that is, from the factory – retrofits were developed later).
The cockpits of these cars were notoriously cramped. You know this is true if Chevy substituted the smaller steering wheel from their Vega GT subcompact for ’76 in an attempt to gain a little extra space and a more comfortable driving position. (It appears the owner of this one valued the more serious-looking, pre-’76 wheel over the extra inches provided by the Vega’s smaller-diameter unit.) I look at the Corvette’s narrow interior this way: the C3 had slowly been morphing into a (fast) 2-seat “personal car” by this point, and the pinched dimensions of its cockpit (despite an overall car width of 69″, which is about the same as a 2016 Chevy Trax SUV) made it easier to slide your arm around your honey riding in the passenger seat.
I admire folks with the confidence to park their cars like this, completely open and unattended in these modern times. I mean, having watched the original “Gone In 60 Seconds” from ’74 probably close to fifty times to date, it would seem pretty easy to steal a car from this era (not that I have ever tried, just to be crystal-clear about that). But still – confidence is what you’d have to have in order to be seen in this thing to begin with. Subtle it is not. One must have a degree of bravery to rock the most outlandish of outfits, and this Corvette is clearly a car one wears as much as drives.
Much like the clothing styles of the Carter era seem to be widely maligned today, so does the music. I learned to walk, talk and ride a bike in the late 70’s, so perhaps I view these times with a bit more nostalgia and forgiveness than many who were actually old enough to process some of the more disturbing aspects of this time period. I watched and loved “Soul Train” as a young kid. Today, I also like disco and the California soft-rock sounds that were popular back then. I could very easily imagine myself in this Corvette, then or now, with the t-tops off and the Teutonic, metronomic thump of Donna Summer’s titular, 1977 classic pulsing through the speakers.
In the late 1970’s, while out on the town or on the way to a hot nightspot, this car would have been an active participant in someone’s summer fantasy. Its faults be darned, the tunnel-back C3 rightfully belongs on my “lottery list”. Parked across the street from my favorite local pizzeria, Gino’s North, roughly five years ago, this ’77 Corvette made special what might have been just another hot Saturday night in August.
As photographed by the author in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois, on Saturday, August 27, 2011. Titled with respect to Donna Summer and George Gershwin.