This 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Changed My Opinion Of C3 Stingrays
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!