1971, 1972 Chevrolet Corvette

Engine emasculation was evident in the 1971 Chevrolet Corvette: 1971's base small-block (RPO L48) ran on mild 8.5:1 compression and was down to 270 bhp at 4800 rpm; the LT1 sighed to 9.0:1 and 330 bhp. (The 350-bhp L46 engine was dropped for '71.) These respective compression numbers also applied to a brace of 454s. The LS5 came in with 365 bhp at 4800 rpm, and a new aluminum-head big-block called LS6 boasted 425 bhp at 5600 rpm.

Clearly, '71 Corvette engines weren't weak. If they seemed so at the time, it was only in relation to the prodigious power outputs of their immediate ancestors.

Although the 1971 Chevrolet Corvette suffered a drop in horseower, it was still speedy.
Although the 1971 Chevrolet Corvette suffered
a drop in horsepower, it was still speedy.

Regardless of engine, the Corvette was still a speedway star. Car and Driver tried out all four 'Vette mills and turned in 0-60 times ranging from 7.1 seconds for the base 350-cid engine to 5.3 ticks with the LS6 big-block. The LT1 came through the quarter-mile traps in 14.57 seconds at 100.6 mph; the LS6 made the same run in just 13.80 at 104.7.

A ZR1 option, significant for its engineering, if not its production, was made available exclusively with the solid-lifter small-block. It was another racing package, of course, comprising the LT1 engine, heavy-duty four-speed transmission, power brakes, aluminum radiator, and a revised suspension with special springs, shocks, stabilizer bar, and spindle/strut shafts, all for $1,010.

Since it was competition equipment, the ZR1 could not be ordered with power windows, power steering, air conditioning, rear-window defogger, wheel covers, or radio -- which helps explain why this "regular" production option saw only eight installations for '71. A similar ZR2 package was listed for the big LS6. It was costlier ($1747) and just slightly more popular, with an even dozen sales.

Otherwise, Corvette again marked time for '71. Styling and equipment changes were virtually nil for at least three reasons: The 1970 run had started late; engineers were scurrying to meet emissions limits and upcoming safety regs; and the car still looked fine the way it was. With supplies healthy again after the UAW strike, sales made a satisfying recovery for model year '71, moving up to 21,801 units.

New for the 1972 Chevrolet Corvette was a standard anti-theft alarm system.
New for the 1972 Chevrolet Corvette was a
standard anti-theft alarm system.

Yet another stand-pat year was 1972, except that performance was further deemphasized as engines bore the full brunt of emissions tuning. And there were fewer engines with cancellation of the LS6. The LT1 eased from 275 to 255 bhp net in this, its final year. At least it could finally be ordered with air conditioning. The base engine was scaled back 10 net ponies to 200 and the LS5 454 shed 15 horses to 270 net.

Some detail refinements made for the 1972 Chevrolet Corvette were quite welcome. For example, the useful but distracting fiber-optic light monitors were deleted, thus cleaning up the center console considerably and a previously optional anti-theft alarm system was made standard in belated recognition of the 'Vette's high desirability among car thieves. Sales continued crawling back toward the '69 record, tacking on just over 5200 units for a model year total of 27,004.

By 1972, the fifth-generation Corvette had been through a lot, it's true, but there was a lot more to come. Soon, 'Vettes would begin to look and act differently, what with bumper safety requirements costing the car its front brightware in '73 and rear nerfs the following year, and tamer engines being driven almost exclusively through automatic transmissions.

But at the same time, sales rose dramatically, cracking through the 50,000 barrier in 1979. When production ceased in 1982, well over a half-million of the Mako-inspired Corvettes were roaming the streets. The press may have had its reservations, but enthusiast car-buyers surely didn't find the Shark repellent.

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