The history of the Corvette C3: Years 1968 - 1982
The Corvette C3 (third-generation) is a two-seater sports car manufactured by Chevrolet, a division of General Motors Corporation, between the years 1967 (the model year 1968) and 1982. The Mako Shark II concept served as a prototype for the C3 Corvette and the body of the C3 was largely the same as the C2 generation, but otherwise, the design had little in common with the previous generation.
Corvette C3 is the longest-produced Corvette generation, during the C3 generation the car underwent several technical and appearance changes.
The Chevrolet 350 was the most common engine type, the big block was only available as an option from 1968 to 1974. In the early 1970s, the causes of the oil crisis reduced the output of Corvette engines to only 165 horsepower (the year 1975). During the production years of the C3, more than 20 different engine options have been available for it, which you can find out more on the Corvette C3 engines article.
A manual transmission was available from the factory in all years except 1982. Starting in 1975, automatic transmission Corvettes outnumbered manual transmissions in production.
Carburetors were used in all model years, except for 1982, when crossfire injection was introduced. The engine control module (ECM or ECU) was first used with the 1980 LG4 engine and since then in all 1981 and 1982 cars. All cars from 1968 to 1980 were manufactured at the St. Louis assembly plant and late 1981 and 1982 cars were manufactured at the Bowling Green assembly plant.
The Corvette C3 retained the Stingray name from the previous model series, but it was discontinued in 1977. This is a common point of debate as to whether all C3 Corvettes are Stingrays even though the emblem was no longer in use. You can read more about this here: Is the Corvette C3 always a Stingray?
The first year of the new Corvette C3 generation. The design of the car was largely based on the Corvette C2, with many technical and appearance aspects.
The year 1969 brought several minor changes, such as a smaller steering wheel, new door handles and steering column lock, and many safety-related changes. The interior was also redesigned to provide more room for both the passenger and the driver.
It was the first year for Corvette 350 cu in small block, which replaced the 327 cu in, and also the "Stingray" front fender emblem appeared.
Several changes were made to the 1970 model year car, such as new fender flares, egg-crate style fender grill, and exhaust outlets change larger and rectangular.
Mechanical changes were e.g. new LT1 small-block, 454 cu in big block, and three-speed manual transmission was replaced by a four-speed manual transmission.
The interior of the 1970 Corvettes was also redesigned to make it even roomier.
The changes to the 1971 Corvette from the previous year were only minimal, only the engine side had actual changes. The emission regulations became stricter and because of this, it was the first year when the engines were designed to run on low-octane unleaded gasoline.
The 1972 model year was almost identical to the previous year's Corvette, both mechanically and visually.
General Motors started to advertise horsepower as net power, and not measured without additional equipment as before, this reduced the advertised horsepower even though the relative power of the engines was the same.
The 1973 Corvette underwent several changes in appearance. Perhaps the most notable change was the chrome nose and grille replaced with safer urethane bumpers required by federal law.
In previous year models, the removable rear window became fixed, which increased the size of the "trunk" when the window storage space was no longer needed.
Passenger safety was improved by introducing a steel beam in the doors, which protected people in side collisions.
New to the 1973 Corvette were radial tires that increased tread, wet grip, and stability at higher speeds.
In 1974, a new federal safety law (five-mile-per-hour impact standard) came into effect, which is why the rear bumper was also changed to urethane bumpers (1974 is the only year with a two-piece rear bumper due to manufacturing issues.)
Another improvement affecting safety was the integration of lap and shoulder belts in the 1974 coupe, this was still an option in the convertible.
The model year 1974 was the last year for the true dual exhaust and 454 cu in big block engine.
The alarm switch moved from the back of the car to the left front fender.
The appearance of the 1975 model was almost identical to the previous year's model, the visible changes were the front and rear bumper pads and a one-piece rear bumper.
The year 1975 was the last year when a convertible was available during the C3 generation and the first year of the catalytic converter.
Technical changes included an electronic ignition system (HEI) and electronically driven tachometers.
Changes to the exterior of the 1976 Corvette were minor. Most notable was the removal of the Corvette's Astro ventilation system and rear deck vents, a new one-piece rear bumper emblem, and the final year for the Stingray fender emblems.
There were no major changes in the interior either. The reception of the Vega-style steering wheel was divided among enthusiasts, and even today there are several instructions on the Internet for replacing a 1976 model year steering wheel.
1977 was the last year of the vertical rear window and did not include any major mechanical changes from the previous year.
Some changes were made to the interior, which included new climate controls, dashboard gauges, and leather upholstery became standard equipment.
The Stingray emblems were removed from the fenders and replaced with cross-flag emblems.
In 1978, the 25th anniversary of the Corvette was celebrated and two Special Editions were released to celebrate it: the Silver Anniversary and the Indy 500 Pace Car.
A new fastback rear window and a redesigned interior were big visible changes compared to the previous year.
All 1978 model-year Corvettes received special anniversary nose emblems, the technical changes themselves were minor.
1979 didn't bring any major changes to the Corvette, except for the addition of new sport seats as standard equipment and, the front and rear spoiler packages which were introduced in the previous year's Pace car special edition.
Chevrolet produced 53,807 Corvettes in 1979, the highest production volume in the entire history of the C3.
The 1979 Corvette was the last model when a manual transmission could be ordered with the L82 engine.
In 1980, strict emissions regulations caused changes to the engines, the biggest hit being the California cars, which were only available with a 305 cu in V8 producing 180 horsepower. This engine was equipped with a computer command control system (CCC), which became standard on all engines the following year.
Corvette designers aimed to reduce the car's weight, which resulted in better overall gas mileage results. The most visible changes from this were redesigned hood, front, and rear bumper covers.
The year 1981 brought major changes to Corvette production, the St. Louis plant stopped making Corvettes, and production was moved to the modern Bowling Green plant.
This was the first time the Corvette C3 had only one engine option, the new L81 replacing the L48 and L82 engines that were available in previous model years.
The 1981 model year was the last year of the manual transmission and, exceptionally, the manual transmission was also available for California cars.
The final year of the Corvette C3 saw the introduction of new features designed for the Corvette C4, such as the Crossfire injection and TH700-R4 automatic transmission with overdrive.
The visual changes were minor, except for the Collectors Edition, which contained plenty of unique features.
- Corvette C3 Transmissions
- Corvette C3 Emblems
- Corvette C3 Special Editions
- Corvette C3 birdcage and rust
- Is the Corvette C3 always a Stingray?
- Number matching and RPO
- Corvette C3 engines
- Greenwood Corvettes
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Last Updated 26/2/2023