If you ask anyone who has an undying love for a particular car why they hold it dear, you’ll hear a story. “It was the first car I ever remember seeing;” “The coolest kid in high school had one;” or “I saw one in red and it just did something for me.”
My love for Corvettes is profound and similarly has a story behind it. My uncle Tommy bought a gorgeous, new, white 1978 Corvette coupe when I was nine. He sped me around Cincinnati, Ohio for seven days while I was visiting, once. I decided when that week was over – I would be a ‘Vette aficionado.
My Uncle’s C3 ignited my love affair with “America’s Sports Car,” but as my tastes evolved and matured, I gravitated towards the C2. The sleek lines of the convertibles and nearly absurd elegance of the early split-window coupes get me to this day.
My end-all-be-all Corvette fantasy is the ultimate expression of the second-generation model – the 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88. You’re not familiar with this monster of American automotive design? Well, you will be by the end of this month’s Rare Rides!
The second-generation Corvette arrived in August of 1962 as a 1963 model and lasted until the 1967 model year. They named it the Stingray because of its low profile and healthy width. It was born from several experimental vehicles that Chevrolet design engineers Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell developed near the end of the first-gen production run.
But, Duntov saw an ultimate potential the first-gen Corvette hadn’t yet reached. He thusly created a Super Sport prototype to push the envelope in search of what it could be.
Mitchell took Duntov’s effort and further evolved it into another prototype known internally as The Sting Ray Special. They tested the Special in various Sport’s Car Club of America (SCCA) C-Modified class events. Eventually, the team tweaked into a concept called the XP-720.
Duntov and Mitchell’s XP-720 provided the basis for the production C2. It had greater interior space than the original Corvette whilst simultaneously shrinking the overall exterior proportions. A long hood and set-back powerplant aided in weight distribution and were central to the new design, thereby improving handling.
The development of the production vehicle included several advanced features for the time. Among them were independent suspension at all four wheels, hydraulic power steering as an option, and Chevy’s most powerful engine at the time – the iconic 327ci V8.
The car was to be available in a coupe and convertible form. It featured crisp lines – a bold departure from the C1. It also sported vents on the hood and front fenders behind the wheel arches.
But perhaps the most dramatic stylistic element was the split rear window on the coupes. Inarguably beautiful, the rear glass was a major bone of contention between Duntov and Mitchell. The former argued against it as it added considerable complexity to the manufacturing process and presented a safety issue, while the latter fought for it as an aesthetic statement.
Ultimately, Mitchell won the battle and Duntov the war. The split-window was only around for the first year of production. They replaced it with a conventional window thereafter.
Mechanically, the car had all the performance-oriented equipment Duntov ever wanted – save for a mid-engine design. The 327 was the only engine option for the initial model year. Although, it could be had in several variations.
In standard form, the motor developed 250hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. In the L75 configuration, the numbers rose to 300hp and 360 lb-ft. L76 equipped cars pushed out 340 ponies and 344 pound-feet, and the top-of-the-line L84 version afforded 360hp and 352 lb-ft of torque.
A three-speed manual handled the transmission of power to the rear. An optional Muncie M20 4-Speed was available for the 250hp and 300hp engines, and another with different gearing for the 340hp and 360hp engines. An M35 Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission was also an option. A wide variety of differential gearing was available.
The front suspension consisted of frame-hinged upper and lower control arms with coil springs, shock absorbers, and a stabilizer bar. In the rear were shock absorbers, struts, and transversely-positioned leaf springs.
Brakes consisted of hydraulic drums at all four corners, with power and metallic sintered brakes optional. Covering them were 15×5.5-inch wheels with 15×6-inch wheels optional. You could have them shod with your choice of 6.70 x 15 four-ply, blackwall nylon or whitewall rayon tires.
Seven exterior colors, four interior colors, and three top colors were available. Two wheel choices were available, including cast-aluminum knock-offs.
The arrival of the 1963 Corvette was nothing less than a thunderclap. The automotive press heaped almost universal praise on the car, with outright raves bestowed on its radical styling and superb performance. Duntov added to the hype by publicly stating “For the first time, I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe.”
Capitalizing on the unprecedented coverage, GM launched an ad campaign with the slogan “Only a man with a heart of stone could withstand temptation like this.”
The car-buying public bought into the C2 wholeheartedly. Chevrolet sold a record 10,594 Corvette coupes and 10,919 convertibles in the first year.
Aesthetic and mechanical updates were bestowed on the C2 in each successive model year. The 425hp, 396ci big-block was added to the optional engine lineup in 1965. The almighty, 435hp, 460 lb-ft, 427ci lump was added the following year.
Chevrolet and Zora Arkus-Duntov wasn’t done with the C2 yet.
1967 was the last year of the second-gen before it gave way to the all-new C3. Chevy made subtle changes to the car’s appearance. Most of the exterior trim was removed and the front fender vents were redesigned. The rockers were given a new, flat finish, a single backup light was introduced, and the wheels were given a fresh treatment.
The top-of-the-line engine offering for ’67, however, was anything but subtle. Sending the C2 off with a bang, Chevy introduced its ultimate iteration of the 427 big-block in the form of the L88.
The L88 was based on the 435hp L89 version of the 427. It was as close to a pure racing engine as Chevrolet had ever bequeathed to a street-legal road car. It featured featherweight aluminum cylinder heads atop a standard iron block.
They had meticulously forged 5140 hardened-steel crankshafts, cross-drilled for lightness and superlative lubrication.
Eight forged-aluminum pistons were coupled to the crankshaft with Magnafluxed and shot-peened connecting rods. yielded an astonishing 12.5:1 compression ratio. A hi-lift cam and solid lifters also joined the party.
The engine was topped off with an 850-cfm double-pumper Holley carburetor with an aluminum intake at the base of the windshield. A transistor ignition and an aluminum cross-flow radiator were fitted.
The legendary M22 “rock-crusher” four-speed manual transmission was the only transmission option for the L88. It also required the G80 Positraction 4.56 rear axle, F41 suspension, and J56 heavy-duty brakes.
The L88 was also unique as to what standard parts were mandatorily deleted.
The fan shroud was removed, and no emissions system was present. Instead of a PCV valve, a simple tube was installed that vented crankcase gasses directly into the atmosphere through the driver’s side valve cover.
L88 cars also saw several creature comforts deleted. The radio, power windows, automatic engine choke, and cockpit climate control were among them.
The L88 was, quite literally, monstrous by today’s standards let alone those of the late sixties. Ridiculously underrated at 430hp and 380 lb-ft of torque by the factory, bone-stock L88s were actually producing in excess of 560hp. This, in a car with a curb weight of 3,175 pounds!
It’s no surprise then to learn that the 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 was capable of five-second zero-to-sixty times, and quarter-miles banged out in the low-eleven second range. Chevrolet avoided any mention of the L88 package in its literature because its performance was so prodigious and to avoid issues with the authorities. Only a person “in the know” would ever be aware that the option even existed.
Chevrolet produced only twenty examples of the 1967 Corvette L88 coupe and convertible. The outrageous performance and diminutive production numbers make it one of the ultimate Corvettes. One even sold at auction in 2014 for $3,850,000.
It also makes for one of the world’s foremost Rare Rides.