The 1968 Chevrolet Corvette's straightline performance earned plenty of kudos from "buff book" scribes. Some thought the big 435-horsepower 427 too brutish, but both small-blocks remained impressive. Ditto the Muncie four-speed manual transmission and the new Turbo Hydra-Matic.
As for handling, the press seemed to like the skidpad and slalom numbers they got, but not the way the car felt generating them. Several complaints were made about the harder ride, and nobody much liked the power steering and brakes. Road & Track labeled them imprecise and suggested that potential customers skip them entirely.
Although the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette was criticized
for poor workmanship, its performance
was considered brilliant.
But those comments were downright benign next to Steve Smith's attack in Car and Driver, which slammed everything from the ashtray to the new windshield wipers. Smith's biggest complaint was fit-and-finish -- or rather the lack of it. He raked misaligned body panels, a chronic water leak from the T-top, and a door lock so stiff it bent the key. For Smith, it all added up to "a shocking lack of quality control" in a car "unfit to road test."
Unhappily, such problems weren't confined to C/D's example. Today the '68 is generally regarded as the low point for Corvette workmanship, with bad paint, knobs that fell off, cooling bothers, and other problems. On the other hand, the Corvette had undeniably become more complicated than the pre-Sting Ray models of just six years before.
For example, power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning weren't available in '62 but were by '68. In addition, there were items like the electric rear-window defroster, speed warning indicator, AM/FM stereo radio, and futuristic fiber-optic light monitoring system, not to mention the disappearing headlights and that gimmicky, "peak-a-boo" wiper panel. With more gadgets, more was likely to go wrong.
But when everything was working right, a '68 Corvette was mighty satisfying. It had plenty of power (even in small-block form); its all-independent suspension, if not exactly state-of-the-art, was certainly more than adequate; and cooling woes aside, the problems noted in early road tests had nothing to do with basic design or mechanicals. The gadget glitches were irritating, but not major flaws in the overall package.
And, of course, they hardly affected performance, which remained brilliant. Testing a 350-bhp 327 roadster with a 3.70:1 final drive, R&T's Ron Wakefield reported a top speed of 128 mph, a standing quarter-mile of 15.6 seconds at 92 mph, and 0-60-mph acceleration of 7.7 seconds. Mileage was pegged at 11-15 mpg for a cruising range of only 220-300 miles from the 20-gallon tank.
Big-block cars were even thirstier -- but faster, of course. In a follow-up to its first test, C/D ran a 400-bhp 427 coupe with the same four-speed and axle ratio as in R&T's test car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and posted a 14.1-second quarter-mile at a flashing 102 mph. (Incidentally, that car must have been screwed together a lot better than the one Smith drove, for construction quality was judged mostly "good" and "very good.")
To a great degree, the mixed press reviews reflected the compromise nature of the car itself. They certainly weren't as laudatory as those given the Sting Ray, and Chevy was particularly stung by C/D's initial pasting.
Yet for all the problems and press carping, more people than ever looked to the 'Vette. Model-year sales set a new record at 28,566 units, some 5000 up on the final Sting Ray, though only fractionally ahead of 1966, the previous all-time best year. (The people spoke in other ways, too. The new Corvette was chosen best all-around car in a magazine's annual reader's poll. The publication? Car and Driver.) Convertible production came to 18,630 units and marked the last time the 'Vette ragtop would outsell the closed model.
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