Vintage R&T Road Test: 1973 Corvette – “Changes For 1973 Produce Mixed Results”

(Note: the title is incorrect; it’s actually an L-82 engine)    The C3 Corvette’s first significant change on what was to be its long life came in 1973, when it got a new front end and a number of more minor changes, but not all of them insignificant. One of the most impactful might come as a surprise: the switch to new standard radial tires made the Corvette more pleasant to drive in typical daily circumstances, but took the edge off its handling prowess that the former especially-specified belted bias-ply tires afforded.

Seems minor, but it was just the first step in turning the Vette from a genuine sports car into more of a boulevard cruiser. If R&T could see where that would go in the ensuing years, they’d have been a bit surprised. But that was the C3’s trajectory, and frankly, by 1973 the Corvette had already largely fallen out of favor with the genuine sports car set.

The new Corvette was bigger, heavier, the engines less raw, and most importantly,” it was not the exciting mid-engine car promised to us (and by us to you) for this year. R&T goes on: “the present Corvette…will be with us for three more years at least”. Ha! It was going to be an awfully long wait for that; almost half a century. The simple reality is that GM was not about to invest in an all-new Corvette given its limited production numbers and Chevy’s commitment to keep the price reasonable.


Back to the tires: the ’73 came with either Goodyear or Firestone, but these were not special high-performance, high-speed tires like the (expensive) Michelin XWX. Apparently these were essentially the same tires being used on other new cars in 1973, and had a speed rating of only 120 mph. That last detail was somewhat academic, as the ’73’s top speed with the optional LT-82 engine was only 124 mph.

But the tires were of course more pleasant in daily use, with longer life, better wet grip, and stable at speed. But cornering power was down, and Zora Arkus Duntov was not exactly happy about it. And no, GM wasn’t going to spend the money on expensive European radials. At least the new optional American racing Equipment alloy wheels were attractive. Looks beat performance, increasingly so in the Corvette’s playbook.

In addition to the base 190 hp 350 and the 250 hp L-82 350, there was also the 275 hp 454 still available, but it seems to have increasingly played an outside roll, and would soon be gone. If the big block wasn’t going to be massively powerful, it wasn’t wroth the trade offs. The tested car came with the close ratio four speed, and the highest numerical available rear axle ratio (3.70:1). The days of 4:11 and 4:56 gears was over; just as well.

The resulting power train made the Corvette quick (0-60 in 7.2 sec.; 1/4 mile in 15.5 @94mph), but not as quick as the former high-compression LT-1 in its heyday. Driveability was quite good. The close ratio 4-speed and the engine’s admirably wide powerband (it pulled well from 1500 to 5600 rpm) meant that there was no compelling reason to shift through all four gears in sequence except for maximum performance. Starting in first and shifting to fourth worked just fine; who needs a close-ratio four speed anyway, except on the track? Bring back the three-speed and overdrive!

The final verdict was positive: “equipped with the right options, it is a pleasant and rewarding car to drive…”