1969 Corvette

As they usually are the year after a major model introduction, changes for the 1969 Corvette were minor, made mostly to remedy problems noted by owners and the motoring media. For starters, the steering-wheel diameter was trimmed an inch for more under-rim thigh clearance, and Duntov pushed through a $120,000 tooling change for the inner door panels to open up a half-inch per side in extra shoulder width. Interior door handles and control knobs were redesigned for safety's sake. The previous dash-mounted ignition switch moved to the steering column, where it combined with the newly mandated column lock for additional security. A warning light was added to advise the driver that the pop-up headlights hadn't popped up completely. Attempts were also made to increase Astro Ventilation flow volume, but the system was still judged to be inadequate. Finally, a flexible dash-mounted three-section map pocket was included to help make up for the lack of a proper glovebox.

Besides many detail improvements for the 1969 Corvette, the Shark became a Stingray.
Besides many detail improvements for the 1969 Corvette, the Shark became a
Stingray, gaining fender namescript with the same one-word spelling
Bill Mitchell had used for his 1959-1960 race car.

Exterior alterations were likewise minimal; the most obvious was the return of the Stingray designation (now spelled as one word) in script over the front-fender louvers. Another change involved the door handles. New single-lever door-handles replaced the conventional chrome handgrips with thumb-operated pushbuttons. A new headlight washer system was added, and windshield-washer jets were moved to the wiper arms. The already over-engineered hidden-wiper arrangement became even more complex with the addition of an override switch that allowed the vacuum-operated panel to be left up in freezing weather. At the rear, the previously separate backup lights were incorporated with the inboard taillamps. The frame was stiffened to reduce body shake and standard rim width went up another inch -- to eight -- for improved handling.

The 1969 Corvette featured hidden windshield wipers beneath a power pop-up cowl panel.
The 1969 Corvette featured hidden windshield wipers
beneath a power pop-up cowl panel.

Engine alterations, on the other hand, were more obvious, seeing as how carmakers were in the second year of federally mandated -- and still relatively straightforward -- emission controls. The famed Chevy small-block was stroked about a quarter-inch to 3.48 inches, which boosted displacement from 327 to 350 cubic inches on the same 4.00-inch bore. Corvette offered 300- and 350-bhp versions, the same ratings as their 1968 equivalents but with compression dropped a quarter point in each case -- to 10.25:1 and 11.0:1, respectively. Significantly, peak power engine speed was also lower by 200 rpm, to 4,800 and 5,600 rpm, respectively.

The big-block 427s returned unchanged, with ratings of 390 to 435 horsepower. The special aluminum-head L88 -- still rated at a modest 430 bhp -- remained among them, though its towering $1,032 price attracted just 116 buyers.

Two new performance options were announced for 1969: One was extremely rare -- with only two installed -- the other was ostensibly available but put back a year. The former was RPO ZL1, which was essentially the mighty big-block L88 with all-aluminum construction plus numerous other modifications including dry-sump lubrication. Devised for the British-built McLarens that would dominate the SCCA's Canadian-American Challenge Cup series, this engine had the same compression and carburetion as the L88 but weighed 100 pounds less. It also carried the same 430-bhp rating, but that was a joke; over-the-counter racing versions were reportedly good for 585 bhp. It lurked beneath a special domed hood shared with the L88 (RPO ZL2) incorporating an air intake at the high-pressure area near the base of the windshield.

Of course, Duntov hadn't dismissed the potential of small-block power. Listed for 1969 but not available until 1970 (owing to development and manufacturing problems) was a special solid-lifter version of the new 350. Coded LT1, it was right in line with Duntov's longtime goal of minimizing weight in a performance car growing heavier with every newly added creature comfort. Unlike tamer small blocks, the LT1 had more radical cam timing with more generous valve overlap, used the big-block engines' hefty 2.5-inch-diameter exhaust system, breathed through the same 850-cfm Holley carb fitted to the L88/ZL1, and came with transistorized ignition. The result was 370 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 380 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. It was offered only with a four-speed manual transmission, and a Corvette so equipped typically streaked through the standing quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds at 102 mph. Visual identification was subtle -- just the special domed hood with perimeter striping and discreet "LT1" lettering -- but there was no mistaking the rap-rap exhaust or the distinct tapping of those mechanical lifters.

Despite continued criticism from the enthusiast press for its dismal build quality, styling eccentricities, and overall lack of finesse, Corvette sales took a vertical leap for '69, rising by more than 10,000 units to 38,762 -- a record that wouldn't be broken until 1976.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1968 Corvette
1969 Corvette
1970 Corvette
1971 Corvette
1972 Corvette
1973 Corvette
1974 Corvette
1975 Corvette
1976 Corvette
1977 Corvette
1978 Corvette
1979 Corvette
1980 Corvette
1981 Corvette
1982 Corvette

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