By Patrick Smith
If the sound of dual exhausts and swoopy curves in a low lying two seater is exciting, Corvette was made for you. The "disco nightclub" era Corvettes are a great way to enter the hobby at a low cost. They offer performance and plenty of amenities not often found in older models. The 1975-1982 era 'Vettes have styling that blends nicely with modern era muscle cars and usually have air conditioning, power windows, decent four wheel disc brakes and suspensions that are better than older 1960s muscle cars, yet bear a similar appearance to the earlier sharks. Well sorted examples combine the best of the C3 vintage in one ride. This guide will help you spot the difference between a Mako and a Mud Shark.
Year by Year Changes: 1975 was the first year for a small block exclusive drive line. The optional L-82 engine used hood call outs for the first time. It was the last year for the convertibles. 1976 introduced steel sub sections to replace the front fiberglass floor pans in an effort to improve structural rigidity. The highly desirable aluminum mag wheel finally was a production option that year. For 1977, the cowl intake grille was deleted leaving a clean hood. It was the last year for the sugar scoop rear window frame. 1978 featured a new fastback style rear window and a celebration of Corvette's 25th Anniversary. All 1978s had the special Anniversary die cast fuel door emblem. For 1979, Corvettes had new seats and optional mirrored hatch panels which debuted on last year's Pace Car model. In 1980 the car had a redesigned air dam and urethane nose with a prominent rear spoiler. Engine choices increased with the addition of a 305 four barrel V8. The 1981 'Vette was almost identical. 1982 was the last of the C3 generation and a Collector's Edition was built to celebrate the end of an era. There were no 1983 'Vettes made at either plant as engineers retooled to produce an all new 1984 model.
1975 was the first year for 350 only power.
1977 was the last year for the sugar scoop rear window.
All '78 'Vettes have the die cast fuel hood emblem.
1980 'Vette features new front air dam and rear spoiler.
Drivetrains and Popular Options: Engine wise, Corvettes from this era used a small block Chevrolet 350 V8. The base engine was called L48 and the optional high performance model was L82. The latter was often equipped with a four speed manual transmission. Starting in 1980, Corvette offered a 305 V8 as an option. It was a low horsepower engine. The automatic transmission was GM's TH350 three speed and the four speed manual offering was Borg Warner's Super T-10 which was re-engineered in 1975 for GM. The preferred engine by far is the L82 with four speed. You could get a TH400 automatic when you ordered the L82 with automatic transmission.
The 350 engine is reliable and easy to modify for power.
The L48 is adequate in stock form and easy to soup up if more power is desired. The 305 V8 requires a lot more work to achieve similar power due to very small valves and limited cylinder head flow capability compared to the 350. Many 'Vettes with a 305 have been swapped with a larger V8. The rule of thumb when checking a 1970s to early 1980s 'Vette is to assume the engine is non original unless stated otherwise. Even then, you are prudent to check this on your own.
When it comes to car options, Corvette buyers like air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, N90 aluminum wheels and mirrored hatch panels on the later models. When it comes to sound systems, you'll find the buyers split into two camps regarding optional Ac Delco radios. The show car crowd like their radios original. AM-FM stereo is good, AM-FM stereo with 8 track is better and if it has the CB unit, that's gold. Those who buy their 'Vettes to drive instead of competing in shows want modern sound systems. Many keep a stock unit in the dash with a hidden system elsewhere. The driver crowd prefer cars that are in excellent mechanical shape. Some like 'Vettes plain for weight savings. Numbers matching cars aren't as important to racing enthusiasts or buyers seeking a clean, sorted out ride. Major packages such as the '78 Pace Car, Silver Anniversary Editions and Collector's Edition are popular. You'll pay a premium on the Pace Car. Remember there are plenty of cars around, so do not panic if one is sold out from under you.