Corvettes I have driven

The first Corvette I remember was the down-the-street neighbor’s 1970 dark-green coupe with the base 350 V-8 and automatic.

NOTE: Not the actual first Corvette I remember seeing.
NOTE: Not the actual first Corvette I remember seeing.

The first Corvette I drove looked a lot like it, except it was a 1969, and it had a tan interior instead of a green interior. Oh, and it had a 427 V-8 with three carburetors, running on racing gas, and M-22 “rock-crusher” four-speed. It did not have power steering or brakes.

NOTE: Not the actual Corvette I drove. I think.
NOTE: Not the actual Corvette I drove. I think.

It was a cloudy, not very warm summer day, which was a good time to notice how much heat the V-8 produced. I noticed that after I noticed how much noise the V-8 produced. To paraphrase Robert Duvall’s cavalry colonel from “Apocalypse Now,” the smell of unburned hydrocarbons from gasoline-powered V-8s is the smell of … victory.

The 427 three-carb V-8 was rated at 435 gross horsepower. “Gross” means horsepower before engine-driven accessories; since 1971 engines have been measured in “net” horsepower, after the drag from such accessories as the fan, alternator, power steering, etc. Of course, it didn’t have power steering, so that was one major drag missing. I think the engine wasn’t originally rated for only racing gas, so someone may have tweaked it to exceed the rating, which may have been underreprted anyway because insurance companies were starting to hyperventilate about horsepower.

The owner drove it around for a few minutes, and then punched the loud pedal, and the world moved by at increasing speeds. Things don’t go by in a blur at such speeds; they just go by really, really fast. Based on what the owner told me the speedometer said (even if the speedometer was 10 mph off at those speeds) … put it this way: It was the second fastest I’ve been in a motor vehicle, the first being in a NASCAR racing truck on a Road America straightaway.

Then I got to drive. Of course, I killed it the first two (or so) times I tried to take off, not having familiarity with the ballet of clutch pedal and accelerator pedal. (Brakes weren’t even an issue yet.) Generally the first manual-transmission car one drives is probably not one whose transmission is known as the “rock-crusher.” As someone whose arm strength has never been confused for Popeye’s, driving a car without power steering but with most of its weight atop the front wheels (thanks to the iron-block iron-head big-block V-8). You discover that steering isn’t so bad at speed, but low-speed turns are brutal, at least when the most strenuous thing you do with your arms is type or pick up a trumpet. The brakes weren’t really an issue given all the marching I had done and the fact I didn’t drive it very fast.

I managed to neither wreck nor, I think, harm the Vette in my few minutes of driving on city streets. (If a car is built for drag racing, it should be able to stand a few minutes at the hands of a ham-handed novice driver, right?)

For as small a car as the Corvette is, that was a beast to drive. As with all cars of the era, it had little in the way of safety features beyond collapsible steering column (as if hitting something at three-digit speeds wouldn’t kill you anyway) and seat belts. It had an AM/FM radio, and that was about it. The seats didn’t adjust other than sliding up and back. Compared with today’s Corvettes (or even cars with much less performance), it didn’t have much in tires — bias-ply 60-series tires with 15-inch eight-inch-wide wheels. Those Corvettes didn’t even have rack-and-pinion steering, a feature that wasn’t added until the C4 was designed.

(Side note: A few months later I was in Las Vegas with the UW Band. The first night we were there I walked up to a slot machine whose jackpot, five 7s, was a new Ferrari. I put in some money, and on my third attempt I saw four 7s and … not a 7. The interesting question to ponder is what a 21-year-old college student living in the Snowbelt would have done with a Ferrari. Maybe trade it for the Corvette?)

Several years later, I test-drove a 1976 coupe — red, of course — with the L-82 V-8 and four-speed. That V-8, in the depths of the Smog Era, generated all of 220 horsepower. The Vette was less than $10,000, but it wasn’t affordable at that time, in part because adding another car payment seemed a bad idea.

NOTE: Not necessarily the Corvette I test-drove.
NOTE: Not necessarily the Corvette I test-drove.

The funny thing about driving that Corvette was that it gave more of a feel of driving a luge, nearly lying down with my feet way out in front, than the previous Corvette I drove. The other funny thing is that performance-wise there are few worse Corvettes, but they sold very well, perhaps because there was little else for high-speed vehicle choice in those days — basically only the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, with its larger but weaker 400 V-8.

A few years after that I drove a coworker’s 1973 Corvette before he sold it. This too had a four-speed, and it was augmented further by fantastic red-over-gold paint.

NOTE: Not the same Corvette I drove.
NOTE: Not necessarily the same Corvette I drove.

Again, I didn’t drive it very fast, though I was about to before, as I steered onto a straight road, I saw a police car in front of me. (This was the same road where I had previously test-driven a 1994 BMW 540i with a V-8 and six-speed. It was so smooth that I didn’t realize I was driving 73 mph until I passed a 35-mph speed limit sign.) The owner may have done a little engine work, but like the ’76 it didn’t offer that much compared to earlier Vettes — 190 or 250 horsepower from the 350 V-8s.

For a variety of reasons, then, it has been almost 20 years since I’ve driven any Corvette. That personal losing streak of mine ended Sunday.

NOTE: Yes, this is the Corvette I drove.

This is a 2014 Corvette convertible with the LT-1 V-8, which sends 450 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque through a proper seven-speed manual transmission. CorvSport adds:

The LT1 engine combines advanced technologies, including direct fuel injection, Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing, and an advanced combustion system that delivers more power while using less fuel. In fact, during normal driving conditions, it is estimated that the new Corvette gets an approximate 26 miles per gallon (highway), thanks in part to the LT1’s ability to run in a fuel-saving V-4 mode while driving at cruising speeds.
The LT1 engine is backed by a choice of active exhaust systems that are less restrictive than the previous generation. This reduction in exhaust restriction was achieved by increasing the diameter of the pipes from 2.5 inches to 2.75 inches, which resulted in a 13-percent improvement in airflow through the standard system. Additionally, there is also an optional dual-mode active exhaust system which offers a 27-percent improvement in airflow. It features two additional valves that open to a lower-restriction path through the mufflers. When opened, these valves increase engine performance and produce a more powerful exhaust note.

The LT1 engine is paired to an industry-exclusive TREMEC TR 6070 seven-speed manual transmission (standard) with Active Rev Matching for more precise upshifts and downshifts.  This driver-selectable feature can be easily engaged or disengaged via paddles on the steering wheel. …
In addition, shift feel and shift points can be adjusted through the Driver Mode Selector – a five-position dial that tailors 12 vehicle attributes to fit the driver’s environment and produce one of several unique driving experiences.
The cockpit mounted Driver Mode Selector utilizes a rotary knob near the shifter that allows drivers to select between one of five drive settings: Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport, and Track.  The Tour Mode is the default setting for everyday driving.  The Weather Mode was designed primarily for added confidence while driving in rain and snow.  The Eco Mode was developed for achieving optimal fuel economy.  The Sport Mode was developed for drivers looking for a more adventurous, or “spirited” driving experience.  The Track Mode was developed for a single reason – as it’s name implies – for running the car at a racetrack. …
For C7 Corvettes equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, it will be set up with 45-mm piston Bilstein dampers for more aggressive body control and track capability.  The Z51 is available with the third-generation Magnetic Ride Control, which features a new twin-wire/dual-coil damper system that react 40 percent more efficiently, enabling improved ride comfort and body control.
The Corvette Stingray now rides on new 18x 8.5-inch front and 19 x 10-inch rear wheels.  New Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires, which were developed specifically for the seventh-generation Corvette. These tires deliver comparable levels of grip with the previous generation of Corvette, despite having a narrow profile than their predecessors.  Given the reduced “footprint”, the track-oriented Corvette Stingray, when equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, is capable of 1g in cornering acceleration – which is comparable to the performance of the 2013 Corvette Grand Sport.

The Driver Mode Selector was in Sport, I believe. I didn’t drive it at, well, very much faster than legal speeds, though I did drive it the wrong way down a one-way street, smiling all the way. I didn’t drive that fast because it’s not my car, I wasn’t familiar with the area, and I didn’t want to do something stupid, like, say, hit the rear end of a manure spreader in a brand new Mustang convertible (really) or hit two houses and land on top of a parked car (really). Nevertheless, driving that Corvette made my week.

The owner is about my size, so the car fit me just fine. (Which is good, since Corvettes I’ve fit in have been tight fits, though perhaps at car shows the dealers don’t have the cars set up to have people screw around with seat adjustments.) And, yes, the driving experience was unparalleled, even though not very fast. The engine sounds as it should. The transmission is a little tall in first, and it’s easy to go from second to fifth because the gears are close together.

The nice thing about the Vette from the late C3 onward is that it’s now a usable car beyond just driving it. The convertibles have small trunks, but the coupes have hatchbacks suitable for overnight bags or golf bags, or a few groceries. Some Vette fans don’t like that, but how many people do nothing but drive a car without using it for something else? The owner claimed he got in the low 30s in highway mileage. You could not get low 30s in highway mileage if you disconneccted seven cylinders.

I have been a bit of a naysayer about the C7 and the C6 before it in part because of the end of the hidden headlights. (Europe’s fault, apparently. Brexit!) It’s also seemed to me that the car has gotten too complex for its audience. (The owner said the tires are not designed for weather colder than 40 degrees.) It is still an affordable supercar when compared with much more expensive European cars. And the driving experience is incomparable to any I’ve had, including the original Vettebeast. I may have to rethink my opinion of the C7.

Powerball is worth $122 million ($81.9 million cash value) Saturday night.


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