What’s the cheapest Corvette? It’s definitely not 1953 or ’54. The low book value on those doesn’t fall much under $45,000. How about 1958, with its exuberant use of trim? It has an average retail value of nearly $51,000, so probably not. Perhaps a 1965 roadster with a carbureted small-block and an automatic? That’s still $51,500.
Prices for the early third-generation cars (“C3” to most enthusiasts) continue to trail their older siblings. A ’68 Stingray roadster has a book value of $41,800, and the coupe is only $6,700 less. Fast forward a decade, however, and some of the sting had gone out of the Stingray: Big-block engines went away after 1974, the roadster was dropped after 1975, and the Stingray name itself was last seen on a Corvette in 1976 (at least until the C7 model debuted in 2014).
The 1978 Corvette was a heavily restyled car, thanks especially to its large rear greenhouse—somewhat recalling the 1963-’67 coupes. Nevertheless, it’s still recognizably the body that arrived 10 years earlier. The similarities notwithstanding, these days the average ’78 doesn’t quite garner $14,500.
Now, in fairness, 1978 isn’t actually the cheapest third-generation Corvette. For some reason, 1976 holds that distinction—your basic Bicentennial Corvette has an average value of only $12,800. Also, the equipment and condition make all the difference: The aluminum wheels and air conditioning on our feature car, owned by Mike Richards of Peoria, Arizona, bump the average retail up by another $2,000, but it’s still an affordable car by any standard.
It’s also a capable car—despite being from the heart of the much-maligned 1973-’83 “malaise era,” when manufacturers were still struggling to catch up with emissions and safety mandates. At the time, people (mostly automotive journalists) looked down their noses at GM for keeping the basic Corvette chassis in production from 1963. The suspension architecture actually lasted right through the 1982 model year, giving General Motors plenty of time to refine it for whatever purpose it was used. Also, this is a classic car magazine, so when have vintage components ever scared us?
The third-generation Corvette’s 1960s heritage means it can be (and frequently was) turned into a capable mount for competitive road racing. The platform’s use during the brougham period of the 1970s means that it’s also capable of a more luxurious, grand-tourer type of ride. Funny folks called these disco-era ’Vettes “two-seat Buicks,” but ask yourself how much flat-out road racing you do in your muscle car, versus the amount of highway driving.