It was not the first Corvette, or the most powerful, or the fastest. But the ethos of the Corvette, style over everything, begins with the C3.
(Welcome back to Carspotting! We’re back with The Worst Walking Tour of New York City, headed by me, a hack who is barely qualified to tell you how to get to the Empire State Building from here. We’re out to find the best cars of the Big Apple.)
We happened to spot a 1970-1971 Corvette on the street in Astoria the other day, resplendent in yellow. You can tell it’s a ‘70 or ‘71 because it has a kind of ice cube tray fender vent (as were on all 1970-1972s) but clear turn signals in the front grilles (1972s had amber ones). The first year 1968s and second-year 1969s had different fender vents, if you’re curious.
But this ‘70 or ‘71 is still early enough for me to feel comfortable talking about the early C3 Corvette in general, and it’s an interesting kind of car. Under the skin, it’s a carryover from the C2, but the body itself went from a somewhat practical brick shape into a Speed Racer cartoon made real. The C3 was actually tighter around the passengers than the C2 it replaced, but longer. It was the opposite of a practical car. And indeed, that impracticality was intentional, right from the very start, as the excellent history at Ate Up With Motor recounted:
[Now-deified Corvette engineering God Zora Arkus-] Duntov wanted the Corvette Sting Ray’s replacement, which originally was slated to appear for the 1967 model year, to be smaller, leaner, and more aerodynamic, ideally with a rear- or mid-mounted engine. [GM design super boss Bill] Mitchell, for his part, loved to make cars look aerodynamic, but he wasn’t terribly concerned if they actually were or not.
Like Harley Earl before him, Mitchell was a believer in the formula of longer-lower-wider, and he felt sports cars should have long hoods. He was no fan of the rear-engine layout that Duntov wanted, which he thought would be ugly.
As for Duntov’s desired mechanical changes, GM senior management had no stomach for an expensive revamp of the Sting Ray platform. With Corvette sales on the upswing, there seemed to be no reason to mess with success. As a result, it was determined that the new Corvette would carry over most of the Sting Ray’s mechanicals, including the chassis, suspension, transmissions, and engines.
Currently, GM loves to talk about how the (now mid-engine) Corvette is all about performance. Engineers happily gush about chassis rigidity and weight distribution as if any of that matters. Mitchell saw to the heart of the thing. The Corvette is supposed to look and sound and impress upon you the style of speed. Actually attaining speed is secondary.
Indeed, the C8 is sure to be a great-driving car, but I don’t know if looks as extreme as this C3 must have at the tail end of the 1960s, when even Ferraris and Lamborghinis didn’t cut their fenders with so sharp a crease.