How do you improve the best? That question was likely asked repeatedly when it was time to refresh the 1964 Corvette. What could Chevrolet’s engineers and designers pull out of their respective hats to improve the best handing, best looking, and best performing production sports car in America?
The answer was plenty! Styling was updated with three functional cooling louvers that allowed improved airflow throughout the engine compartment. Rocker panels were revised with a black insert. A blacked-out grille surrounded by a bright floating frame refined the front-end appearance. Depressions in the front of the hood were eliminated for a smoother look. Big-block Corvettes received a new “power bulge” hood with functional side vents, and for the first time, a side mounted “off road” exhaust system was offered. The exhaust system looked great and sounded downright nasty. Roof-mounted air vents, standard since the 1963 model, were eliminated.
Designers made several key changes to the interior. Instrument panel dials were revised to a flat design. Deeply padded outer bolsters framed the outer seat area, adding a more pleasing design and improved support and comfort. Seats were covered in horizontally pleated vinyl or leather. Fastback models were upgraded with a one-piece, formed headliner that reduced noise levels. Powerglide-equipped vehicles were shifted via a new gear selector with a straight-line movement, replacing the earlier maze-like quadrant. A much-needed, adjustable steering column that moved in and out three inches was available. The attractive teakwood steering wheel remained on the option list.
And while the styling changes helped define the new model, the biggest news was under the hood. Continuing as the base engine was the 250 horsepower, 327 cubic-inch small-block. New for 1965 was the RPO L79 small-block powerhouse that pumped out 350 horsepower via a high-lift hydraulic cam, aluminum high rise intake, and large Holley four-barrel carburetor. Top dog on the small-block option list was Chevrolet’s 327 cubic-inch, 375 horsepower fuel injected V-8. Nineteen sixty-five would be the last year fuel injection would be available until the 1984 model.
Powertrain engineers realized they’d squeezed as much power as possible from the mouse motor, and knew they needed a boost to keep up with the growing number of factory muscle cars. The 396 cubic-inch Mark IV provided that boost. Known as the Turbo-Jet engine, this behemoth would take Corvette to the next level of performance standards by pumping out 425 horsepower. The key to its incredible power was its unique, canted-valve porcupine head design. The Mark IV was designed for abuse with its cross-drilled forged crankshaft and 2.75-inch, four-bolt main bearings. Other internal performance pieces included impact-extruded alloy pistons that helped make an 11.0:1 compression ratio, and a lumpy solid lifter camshaft. Topping the engine was a large Holley 4150 carburetor blending the incoming air/fuel mixture.
All of this added power would be useless if the vehicle couldn’t be brought to a stop. Chevrolet solved the problem by offering four-wheel disc brakes as standard equipment (although for the early part of the model year, drum brakes were available for a small credit). They worked extensively with GM’s Delco Moraine Division on the new system, and went so far as running 173 brake dynamometer evaluations of 127 different compositions before choosing the production brake pad material. The final product not only had remarkable braking capabilities, but internal tests showed it lasted over 50,000 miles. Brake rotors were a beefy 1.25 inches thick, and ventilated to increase heat dissipation and reduce brake fade. Slight changes in both the steel and aluminum wheels were required to provide added clearance for the brake caliper.
The 1965 Corvette had become a mature road car. It was a total performance package that did everything exceptionally well, and did it with stylish flair. It’s a safe bet those who were lucky enough to own one would agree.
Fuel For Thought Fuel-injected small-block priced at $538 Around 1 in 10 had a Powerglide trans Available in eight exterior colors Transistorized ignition standard on big-blocks
Specifications Number built– 23,562 (15,376 convertibles/8,186 coupes) Construction – Fiberglass body-on-frame Engines – (4) 327 cubic-inch V-8s, 396 cubic-inch V-8 Power/Torque – 327 cubic-inch V-8s, 250 horsepower, 350 lb-ft torque, 300 horsepower, 360 lb-ft torque, 350 horsepower, 360 lb-ft torque, 365 horsepower, N/A lb-ft torque, 396 cubic-inch V-8, 425 horsepower, 415 lb-ft torque Transmissions – Three-speed manual, four-speed manual, two-speed automatic Suspension front – Independent with unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, tubular shocks, and anti-roll bar Suspension rear – Independent with transverse leaf springs, transverse struts with halfshafts and trailing arms, (anti-roll bar standard on 396) Steering – Re-circulating ball and nut, 41.6 feet turning diameter Brakes – Four-wheel disc standard (four-wheel drums: $64.50 credit) Length/width/height – 175.2/69.6/49.8 inches Wheelbase – 98 inches Weight – 3,645 lbs. 0-60mph/quarter mile – 5.7 seconds, 14.1 seconds at 103 mph (Road & Track, August 1965) Top Speed – 136 mph (Road & Track, August 1965) MPG – 9 - 12 mpg Price – MSRP - $4,321 (coupe), $4,106 (convertible); Today – $ 41,000 - $70,100
Insurance cost Insurance cost is $408/year for a $55,500 1965 Corvette. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving. *Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Engine – Chevrolet’s small-block continued to power the majority of Corvettes. The new 350-horse L79 offered outstanding performance and eliminated the need for constant valve adjustment and tune-ups. The new L78 big-block gave tire-shredding performance at about half the price of a fuel-injected small-block.
Handling – There is little to fault the Corvette about its handling. The short 98-inch wheelbase and low center of gravity took care of most handling issues. While the small-block had better weight distribution, improved suspension pieces on big-block cars allowed them to handle nearly as well.
1965 Mustang GT 350 Number built – 562 0-60/quarter mile – 6.6 seconds, 15.2 seconds at 93 mph Top speed – 117 mph Price – MSRP - $4,547; Today – $122,200 - $293,900
1965 Austin Healey 3000 Number built – 42,926 (1959-1967) 0-60/quarter mile – 8.8 seconds, 16.5 seconds at 85 mph Top speed – 122 mph Price – MSRP - $N/A; Today – $21,000 - $64,900
Strong Points Extremely desirable Outstanding styling and performance Replacement parts readily available Fun to drive
Weak Points Prone to frame rust Expensive to purchase Room for only two High-end resto can exceed value
Vehicle Category Many Corvettes are collector’s items; however, a significant number of owners drive their vehicles on a semi-regular basis. High optioned big-block Corvettes are reaching six figures at auctions.
What To Pay 1965 Corvette MSRP – $4,106 Low – $41,000 Average – $55,500 High – $70,100 *Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Corvette & Chevy magazines are sold.
Parts Prices Front bumper $525.00 Master cylinder $79.95 Hood assembly $1,399.00 Radiator $879.00 Camshaft $89.00 *Based on information from Corvette Central 800-345-4122 www.corvettecentral.com
Books Corvette Sting Ray by Tom Falconer Corvette: 50 Years by Randy Leffingwell The Complete Book of Corvette by Mike Mueller Zora Arkus-Duntov: The Legend Behind Corvette by Jerry Burton
Review By 1965, the Corvette was as close to being an ultimate performance sports car as possible. Quality issues of prior years were addressed, the suspension was upgraded, and its new big-block gave America’s only sports car newfound respect.