Lifestyle

Ultimate '68 'Vette


The car that most Corvette collections consider the ultimate was never meant to be. In GM’s master plan, the new body style introduced in 1968 was intended for 1967 production. Fortunately for Corvette fans everywhere, delays forced the continuation of the Sting Ray for one more year.

Corvette designers were instructed to carry out a minor facelift for these interim ’67 models. Fortunately, the engineers were not held back, and there were several changes to the engine lineup, including the legendary L71 435-hp, Tri-Power big block. Most performance buyers chose this option, assuming that it was the most powerful engine.

What they didn’t know was that Chevrolet had carefully hidden an even more potent option. In the catalog, the L88 engine was listed as a 430-hp option for $947.90, more than twice the price of the 435-hp L71 engine.

What that money bought is equally impressive. The L88 engine featured aluminum intake heads, an 850 CFM dual-feed Holley carburetor, transistor ignition and 12:1 compression. In addition, the L88 package included an aluminum radiator, heavy duty brakes, suspension, and the Muncie M-22 “rock crusher” transmission. A special cowl induction hood was fitted. What was not included—or even available—was air conditioning or a radio.

Although rated at 430 hp, the L88 is widely recognized as producing in excess of 500 hp—making a street L88 capable of 170 mph, right off the showroom floor. Intended to homologate the engine for racing, the L88 offering was kept quiet, with the factory and dealers actively discouraging orders by the public.

Although introduced in 1967, the thundering L88 continued to be available until 1969, making ’68 and ’69 L88s the most desirable of the next generation of Corvettes. With just 216 L88 models built over three years, it is also one of the rarest.

The example pictured here is an authentic original 1968 L88—one of just 80 built. It is well documented, including the original tank sticker, Protect-O-Plate, and shipping invoice. Sold new to George Montgomery, it was used as the pace car for the Donnington Motor Speedway in Minnesota.

Finished in Le Mans Blue with a black interior, and except for a high quality repaint, this L88 is completely original—it has never required restoration. This exceptional condition is no doubt due to the car’s remarkably low mileage—just 19,000.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold at the RM Monterey auction, on August 18, 2001, for $81,400, including buyer’s premium.

The newly redesigned “Mako Shark” debuted in the fall of 1967 as a ’68 model, replacing the ’63-’67 Sting Ray. The sleek new style, with huge curves and a long snout, actually resembled a shark stalking its prey.

There were just 80 1968 C-3 Corvettes built with the 560-horsepower RPO L88. That’s four times the number built in 1967, as the L88 option quickly became known as the one to get by serious race teams. In addition to racers, the occasional well-connected friend of a friend would get one through the normal “check the box” order form. Imagine showing up at your local Chevrolet dealer to take delivery of a brand new 1968 L88 427/430 bhp, which was actually rated at 560 brute horsepower. A warning label on the console warned the owner of the danger of not using 103 rated octane fuel. There should have been one advising passengers of the possibility of g-force induced blackouts when full power was applied. I’ve always wondered what kind of mileage warranty was offered on the rear tires.

The L88 is the “Holy Grail” of collectible big-block Corvettes, with just 20 produced in ’67, 80 in ’68 and 116 in ’69, for a total of 216 in all. Prices for L88s range from $75,000 to over $500,000, with the $81,400 that this car made at the lower end of the scale.

Why? First of all, a ’67 L88, with its more attractive body style, will always command four to five times the amount of an equivalent ’68 or ’69.

Further, the car discussed here is a T-top, not the more sought-after convertible. And finally, it is the least desirable of the three years of production because of the horrendous build quality of the 1968 Corvettes. (Recall that Car and Driver sent its first 1968 test Corvette back to GM, refusing to evaluate it because of the large number of build problems .) Unfortunately, all-new Corvette models have never had a good reputation “out of the box.”

However, by now most of the original problems have long been fixed, so to my mind, that makes this particular car a very good buy. It’s what we call a DOHC example, not referring to the number of camshafts, but standing for Documented, Original, History and Condition. As with all collectible cars, the ones that have the most potential for appreciation are those that are original.

With under 20,000 documented miles, this car will only become more valuable as the years roll by.

—“Corvette Mike” Vietro

Years Produced: 1967-69

Number Produced: 216

Original List Price: $5,610.90

SCM Valuation: $75,000-$95,000

Tune-up Cost: Approx. $300

Distributor Caps: $10

Chassis #: 194378S426697

Chassis # Location: Under driver’s seat on frame rail and kick up

Engine # Location: Pad area in front of passenger cylinder head

Club Info: National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS), 6291 Day Road, Cincinnati, OH 45252-1334; 513/385-8526

Web Site: http://www.ncrs.org

Alternatives: 1971 LS6, 1967 435


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