Featured: This 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Changed My Opinion Of C3 Stingrays

This 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Changed My Opinion Of C3 Stingrays

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
September 29, 2017
18 comments

Photography by Andrew Golseth

There aren’t many domestic cars that get me fizzy. You’re not mistaken: I am the same guy who bragged about wheeling a Hertz Shelby GT350, and I did claim there aren’t many machines I’d prefer over a Yenko Camaro, but those were rare exceptions—for the majority of American steel, there are only a handful of cars I’d care to own. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them, they just don’t wow me like so many European classics do. If I’m honest, as a whole, I even prefer Japanese Nostalgic Cars to those from America, but that’s probably a generational thing and another subject entirely.

What I’m saying is that I like cars from the ‘States, but my preferences lie elsewhere. I enjoy big-block V8s and muscular styling, but within the American automobile catalog, it’s the Corvette that I’m generally least interested in. Sure, the C2 Sting Ray seems to get universal love, even from the not-so-domesticated Americans like yours truly—how the hell anyone could claim to dislike the original Sting Ray is beyond me. But aside from the C2, ‘Vettes just don’t really do it for me. Perhaps it’s the midlife-crisis-mobile stigma the name carries, or maybe it’s all the embarrassing Cars & Coffee crash compilation YouTube videos. I digress…

However, despite preferring foreign fruit over my homegrown crop, I will admit the C2 is every bit as pretty as the Jaguar E-Type. Hell, I think it’s one of the most original automobile designs in history, which is why it seems to get all the attention, and rightfully so. That’s been said countless times before though, so today I wanted to focus on its much-maligned successor, the C3.

A couple months ago, I was visiting my father in Texas. Naturally, the old man and I got to chatting about cars, and Porsches specifically—he can’t seem to pull the damn trigger on buying a 911 despite my selfish inheritance-driven efforts. We continue on like this, and at one point my dad introduces me to his neighbor, and then nonchalantly mentions “Oh, he’s got a pretty cool Sting Ray.” I’m thinking it’s gotta be a C7, but hey, it’s still car talk.

Then he tells me it’s a 1968 and my interest piques. I immediately think it’s a C2 because, in all honesty, I don’t know Corvette production years off the top of my head. So, we go next door to take a spin, he opens the garage, and there’s a lipstick red C3 convertible staring back at me. But I wasn’t disappointed and it took me a minute to realize why. That’s because this particular C3 is exceptional. Regardless of where you reside, I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you how few clean third-gen Corvettes are running about, but this one looked new. Scratch that, this one looks better than new.

Then I realize why it looks exceptionally sharp: it’s an early C3, a first-year car in fact. From the rear panel top-mount filler cap and the peaked fender lines, to the vertically-sliced side gills, the original C3 design has plenty of presence without an overdose of gimmick. The chrome body-hugging bumpers (instead of the later, bulky Malaise Era fiberglass integrated units) keep the overhangs minimal and the lines crisp. In tandem with the polished windshield trim, Rally wheels, and single flag mirror, these early C3 look far more “correct” than the facelift models. The differences extend down to the details too, like the metal door handles mounted flush with the body, sunk within the top of the door skin.

When depressing the passenger door handle, I notice the dramatic rear arches begin within the door design rather than after it, adding an elongating visual affect—the lowest point in the shoulder line is in the rear ¾ of the door, how many other car have this aspect? It’s a significant part of the overall design I’d never noticed until I physically touched the car. Then I get inside for more lessons in form.

Sitting in the C3, I first notice a lack of something that I can’t put my finger on immediately. Then I notice the windshield wipers. There aren’t any. I initially assumed the wiper assembly must have been removed during the car’s restoration, but it turns out the wipers are actually hidden underneath the wraparound baseplate in front of the glass—how trick is that? Once inside, I realized even the cabin keeps things simple and organized. The minimally equipped interior is devoid of chintzy velvety materials or dreadful Disco-decade colors that I’d associated with this generation of the Corvette.

With my newfound appreciation for the car at rest, it was time to drive. The starter spun right up to a quick-firing 327 V8 idle rumble. Originally rated at 350 horsepower, regardless of in-period accuracy, the car felt light and tight. For so much fiberglass it sure as shit felt solider than many steel-bodied classics I’ve experienced, and it sounds as good as it looks too. It’s not overtly loud when cruising, but it opens up enough to remind you of its nature: rear-wheel drive, torquey, and lightweight—a recipe for disaster in novice hands and a joy for respectful wheelmen.

Dallas in June can be brutal, but this evening joyride was quite pleasant, which made me appreciate the convertible aspect. In fact, after some rigorous research (see Google Images: “Chevrolet Corvette C3”), I actually like the way the C3 drop top looks compared to the coupe, and convertibles are almost never my preference.

We stopped in an empty church parking lot for some photos—when in Rome, right?—and while snapping away, peering over the distinctive lines, I thought to myself, “This is why all those Space Race astronauts drove Corvettes.” On the ride back to my dad’s place, I couldn’t help but wonder why these relatively affordable, DIY-friendly, V8-powered American sports cars weren’t more popular. Aren’t more popular. I’m not sure if it’s because of the unfortunate Corvette reputation (even if it is occasionally earned thanks to select knuckleheads) or simply the lack of good examples available on the market, but I do know this: after spending some time around this ‘68, I think these early C3s deserve more attention than they get… and that’s coming from a guy who’d prefer to drone on about Alfa Romeos and my father’s yet-to-be-purchased Porsche 911!

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James DoeAlberto1962Paul Ipolitodtmix161@gmail.comMark Jordan Recent comment authors
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James Doe

These are beautiful, fun cars. I haven’t driven a stock one but for those concerned they may be more fun to look at than drive, they are very easy to modernize/upgrade. My ’68 looks stock but has fuel injection, stroker motor, six speed, electric headlight motors instead of vaccuum, etc. They come stock with 4 wheel independent suspension and 4 wheel disk brakes, but numerous handling upgrades are available, from modern coilover front shocks up to insane options like installing a custom frame with C6 or C7 suspension components.

Paul Ipolito
Paul Ipolito

“Lean Thinking” by Womack and Jones. Page 189- “On July 27, 1994 something remarkable happened in the assembly hall of the Porsche company in Stuttgart, Germany. A Porsche Carrera rolled off the line with nothing wrong with it. The army of blue-coated craftsman waiting in the vast rectification area could pause for a moment because, for the first time in forty-four years, they had nothing to do. This was the first defect-free car ever to roll off a Porsche assembly line or to emerge from the earlier system of bench assembly.” The footnotes for this chapter state “As we will… Read more »

Alberto1962
Alberto1962

Having red my answer below here’s almost nothing to add. The recent discussion in Europe regarding the CO2 scandal tells all. The German Autoindustrie is not mistake-free. This is a myth also going on in USA… My 1966 Vette is great, rock-solid, with its original small block and muncie gear box. Don’t know if it ran 112’900, 212’900 or 312’900 km or miles (the odometer shows at the moment 12’900… I love this car with noises and some small imperfections. That makes the difference in a classic car…

dtmix161@gmail.com
dtmix161@gmail.com

I enjoyed the article on the 1968 Vette, and can relate with some of your comments. My dad used to own a ZR1 during the 90’s. I sure wish I could have added it to my collection! However, the real reason why I am writing is that line, ” If I’m honest, as a whole, I even prefer Japanese Nostalgic Cars to those from America, but that’s probably a generational thing and another subject entirely…” had caught my eye. Yes, I do love all kinds of cars, both American and foreign…but have to admit that I do admire the older… Read more »

Mark Jordan
Mark Jordan

@Jack B, I would point you to the post from MaxwellTrdina, whose story closely follows my experience with a ’72 C3 (last of the ‘bumper’ cars). Your impression is right; they are more fun to look at than to drive. I replaced the MSD ignition mine came with with the stock unit and chrome interference shield and custom-ordered the original Firestone Wide Oval tires (belted – radials were not available in 1972) and it ran much better, but like all Corvettes up until the C7, it rattled and squeaked a lot, the seats were not comfortable for any length of… Read more »

Kyle Wilks
Kyle Wilks

Appreciate the honestly of the author, but he needs to keep pushing his dad for the 911. As a previous owner of two ‘67 Vettes, one ‘63 split-window & one ‘72, I absolutely love the C2 & chrome bumper ‘68-‘72 C3 Vettes. BUT…after 25+ yrs of only buying American iron which included classic Stangs, GTO’s, etc, I decided to pull the trigger on a ‘79 911 SC five years ago. That experience led to a ‘72T & ‘87 Carrera purchase and the selling off of all my Vettes. The air-cooled 911’s aren’t the fastest and don’t sound as good as… Read more »

Alberto1962
Alberto1962

Dear Kyle I own a ’66 C2 Convertible with 327 cid small block (matching numbers) with side pipes and am Swiss from Zurich. Your article spontanously “hit me”. Because in my case it was 100% the opposite. From 1997-2007 I owned two Porsche 993 convertibles. A stunning car, German high quality built, true driver’s car, albeit not so fast. The first had the factory mounted bumpers. They were too soft and cornering was terrible…On my second 993 I mounted H&R racing shock bumpers, which lowered the car. And of course very nice looking three elements BBS Le Mans wheels. This… Read more »

Gary Markey
Gary Markey

The convertible C3 has one of the best looking rear ends with the top down.

olddavid
olddavid

I’ve finally figured it out. It’s more important to a certain type of gearhead what public perception of said car is, and how they look behind the wheel, than the experience of driving the car. I actually understand this mindset, but most self actualized and secure humans leave this attitude behind at, say, 20? Unfortunately, many of what social media calls “tastemakers” are of this type. Can you imagine the Cannonball guy without the pictures with his careful tailoring and perfect light? How about the wanna-be who mortgages his house to buy exotics and then write about it for the… Read more »

110innd
110innd

Green ‘79 and you still get a lot of thumbs up ? lol…good points, good article (most car writers wouldn’t risk the ridicule)

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Mike Aldridge
Mike Aldridge

I’m only just starting to like these. For too many years (at least here in NZ anyway) they were part and parcel of the whole leather vest wearing, mullet-haired, swaggering Bogan scene who did questionable cosmetic and mechanical modifications to C3s. I think another part of my reluctance to embrace the design is that (IMO) the design is very extreme, and teeters right on the edge between great styling and over the top garishness. With the correct wheels and paint job it looks great, but get either of those two things wrong and it falls into the abyss of looking… Read more »

Jack B
Jack B

I’ve recently begun to appreciate these, too….but only the early chrome-bumper cars. Still, my Impression is that they’re much more fun to look at than to drive. I’d like to try one some time.

Xxx Xxxx
Xxx Xxxx

We walked onto a car lot when I was a teen when my dad was looking for a car. Sitting there was a stunningly tasteful silver C3 with a 427. I pointed it out to my dad. My mom gave him the stink eye. Damn (to this day)!

I’m not the biggest fan of Detroit metal, but this series is the exception Gorgeous!

I will note along with Maxwell above that my mom had a ’69 Caprice with powered everything. The vacuum system was a bit of a mess with a pin hole.

Paul Ipolito
Paul Ipolito

“I’m not the biggest fan of Detroit metal,”

It’s your lucky day! It’s fiberglass. 🙂 Just don’t look underneath.

MaxwellTrdina
MaxwellTrdina

C3 Corvettes are beautiful, but unfortunately afflicted with probably the most intricate and failure-prone vacuum systems in history. The rotary knobs for climate control? Controlled by about 8 vacuum lines. Valves for the heater core? A/C relays? Wiper cover? Headlights? All controlled by vacuum. Albeit beautiful, I regularly question ever wanting to work with a stock one ever again. Time isn’t friendly to that much rubber hose.

Paul Ipolito
Paul Ipolito

Must not be too big of a problem as there are approximately quite a few C3s driven on a daily basis and wiper covers are long gone. Thanks for your concerns but I think we’ll be OK.

Paul Ipolito
Paul Ipolito

Of course the drove Corvettes. A Chevrolet dealer in Florida saw an opportunity for some extreme product placement.

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Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Andrew, thanks for your perspective on the C3. I’ve slowly come to appreciate these cars after decades of considering them the Buck Rogers version of the Vette. This red convertible is a stunner.