Vintage R&T Review: 1967 Corvette Sting Ray (300HP 327) – “The Corvette For The Thinking Driver”

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”.

CC Driving Impressions: 1967 Corvette L79 350 hp 327.  PN