Curbside Musings: 1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – Suddenly Last Summer

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

“One summer never ends, one summer never beganIt keeps me standing still, it takes all my willAnd then suddenly, last summer” – Martha Davis, 1983

I was a Motels fan before I even knew who they were.  Rather, I should say I was an accidental fan.  At some point in my adolescence and years after it had been a bit hit for the band, I heard their song “Only The Lonely” on a local soft rock station and diligently set about trying to tape it off the radio.  I had mistakenly thought it was sung by Laura Branigan, another artist whose work I admire.  I think Branigan and Motels lead singer Martha Davis have similar vocal timbres, but with Davis coming across with more grit, befitting that of a frontwoman for an L.A. rock band.  Branigan had always sounded more pop, more along the lines of what Donna Summer and Irene Cara were also doing in the ’80s.

"Suddenly Last Summer", the Motels. 1983, Capitol Records.

Before the days of Shazam or even the internet, I had fruitlessly researched Laura Branigan’s discography at the Flint public library and at many music stores to try to find the one song I absolutely needed to have, regardless of whatever else was on that cassette.  Years later and by the time I was purchasing compact discs, I learned that this song was actually the first top-10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for a group called The Motels, and I was on my way.

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

I immediately purchased one of their earlier greatest hits package and found many other songs to like, none of which really had a sound similar to “Lonely”, except for maybe their second (and, to date, final) top-ten hit, the one after which I’ve subtitled this essay.  Five years ago, I got to see The Motels perform in downtown Las Vegas as part of a retro ’80s concert that included some other great acts.  (I was most excited to see and hear The Motels.)  The backing band has a different lineup today than that which played on the hits and album tracks you remember, but Martha Davis still looked and sounded fantastic, and the rest of the group more than held their own.  It was a highlight of that entire vacation.

Montrose Beach. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

I had first seen the 1959 suspense film Suddenly, Last Summer many years ago, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, but the Motels song has nothing to do with that flick.  Davis’s lyrics seem a bit cryptic, but the song seems to be more of a mood than anything, so it all works:

“It happened one summer, it happened one timeIt happened forever, for a short timeA place for a moment, an end to dreamForever I loved you, forever it seemed”

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

I had taken these pictures in the summer of 2022, when I had first discovered and fallen in love with Montrose Beach in Chicago’s Uptown district, one neighborhood south of where I live.  After almost two decades of life in Edgewater by that point, I had never ventured this far south on foot along Lake Michigan to enjoy a different beach than the ones within a few blocks of my home.  This ’76 Corvette was the second classic I had spotted on that Friday before Labor Day, with the first being a Mandarin Orange ’74 Cadillac Sedan DeVille I had written about shortly thereafter.

Montrose Beach, with its facilities including a vintage beach house with changing stations, a full-service restaurant (The Dock), a snack bar, volleyball courts, and a few other amenities, seems like a direct throwback from any number of teen-themed movies from my ’80s childhood.  I can almost hear Bananarama playing in my head right now just thinking about it…

The Dock At Montrose Beach. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

This is where this ’76 Corvette comes in.  I wouldn’t say it possesses a timeless shape in that it looks like it could have been introduced as a new, modern design in multiple decades.  I’d cite the Avanti as an example of this, its relatively upright windshield notwithstanding.  Rather, the C3 seems timeless to me just because it hung around forever, with a new example of this basic design available for purchase over the span of fifteen model years.  The wild contours of its fiberglass shell were simply always around while members of my age demographic grew up.

“Sometimes I never leave, but sometimes I wouldSometimes I stay too long, sometimes I would”

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

I’ve sometimes been one of the last patrons to keep going to the beach after Labor Day until it’s just not warm or sunny enough to really enjoy it.  Similar to this, the C3 stayed in the marketplace for a super-extended season before the modern C4 was introduced in the spring of 1983 as an ’84 model.  Nineteen seventy-six would mark the last year the Stingray appellation would be tacked on until this name would return for 2014.  (It’s also hard to believe that was already ten model years ago.)

Montrose Beach. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

Sales of over 46,500 units for ’76 would represent a high-water mark for Corvette sales at the time, and an increase of over 20% from the prior year.  (Over 49,200 Corvettes would find buyers the next year, setting another record.)  Two 350 cubic inch V8s were available that year: the base, 180-horsepower L48, and the high-performance L82 with an 30 additional horses on tap.  Based on the few, minor cosmetic imperfections on the front and rear bumper covers of this one, I’d wager that it has the base engine; The custom wheels and aftermarket exhaust tips might indicate a few extra goodies under that long hood, though that’s anyone’s guess.  (UPDATE: There’s an L-82 badge on the hood.)

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Uptown, Chicago, Illinois. Friday, September 2, 2022.

I prefer to think of the C3 and myself as both being resilient and steadfast, versus overstaying our respective welcomes – after beach season, in the marketplace, or otherwise.  As for The Motels, they released five studio albums between 1979 and 1985, earning RIAA Gold certification for two of them for shipments of at least 500,000 copies in the United States, and reaching the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart seven times, with four of those songs reaching the top 40.  How slightly strange it feels to look at these pictures in the first quarter of 2024 and realize they’re from an entire year and a half ago.  Summer will return, though, with rays of sunlight as warm as the factory Bright Yellow finish of this ’76 Stingray.  Its style will seem no more and no less dated this upcoming summer than it was on this particular Friday before Labor Day a couple of years ago.

Uptown, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, September 2, 2022.

“Suddenly Last Summer” single cover art ©1983, Capitol Records, Inc.