Chevrolet’s Corvette ranks just one notch below immortality on America’s list of mechanical achievements — and well it should. Like barbed wire and the cotton gin, it borrows from no one. Every working aspect and every styling feature evolve from Chevrolet’s plan to built the ultimate American car. The Corvette is exciting, it’s lusty, it stimulates all of the base emotion lurking deep in modern man. It is the Barbarella of the car maker’s art.
Corvette owners begin with very young men who can barely afford the front money, care nothing about sports cars, and invariable lose their driving licenses for overindulging. But Corvette owners also include middle-aged doctors and lawyers who view their cars as surrogate mistresses. Despite their differences, a certain rapport exists between all Corvette owners and one procedure is common to all — they never make reference to their cars but always to their Corvettes. Cruelly high insurance rates, proliferating families, astonishing increases in girth and guilt might conspire to deprive a man of his Corvette — but at heart he never loses it; in his secret dreams he is always a Corvette owner, and he cannot forget that once upon a time…
Subtlety has never been a characteristic of Barbarellas and it’s not to be found in the all-new styling of the ’68 Corvette. It’s a brutal, masculine looking machine with a shape that suggests a slightly overweight Group 7 sports racer or one of the Le Mans Ferraris when they were winning. The shape doesn’t whisper, it bellows power, and with the 400-horsepower 427 cu. in. engine, with which our test car was equipped, Barbarella’s siren song is distinctly throaty.
The ’68 Corvette is a 2-door rocket sled. Its 400 hp engine is no different than the one offered last year except for the mandatory air pump apparatus for emission control. Three 2-bbl. Holley carburetors are used, with the one in the middle providing for normal operation while the end ones, with their vacuum operated throttles, are useful for setting land speed records and snaffling traffic tickets. If you’re disposed to chug around in traffic the system is great. The center carburetor lets the engine idle at 750 rpm and then pull away smoothly in any gear with no fuss. The operation of the secondaries is nowhere near so predictable. Whenever they get ready, and they get ready on a pre-determined system governed by air flow through the primary carburetor, the end carburetors snap open with a great sucking roar and the Corvette charges forth in a fashion that would put the efforts of a Crimean Lancer in a class with a dilettantish Sunday rider in Central Park. Yes, there normally is a short lag before the vacuum-operated secondaries open themselves, but the system was never objectionable until we started doing timed acceleration runs. When the engine was warm the car would take a giant cough immediately after a 5600 rpm 1-2 shift. After cooling off for a couple hours the problem was gone — do you have a couple of hours to wait? This is exactly the same problem we discovered on the first ’68 Corvette we drove last fall and is frustrating in a car that otherwise produces so much power in an almost effortless fashion. On the stumble-free runs the Corvette roared through the quarter in 14.1 seconds at 102 mph — quick but nowhere as quick as it sounded or felt. The test car had a 3.70 axle which Chevrolet calls a Special Purpose Ratio, which means street racing. With the standard 3.36 ratio the Corvette would still be in third gear at the end of the quarter, and that’s no way to deal with the demands of Woodward Avenue. How fast would our test Corvette go? Who knows. With the 3.70 axle, top speed runs and wounded engines may very well come in matched pairs because when we hit an indicated 125 mph the tach needle had already used up half the red zone and was obviously headed back for zero the hard way. Experience said quit while the quitting was good. LSD makes a great trip, but our choice is a few seconds of wide open throttle in a 427 Corvette.