The only name that really matters in classic American sports cars is Corvette. Over the car’s first 15 years on the market, it transformed from a grand touring roadster- built to compete with the likes of the Ford Thunderbird- into a world-class sports car that could compete with the best of Europe on race tracks around the world. When the third generation- known as the C3- debuted in 1968, it was an extreme shift in design for the model, taking many of its styling cues from the Mako Shark II concept car which had made the autoshow rounds a few years earlier. Upon its launch, the vehicle was offered a massive list of engine options- starting with the L30 code 327ci V8 which was rated at 300 horsepower, all the way up to the famous L88- a 427ci V8 that was intended for the race track and according to Chevrolet, was for “off road use only”. Although Chevrolet built a lot of C3 Corvettes over the car’s 14-year production run, the first four years were particularly special-owing to the lack of government-imposed crash and emissions restrictions which ultimately led to the original vision for the car getting watered down each year after 1972.
This 1969 Corvette L88 was ordered by the son of the owner of Melton Motor Company in Belleville, Kansas to be used as a dealer demonstrator and weekend drag racer. During this time, the car set two AHRA World Drag Racing Records, running the quarter mile in 11.77 and 11.39 seconds at Manhattan Raceway Park in 1971 with certificates to prove it. Finished in Riverside Gold over a black interior, this car remained untitled and in the hands of Melton Motor Company until being sold to its “first” owner in 1982. Since then, the car has been under the care of 5 enthusiasts and received a thorough reconditioning by Corvette marque specialist Kevin Mackay in 2010. Since completed, the car has received numerous significant Corvette awards including Bloomington Gold Certification- and selection for the Bloomington Gold Collection, NCRS Top Flight and Duntov Mark of Excellence as well as MCACN Triple Diamond Certification. In total, over 3 years of production, only 216 L88s were produced and just 116 for the 1969 model year- making this one of the rarest Corvettes of all time.
Although the L88 was just about Chevrolet’s most powerful engine in the period, they didn’t advertise it for what it was to the general public. At the time, Chevrolet had a corporate ban on racing but the father of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov, wanted to offer an engine package that would fly under the radar of GM executives but could go straight from the showroom to the track and win races in the hands of privateers. Staring with the Corvette’s already powerful 427ci V8, Chevrolet engineers designed a set of open-chambered aluminum cylinder heads with improved flow, added a high-performance race camshaft, forged internals, solid lifters and raised the compression ratio to 12:1. This was then topped with a Holley 850-CFM 4bbl carburetor on an aluminum manifold and paired to a Muncie M22 “Rock Crusher” 4-speed with a Posiraction rear differential. All of this made for an engine that, although rated at 430 horsepower from the factory, was rumored to actually be producing closer to 550 and quickly gained a reputation for terrorizing drag strips with the simple addition of drag radials on the back.
As the L88 was built to be a no-nonsense race car, selection of the L88 option meant that most of the comfort features typically on offer in a Corvette, were no longer available. If you wanted this special engine, the factory would not allow you to fit the car with a radio, air conditioning or power seering and a mandatory white decal in the center console reminded you to only run the car on 103 octane fuel. Although bare bones, the rest of the interior still looks like what you would expect to find in an early C3 Corvette- a pair of reclined seats with a large speedometer and tachometer sitting behind the three spoke wheel and a suite of auxiliary gauges sitting in the console off to your right.
Even for those who are not usually inclined towards Corvette ownership, the L88 Stingray is a car to be appreciated. From its rakish concept-car like styling to the legendary performance, it is no surprise that the values of these cars have been so strong over the years. This late production example is not just exciting behind the wheel but also exceptionally well documented with hundreds of pages of photos, receipts and original sales paperwork to corroborate the car’s 54 year history. If there is any American classic to add to your collection, it’s hard to do better than an L88, and this one with its long list of awards and rich history, is certain to be one of the best out there.