1977 Chevrolet Corvette

1977 Chevrolet Corvette 1977 Chevrolet Corvette
Short Take Road Test From the March 1997 Issue of Car and Driver TESTED

What you will think of the latest Corvette has a lot to do with what your interest in cars has been for the last 10 years. If your passion for sports cars has only recently been ignited, a test drive in a Corvette (assuming that your Chevrolet dealer has a demonstrator — a risky assumption) will likely leave you with high regard for this fiberglass-bodied two-seater. Over the years, the Corvette has matured into a properly buttoned-up boulevardier. It is nothing if not composed. The exhaust murmur is nicely in proportion to its leather-covered seats, and the whole assemblage eases itself down the road in a susurrus of power-assisted grace. It doesn't have a bad manner in its whole repertoire.

On the other hand, if you are a longtime Corvette maven, chances are that you'll feel just a trace of frustration with the latest example. Sure, it's smooth and refined, and you'll be glad to hear that the shift lever has been lengthened one inch so you don't impale your hand on the parking brake lever when you bang second gear. Combining the washer/wiper switch and the high-beam switch with the turn-signal lever, just like the foreigners do, wasn't a bad idea either. And the new steering column, shorter by two full inches, that finally gives a decent amount of arm-swinging space between you and the wheel, should have happened a long time ago. But so what? All of this toilet training is not what Corvettes are supposed to be about.

This is America's heavy-hitter sports car of which we speak. As a racer, it beat back Mercedes-Benzes and Jaguars on American road courses in the late 1950s. As a street machine it was the freestyle trolling-for-girls champion in any American town you can name. If you are a real Corvette Guy, you can remember when this car was the latest and greatest thing wherever it went. Talk about adulation. Corvette drivers were celebrities, even if they had holes in their socks.

So how come the new model is so cautious and conservative? If America loved Corvettes when they were wild, why is Chevrolet making them dignified?

It turns out that America loves Corvettes any way it can get them. Chevrolet is building them in record numbers, raising the price to unprecedented heights -- and the entire model year's production still sells out before the spring thaw. We must conclude that, even though the Corvette is a barefaced composite of old ideas, it has little competition in the American marketplace.

Which may be why Chevrolet keeps jacking up the price. The light-blue metallic beauty lists out at $11,006 with air conditioning ($553) and the 210-hp L82 engine ($495) among the pricier items on its extensive options list. Apart from the price increase, there are a few other subtle indications that allow you to tell new Corvettes from old ones. The "Stingray" script is gone from the front fenders of the 1977 model and crossed flags now appear on the nose and fuel filler door. Also, the windshield moldings have been blackened in the style of Porsches. Presumably, the majority of individuals with this amount of money to spend for a sports car want a machine that is relatively painless. The new Corvette is unquestionably that. The seats are relatively firm but flat — no confining buckets to put unwelcome pressure on drivers who are wide of girth. The Corvette's cockpit has always been tight in the shoulders and it remains so today. The cargo compartment behind the seats is also limited, but some relief is available in the form of an optional luggage rack for the rear deck. Certainly the quality of the interior appointments is higher than ever. The restyled instrument cluster has a cleanly functional look to it, and the carpeting and upholstery materials are first class.

Despite the Corvette's reputation as the behemoth of sports cars, it is a highly maneuverable car with hair-trigger steering. Until you get used to the quickness, which is even more abrupt than the 2.9 turns lock-to-lock would suggest, you carve a notchy path down the freeway. And some folks are not going to like that.

But we're not "some folks," and if Corvettes were perfectly acceptable to every little old lady with a driver's license, they wouldn't be much as sports cars. This latest Corvette model may be more accommodating than its predecessors, but it's not that accommodating.