We once again headed back to our shooting venue at the Melbourn Brother’s Brewery, for some classic American muscle in the form of Phil’s 1978 Chevrolet Corvette C3 25th Anniversary Edition. And it wasn’t raining!
As I locked up the Oil & Gasoline® truck at the back of the venue, I could hear the sweet sound of two V8’s in the distance, echoing off the historic buildings in the centre of Stamford. One was unmistakably the crossplane V8 of Dave’s TVR Cerbera who had also come along for a shoot, the other had a deeper guttural V8 rumble that only a cast iron Chevy small block and straight-through cherry bombs can produce.
Walking down to open the gates into the All Saints Brewery courtyard, it wasn’t just the sound that was turning heads. The red paint of the Corvette C3 was almost lava like in the direct sunlight, the reflections showing off every single line and curve of its 41 year old body.
“I call her Marilyn as she has curves in places where other cars don’t even have places”
Half a million Corvette’s had been sold by 1977 and 1978 marked another milestone with the Corvette’s 25th birthday, having first been unveiled as a concept ‘dream car’ in 1953 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hence the 25th Anniversary badges on the front and fuel cap in place of the usual crossed-flag emblem. It also marked a change in style for the C3 body that had been introduced 10 years earlier. Gone was the Stingray back-end in favour of a new fastback style wrap around rear window – some hate it, others love it, especially as it improved storage space and aerodynamic performance.
Phil’s C3, which he’s owned for 17 years, is powered by the base model 350 Chevy small-block 5.7 litre L48 V8, producing around 185 hp. That doesn’t sound impressive by today’s standards but, it was still considered to be one of the most balanced engines available for the C3 and ate highways. Despite the lack of huge dollops of power compared to the higher spec models, it still has chunks of torque and even in its 3-speed auto form as it is here, it could still hit 60 mph in 7.8 seconds when new and head on to a top speed of 123 mph.
However, the Corvette C3 in this guise isn’t designed for the traffic light sprint. The lazy 5.7 litre is perfect for cruising with the t-tops off – the first production car to use t-tops when the C3 was introduced in 1968 – on summer days like today, with the warm breeze in your hair and the sound of the V8 filling your ears.
Despite being 41 years old, the Corvette has only covered around 83,000 miles and is relatively original. The original colour was a dark brown metallic but the previous owner changed it to the much more suitable red, which transforms the look of the car, with Phil having it resprayed again in 2004. Other than some trim being replaced on the drivers door, a diff rebuild in 2006, and a radiator re-core in 2017, it’s been relatively trouble free.
Phil said, “Unsurprisingly, the car is not a daily driver. It’s sorned over the winter, not because I’m precious about it getting wet, just precious about not wrapping it round a tree on damp roads, and I use it for shows during the summer and cruises out with friends in other car clubs. I’ve also taken my two kids to their school proms in it – one winning the “best arrival” award.”
“The things I love about this car? The torque. The noise. The curves. The smile it puts on my face”
Luxuries on British cars of the era would stretch to a sunroof and cigarette lighter unless you had plenty of money. American cars however, were nowhere near as stingy, whether it was a family wagon or muscle car. Phil’s C3 came with air-con (now removed), cruise control, power steering, power brakes, electric windows, tilt/telescopic steering column(!), and all round disc brakes.
It’s not hard to see why Phil lives and breathes this motor, it’s an icon of American muscle and certainly stands out on relatively mundane UK roads;
“The things I love about this car? The torque. The noise. The curves. The smile it puts on my face. The smile it puts on the face of those who see it on the road. The wipers are tucked away under the bonnet so they don’t spoil the lines. Parts and servicing are relatively cheap. The history of the corvette dating back to 1953 and the 7 different generations body shapes.
“I call her Marilyn as she has curves in places where other cars don’t even have places”.
I think I want a Marilyn too! More images below.