The Owner’s Manual warns that normal operating temperature is 210°F and that’s exactly where the temperature gauge stabilized on our test car. Apparently the combination of reduced grille opening and the air pump for exhaust emission control has produced cooling problems. The fan is the noisiest one we can remember, which indicates GM is trying to solve the problem by pushing more air through the radiator. Actually, there are certain advantages to high coolant temperatures (improved thermal efficiency and reduced crankcase dilution), provided overheating can be avoided on extremely hot days. The only disadvantage we found to the high operating temperature was that the passenger compartment tended to be warmer than normal. Not too surprising when you consider that 700 pounds of 210°F cast iron is separated from the driver’s feet by only a thin piece of fiberglass.
Very few changes have been made in the drivetrain and chassis from previous years but that’s only a fault if they’re inadequate. They’re not. The transmission, as always, is perfect — with a well-balanced, sturdy-feeling linkage that builds all kinds of confidence. Clutch effort is light considering the torque it must cope with. All of this is to say that shifting is easy and pleasant, but the close ratio transmission and the 460 lbs./ft. of torque make it seldom necessary. Even so, we found ourselves shifting whenever the slightest occasion arose just because we couldn’t keep our hands off the Barbarella.
On the other hand, we learned to use extreme caution when making vigorous shifts into fourth gear because the designers have built in a hazard in the form of a forward-facing console-mounted emergency brake lever. The Corvette people never have been able to find a satisfactory place for their hand brake lever. Before ’67 it was mounted under the dash and when set, never failed to bash the entering driver’s knee. Now they’ve mounted it between the seats and pointed it right at the shift knob.
So you make a rapid 3-4 shift, the kind Corvettes encourage, and the brake lever carves a neat little notch out of the driver’s right hand.
There are certain drivetrain noises that come as standard equipment on Corvettes. Even though its appearance has changed completely, the noises are the same ones we’ve been hearing since the first independent rear suspension and the first 4-speed transmission. There is a muted clunk in the rear end that speaks occasionally when the slack is taken up in the drivetrain, and the transmission makes a soft whirring sound in the lower gears. Every Corvette owner who ever was knows what we’re talking about and wisely accepts it as an inherent part of the mechanism. A mistress isn’t supposed to be perfect.
The Corvette’s ride quality has never been what we would call supple but it’s even stiffer now. Suspension changes have been aimed at better handling and increased understeer but some of the changes — increased front suspension rates and wheels widened to seven inches — have the side effect of a harsher ride. In the effort to increase understeer, the rear roll center was also lowered. Why more understeer? Older Sting Rays (Chevrolet started this year calling its car simply “Corvette,” then decided Sting Ray was too good to give up, so changed the name back) were very good handling cars but surprisingly close to neutral steer. If the driver wasn’t careful, even with one of the 327 engined Corvettes, and got carried away with the power on tap, he would find himself sideways in a corner before he knew what happened. If that was true of the small-engined Corvette, you can imagine what happened when you put the wood to the 427. As the giganto-engine option became more popular, Chevrolet saw the need to build in a bigger safety factor, hence, more understeer in the ’68s. The change is obvious after you zap through a few corners. While the primitive Sting Rays were quite happy entering a turn fast and maintaining speed or slightly accelerating through, the ’68 Corvette definitely wants to be powered through a turn, and if you don’t it just pushes through, grinding off its front tires. We liked the old ones better although the new ones are very resistant to spin-outs if that happens to be your particular anticipatory horror. Although a different driving technique is required, the latest Corvette still seems to get through a corner faster than the previous models, thanks to its lower center of gravity, 1-inch wider wheels, and a 0.7 inch wider track.