Americans’ obsession with big or more being better all-too often results in compromises or unintended consequences. I remember plenty of breathless reviews of the 1966 and 1967 Corvette, invariably with the big thumping solid-lifter 427 V8. It was the American top dog, even if there were some obvious trade-offs in real world driving. So seeing this review of a base 300 hp 327 Corvette was a pleasant surprise; leave it to R&T to test what was in reality the best Corvette as a real-world sports/GT car. They called it “the Corvette for the thinking driver”. Count me in, as it’s just about the only Corvette that still talks to me. It’s also very similar to the 350hp 327 ’67 I drove and wrote up here a few years back.
The 1967 version of the C2 Corvette was undoubtedly the best of the five-year run. Numerous improvements and refinements, such as the four wheel disc brakes (1965), wider and styled steel wheels along with better fit and finish (the paint job actually came in for praise) made this one worth waiting for, as well as holding on to, as the early C3 was rather retrograde in some of these qualities.
It’s not easy finding a ’67 Corvette ad that doesn’t feature the 427 with its big hood scoop. But it had been well known — at least by “thinking Corvette owners” — since 1962 that the 300 hp 327 V8 was the sweet spot for those that valued a wide torque band, maximum flexibility and a refined manner over the lumpy Duntov-cammed versions whose torque curve peaked late. Sure, for maximum all-out performance, they and the new 427 were the ones to get. But how about actually living with them, in daily traffic? And being able to exploit their potential, without being on a track of one kind or another?
The 300hp Corvette was certainly no slouch, with a brisk 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds @86.5 mph. In other words, decidedly quicker than the Coronet R/T, with its 440 V8, which actually had a somewhat better power to weight ratio (both had similar rear axle ratios: 3.36:1 for the ‘Vette; 3.31:1 for the R/T).
Here’s more heresy: R&T advises that “now that the standard 3-speed has been redesigned and includes a synchronized first, we can see no good reason for ordering the four speed for general use”. It’s taken me some 50 years to come to the same conclusion. As much as I decry the lack of four gears in American sedans with weak six cylinder engines, in a relatively light (3160 lbs) car like the Corvette with an engine that has such a wide power band, the relatively narrow spacing between 2nd and 3rd gears in the four speed is simply superfluous.
I actually started a post on this a couple of years ago, comparing the shift points between the 3 and 4 speeds with a 250 or 300 hp 327, to bring this point home more clearly. The extra gear brings very little performance advantage, and just means more shifting. Heresy indeed. Realistically, a three speed with overdrive along with a somewhat lower (higher numerical) final drive ratio would have made an optimum combination for a balance of performance and effortless cruising. It’s a combination that was once appreciated better in the 1950s, but by the sixties, it just had to be a four speed.
FWIW, the improved shift linkage on the 4 speed improved the shift qualities and reduced vibration levels.
Thanks to California’s new emission regulations, the 327 did have an annoying issue with not returning to idle quickly after releasing the gas pedal, thanks to an anti-backfire valve for the air injection pump. Otherwise it performed as smoothly and briskly as one had come to expect of this honey of an engine.
As mentioned, the ’67 that I got to drive at our CC Meet-Up in Nashville in 2016 had the 350 hp L79 version of the 327. Since I was not about to rev this family heirloom to 6000 rpm, there’s no doubt that the 300 hp version would have been a bit punchier in the lower-midrange engine speeds I did drive it. Not that the 350 wasn’t willing and smooth at lower engine speeds, it’s just that it took longer for it to come on its more aggressive cam.
The tested car’s optional power steering came in for pretty strong criticism; this was GM’s older style system, and deemed not worth having. The one I drove had manual steering, and I found that to be very satisfactory, given the age of the car. A bit heavy in the parking lot, but once under way the joys of good manual steering was very much appreciated.
Handling along with a very good ride was of course a strong point, but admittedly, it deteriorated under rough road conditions. This is where the better European cars of the time had a decided advantage: stiffer bodies and more supple but well-controlled suspensions. A Mercedes 230 SL or BMW 2000CS coupe were given as two examples. The Corvette’s fiberglass body on its full frame was a compromise in that regard, and its reputation for squeaks and such would haunt it for many years to come.
The four wheel disc brakes came in for praise, although they were a bit too powerful for the skinny 7.75 x 15 bias ply tires.
The interior was considered a bit “overstyled”, but with good quality materials and very good functionality.
The Corvette’s trump cars was its value for the money. A basic Corvette could be bought for some $4000 ($32k adjusted). As per R&T: It matches any of its European competition for useful performance and walks away from most of them; it’s quiet, luxurious, and comfortable under ordinary conditions; easy to tune and maintain; and even easy on fuel (up to 18 mpg).
Assembly quality was lacking, and several items were amiss in the test car. R&T summarized by saying: The improvements we would most wish for the next Corvette series would be lighter weight, improved body structure and quality control, and a better ride on poor surfaces. Sadly, none of those wishes were to come true with the new C3 in 1968, which was actually retrograde in all these aspects. No one would accuse the C3 of being “the Corvette for the thinking driver”.
As the owner of a very base 2017 C-7, a lot of this resonates with me. A friend of mine has had 3-4 C-6’s and C-7’s and was insistent that I should pursue at least a Gran Sport package or even a Z-06 (not that I could afford one), citing MORE POWER! Mine has absolutely more performance that I could possibly need, nor most anyone would ever need.
This comment about the C-2 resonates: “Handling along with a very good ride was of course a strong point, but admittedly, it deteriorated under rough road conditions”. I was on a little twisty awhile back with some not great road conditions and the car hopped around quite a bit and I had to pull it back a bit. I feel like the Z-51 package which has some handling upgrades might of been a good thing.
For sure , squeaks and rattles and build quality through the Vette’s history has been a bit uneven. Squeak free so far for on mine, though I’ve yet to reach 10000 miles and the C-7 was a huge bump in interior fit and finish. Having sat in a C-8, I’d say that interior is world class.
Paul, reading between the lines here, I see a guy who wants and needs a Vette. The C-5’s (97-2004) seem to be the real sweet spot these days in terms of value for money. 400 HP and said to be a fairly reliable car. I see a C-5 base manual convertible in the cards for you!
I have a 2006 with 62k on it, no squeaks or rattles. I’ve only had it a few months and I know the previous owners took good care of it. Plenty of power but I’m already thinking of a C7, which if I ever get one, it will probably look just like yours.
I started reading car mags in 75 when I was 10. Including a few batches of 60’s editions when my dad went to the big flea market. RT and CD were my favorites . I appreciated their different styles and coverages and respected them . That statement though that the 3 Speed was as good a choice as the 4 jumps out as one of the dumbest things I can recall from them. It has that smell of the crabby old man ….not the usual mechanically informed commentary of R T. of course there are diminishing returns…But just look at the vettes RPM @ 60 mph: 2600. You could slap a 5th on and cruise under 2k.
What it needed was 3 speed + overdrive. I’m sure Paul would approve 😀
Although not available on the Corvette, a three speed/OD with a fairly low (high numerical) final drive ratio was the hot setup on Tri-Five Chevys. Three tight gears for the strip, and OD for the drive back home on the highway.
The only transmission that I would want in this car.
Or, the four speed with a 0.75 or thereabouts fourth and 2nd & 3rd spaced out appropriately.
As the owner of two early Mustangs at the same time, one with a three speed and one with a (non-overdrive) four speed, I found the three speed a much more agreeable arrangement for daily driving. In the real world, it wasn’t even close.
I concur with all of your opinions here… I was always more enamored with the over-styled C3 (especially the early ones) as a kid, but this generation may become my favorite as I grow older and wiser (a bit of a stretch on that last one). And yep. That 300 horse engine is more than enough poke for this car, and I’ve always liked more torque down low for my type of driving… with enough grunt, that three speed isn’t a liability at all. On that front, a 3/OD is an awesome setup, giving you the best of both worlds. Also a boon for low output engines, where you need every gear you can get ahold of to keep moving at a decent clip.
Beautiful ads, BTW!
“Thinking man’s choice” = we fixed what you knew was wrong
50-some years later, in retrospect it would have been nice if R&T would have noted the price of the Mercedes 230 SL and BMW 2000CS for comparison purposes, like the C&D 1978 Cadillac Coupe De Ville post yesterday.
I have an April, 1966 Car and Driver with the 2000CS on the cover. They said the car had a base price of $4,985 and that it undercut the Porsche 911 and MB 230SL. They also said they didn’t know how BMW could make any money at that price. They were bodied by Karmann, which probably wasn’t cheep no matter how fast their bodies rusted. The Car and Driver test car was equipped with optional power windows and a power sunroof, and it wouldn’t surprise me if all or most of them were so equipped. Unfortunately, Car and Driver didn’t mention what the options cost.
When the 2000CS evolved into the 2800CS, the price delta between it and the equivalent sedan was substantial. The same was true of the 630CSi when it arrived. It seems like the 2000CS didn’t carry as big a premium over the 2000TiLUX that followed it into production, unless the introductory pricing of the 2000CS was short-lived.
The 1966 230SL had a base price of $6,185. Most of them were sold with expensive options like automatic transmissions and removable hardtops though.
Thank you. So, not counting options, the Corvette was about same price as the BMW and the 230SL cost about 25% more. Apples & oranges, I know, but this differential isn’t nearly as much as yesterday’s De Ville. Currency exchange rates might be a big factor.
I was just a young kid back then living in a lower-middle class suburb and I find price comparisons interesting for cars that were out of the question for my neighborhood back then.
Between 1973 and 1976, the dollar became a fiat currency with no backing in a fixed value based on gold. At that point, all bets were off.
Road & Track always managed to take their time dawdling through the quarter mile when testing American cars. You wouldn’t need a special tune up or more than average competence with a manual transmission to achieve a fifteen second elapsed time in a 327/300/3.36 Sting Ray. This would have been the same year that they managed to add two seconds to the quarter mile time of a 440-powered Coronet. I’m hardly an American car proponent, but R&T loved to tell people who drove imports that they weren’t missing anything.
I recently took a few pictures of a ’63 Split Window with a 250-horse 327 and a 3-speed. I’m normally not that interested in Corvettes but I fell in love with this one; the owner said that 900 (if I’m remembering that right) ’63 models had 3-speeds.
At some point, I may write it up…
Great points Paul. Especially on the desire for this year/body generation. Was going to disagree on the 3 over the 4 speed but gave it some more thought. In the steep and dangerous mountains where I grew up and learned to drive, a 3 speed would have been better provided the gearing and engine torque curve was strong. But then again @ 7or 8 thousand feet elevation, there were many times where a 4 speed felt like it provided the extra oomph to make a safe and quick pass going uphill.
The newer vetted look like some kind of origami nut designed the bodies, not much beauty to appreciate. YMMV. Thanks for a great site.
Chevrolet sold a lot of these with a 2 speed PG , so the three speed manual would work just fine for most folks.
After reading the negative comments on the C2 power steering set up; it’s off my Powerball Winning Wish List.
The RT writer did not understand how the smog pump works. It does not pump air into the intake manifold. It pumps it into the exhaust manifolds. Why that should impact the time to return to idle speed, someone else will have to tell us.
The air pump itself wouldn’t delay idle-down time, no. But secondary air injection systems consist of more than just a pump and a check valve; on carbureted and throttle body injected cars, many of them included a dashpot (or, later, a solenoid or solepot) to slow down the throttle closing. This is to stave off a condition called “wet manifold flash”. In a wet-manifold system, often there’s liquid fuel on the inner walls of the manifold. Slam the throttle shut and manifold vacuum instantly rises, flash-evaporating that liquid fuel and spiking the mixture very rich. That, in turn, puts lots of unburned fuel in the exhaust. If there’s an air pump stuffin’ oxygen into the exhaust tract, it’ll cause that unburned fuel to burn violently. So now you’ve got a bunch of unwanted stuff going on: high HC and CO emissions out the tailpipe, and explosions within the exhaust system that can blow gaskets, damage components, and make objectionable noise.
Slowing down the return to idle greatly reduces all this badness, but obviously beyond a certain point this strategy starts affecting driveability. I bitched about this in detail when I was telling about my truck.
Well, I have 933 off the line of 1966. Great car fun to drive.. L 79 motor runs great never rebuilt, needs paint and other things