At first glance, the 1973 Corvette was not a car you would expect people to be knocking the doors down to purchase. Stronger emissions and safety requirements had taken much of the luster out of most performance cars. However, when you look back, 1973 wasn’t such a bad year after all for the Corvette. When the coke-bottle design was introduced in 1968, it used many of the styling queues of the Mako Shark II experimental car. The downside of the early “Shark” cars was the fact that quality was almost non-existent. Most had water leaks, squeaks, rattles, and poor fit and finish. However, by 1973 nearly all of those problems had been resolved, leaving a formative yet refined performance car.
Still available as a coupe or convertible, the 1973 Corvette continued to be America’s only true sports car. Visual changes were minimal: it’s chrome front bumper was replaced with a urethane bumper designed to absorbed a five-mph crash without damaging the lighting or safety equipment, but it added two inches of length. New side vents were formed into the fiberglass front fenders, replacing cast vent grilles. And the longer “power bulge” hood eliminated the windshield wiper door and operating mechanism used in previous Corvettes. The hood also provided cold air induction at the base of the windshield. Aluminum wheels–similar to those on the 1970 experimental XP-882 mid-engine Corvette–became available, and those who ordered them knocked off 40 pounds of unsprung weight. All wheels were eight inches wide, and the GR70x15 tires, provided by either Goodyear or Firestone, gave improved ride quality and performance.
Other changes were not so obvious. For the first time since 1968, the coupe rear window was not removable. Chevrolet engineers labored hard to improve the overall driving experience of the Corvette. Additional interior insulation, thicker carpeting, and new rubber body mounts helped to smooth out and quiet the ride. Most inner panels were sprayed with an asphalt compound to reduce noise intrusion. Steel door beams were added to improve safety in the case of a crash. While the addition of the door beam and urethane front bumper improved safety, the cost was not just in dollars but weight as the changes added about 70 pounds. With the exception of color choices and the elimination of the fiber-optic light monitors, the interior was left unchanged.
The Corvette, while not on par with earlier muscle cars, was still a venerable performer. Buyers had three engine options including the base L-48 pushing out 190 horses, the 245-horse L-82 small block that replaced the LT-1 from previous years, and the 275-horse LS-4 big block that replaced the LS-5. Nineteen seventy-three would be the first time since 1956 that Corvette did not have an engine with a mechanical-lifter camshaft. Also departed was the M-22 “rock crusher” transmission, leaving only the M-20 wide ratio and M-21 close ratio four-speed and the three speed Turbo-Hydramatic trans on the option list. Axle ratios ranged from 3.08 to 3.70, depending on engine and transmission choice. The Z-07 Off Road Package could be ordered with the L-82 and LS-4 and 4-speed transmission. This performance handling package included special front and rear suspension and heavy duty front and rear brakes. Buyers received superior handling, but unfortunately could not order air conditioning along with the Z-07 option.
In summary, the 1973 Corvette was the best of both worlds. The ride and handling quality was superior to earlier models, and the engine choices continued to give a combination of good mileage and good or excellent acceleration with a small sacrifice in mileage. All in all, Chevrolet had done its job. The 1973 Corvette was a winner.
Fuel For Thought
First year for urethane front bumper and door side beams
Improved acoustical material for quieter ride
MSRP for cast aluminum wheels was $175.00
Available in 10 exterior colors and five interior colors
Number built – 30,465
Construction – Fiberglass body-on-frame
Engine – 350 cubic-inch V-8, 350 cubic-inch V-8, 454 cubic-inch V-8
Power/Torque – (L-48) 350-cubic-inch V-8, 190 horsepower, 300 lb-ft torque, (L-82) 350-cubic-inch V-8, 250 horsepower, 285 lb-ft torque, (LS-4) 454-cubic-inch V-8, 275 horsepower, 395 lb-ft torque
Transmission – Wide-ratio four-speed manual, close-ratio four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
Suspension front – Unequal length A-arms with coil springs, tubular shocks, and anti-roll bar
Suspension rear – Independent, fixed differential, transverse multi-leaf springs
Steering – Recirculating ball; 2.92 turns lock to lock
Brakes – 11.75-inch front and rear disc
Length/width/height – 184.6/69.2/47.8 inches
Wheelbase – 98.0 inches
Weight – 3,407 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – 6.8 seconds, 14.1 seconds at 93 mph (Motor Trend, January 1973)
Top speed – 117 mph est.
MPG – 13 - 15 mpg (Motor Trend, January 1973)
Price – MSRP - $5,635; Today – $15,900 - $41,700
Engine – Chevrolet’s engineers worked to improve on the 350 small-block’s foundation for the hot rodder’s dream engine, combining great performance at a low price. For 1973, the base L-48 as well as the L-82 provided adequate performance. For those who demanded more, they could order the LS-4, 454 big-block. While not as powerful as previous Chevrolet big-block engines, the LS-4 gave the competition a run for its money.
Handling – The 1973 Corvette combined a tight suspension with its short wheelbase to provide excellent handling characteristics for a car that was not considered a lightweight. The new radial GR70x15 tires gripped the road in tight turns. Improved body mounts smoothed out the ride over rough roads, and the standard four-wheel disc brakes stopped the car in short order.
One of the more reasonably priced Corvettes
Parts readily available
Big-block cars offer good performance
Still considered America’s only true sports car
Rusty frames on many cars
Many do not have the original powertrain
Appreciation lower than on “chrome bumper” Corvettes
New owners can overspend on a restoration
1973 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Number built – 11,574
0-60/quarter mile – 7.7 seconds, 15.2 seconds at 86.6 mph (Motor Trend, August 1972)
Top speed – 108 mph est.
Price – MSRP – $3,713; Today – $11,050 - $31,400
1973-74 Porsche 911 Targa
Number built – 3,594 (1973)
0-60/quarter mile – 6.6 seconds, 15.4 seconds at N/A mph (Road & Track, June 1973)
Top speed – 120 mph est.
Price – MSRP – $9,024; Today – $22,900 - $34,800
The 1973 Corvette could be classified as anything between a daily driver to a trailer queen. Many today are driven regularly to car shows and cruise nights. The rubber-bumper cars are not as sought after, as earlier models with production of over 30,000 units are available at reasonable prices.
What To Pay
1973 Chevrolet Corvette
MSRP – $5,635
Low – $15,900
Average – $26,600
High – $41,700
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Corvette & Chevy magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $250/year for a $26,600 1973 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
Door panel skin $79.99
Carpet set $264.99
Front end assembly (one piece) $1460.99
Lower control arm with ball joint $315.99
Rear bumper (each) $259.99
Based on information from
Corvette: America’s Sports Car Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow by Gerald P. Burton
Mike Yager's Corvette Bible by Mike Yager
Corvette Black Book 1953-2008 by Mike Antonick
Corvette Restoration Guide, 1968-1982 by Richard Prince
Corvette Fifty Years by Randy Leffingwell
The 1973 Corvette captured the best of both worlds. With six years of quality improvements under its belt, the buyer’s choice of either a coupe or convertible, and a trio of engine options, new owners found the 1973 Corvette, while providing excellent performance, did so with grace and comfort not available in previous years. It just might be the best overall Corvette to buy today.