1978 Special Edition Corvettes

1978 Corvette
Besides celebrating Corvette's 25th birthday in 1978, Chevy was again tapped as pace car for the Indy 500. In celebration of that, Corvette buyers were treated to this special Indy Pace Car Replica model.

Cashing in on the birthday cachet, Chevy offered the 1978 Corvette with "25th Anniversary paint," which was a relatively inexpensive striping package that would be viewed as a desirable option and could thus be considerably marked up. Before he retired, Bill Mitchell had suggested a Silver Anniversary model in his favorite color -- silver, appropriately enough -- and it appeared as the $399 B2Z option package. The first factory two-toning offered since 1961 (save for the removable hardtops for the now-discontinued roadster), it presented silver over a gray lower body with a separating pinstripe, plus aluminum wheels and dual "sport" outside mirrors as mandatory options, which added another $380 to the cost.

In another bit of anniversary schmaltz, Chevrolet had negotiated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to have a modified Corvette chosen as pace car for 1978's Indy 500. Initially, 2,500 replica Corvette pacers -- 100 for each year of production -- were scheduled for sale on a first-come, first-serve basis, but with Chevrolet having 6,200 dealers at the time, it was decided that any such Corvette special would have to be built to a minimum order of 6,200 units so that each showroom could have at least one. Thus, what was officially called the Limited Edition Indy Pace Car Replica Corvette made up some 15 percent of total production -- hardly "limited" at all.

Like the Silver Anniversary model, the Pace Car Replica was actually an option package -- RPO Z78 -- with two-tone paint as its main distinction. Here it was black over silver metallic with a bright red pinstripe in between, but a spoiler was tacked on at each end to alter appearance more dramatically. The front spoiler was similar to the one on the contemporary Firebird Trans Am, wrapped under and around to blend into the wheel wells, while the prominent rear spoiler curved down at its outboard ends to meet the bodysides, recalling the '69 Aero Coupe show car.

Pace Car interiors reflected Bill Mitchell's influence, with full silver leather or silver leather/gray cloth upholstery and gray carpeting. Chevrolet had scheduled new Corvette seats for 1979, but the program was rushed forward so that the 1978 Pace Car could have them first; these offered a new thin-shell design with more prominent (some said too prominent) lumbar support. Also, Turbo Hydra-Matic was supposedly the only transmission available, but four-speed manual showed up on quite a few models.

All replicas were equipped with the new glass T-tops, alloy wheels, power windows, rear defogger, air conditioning, sport mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel, heavy-duty battery, power door locks, and an AM/FM stereo with either an eight-track tape player or CB radio. The final touch was a set of regalia decals for owner installation. These included "winged wheel" Indy Speedway logos for the rear fenders and legends for the doors reading "Official Pace Car, 62nd Annual Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, May 28, 1978."

Base-priced at $13,653.21, the Pace Car Replica was quite a boost over the $9,351 standard model. But because it looked like an "instant collectible," every one was sold for more than list price. This rabid interest tempted some owners of standard 1978s to try and pass them off as factory Pace Cars. All anyone needed was a spray gun, a black or silver car with the right options, and a friend in your dealer's parts department willing to sell you the two spoilers and special silver cabin trim (though most counterfeiters would forget about the special seats).

If the car was now long in the Shark's tooth, its 1978 changes seemed to rejuvenate it all out of proportion to their magnitude, at least according to the auto magazines. The reviewers praised the car's classic strengths to high heaven, especially an L48/automatic's 7.8-second 0-60 mph time and top speed of 123 mph, and noted its more refined, less teeth-rattling ride. On the other hand, they continued to note its weaknesses, like a rear end that tended to step out during sharp cornering maneuvers and a cabin that was still cramped and uncomfortable.

Learn about other Corvettes in this generation:

1978 Corvette
1979 Corvette 1980 Corvette
1981 Corvette 1982 Corvette

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