In 1978, Chevrolet marked a milestone anniversary for its celebrated sports car: The Corvette turned 25 years old. For the first time in the model’s history, it was chosen to pace the running of the Indianapolis 500, so the bowtie brand pulled out the stops in creating a limited number of pace car replicas. It also offered buyers a unique Silver Anniversary paint scheme, though all 1978 Corvettes wore commemorative 25th Anniversary badging on nose and tail.
The 1978 model year also saw the most significant changes to the Corvette’s styling since the launch of the third-generation, “Stingray” models a decade earlier, in 1968. Gone was the flying buttress rear pillar design of earlier models, replaced by a glass fastback window that improved both outward visibility and luggage room. Though the design gave the Corvette the appearance of a hatchback, the window was fixed in place, and a roller cover within the rear cargo area was provided to keep valuables out of sight.
1978 Chevrolet Corvette Silver Anniversary Edition. Photo courtesy Chevrolet Media.
The driver enjoyed a restyled instrument panel, while a locking glove box replaced the map pocket found on earlier third-generation cars. No convertible option was available, though Chevrolet did offer removable roof panels – that stowed in the cargo area – as an option for those wanting open-air motoring.
Two engine choices were available for most of the United States, including the 350-cu.in. L48 V-8, rated at 185 hp (except in California and high-altitude markets, where it was rated at 175 hp), and the optional L82 V-8, which delivered 220 hp but was not available in California, Maryland, Florida, Oregon, or Washington. Emissions regulations also prevented the L82’s sale in Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Des Plains, IL; Barrington, IL; Grand Rapids, MI; and Cook County, IL.
1978 Chevrolet Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car Edition. Photo courtesy Chevrolet Media.
The L82’s extra thrust came courtesy of a higher-lift camshaft, revised cylinder heads with larger valves, 8.9:1 compression versus the L48’s 8.2:1, and a low-restriction exhaust system. The premium engine also received a forged crankshaft with four-bolt main bearing caps, and finned aluminum rocker covers to dress things up a bit. All engines (except CA and high-altitude variants) were up slightly in horsepower compared to 1977, thanks to a dual-snorkel air cleaner.
Transmission offerings included a four-speed manual, a three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, and with the L82 engine, a four-speed, close-ratio manual. All 1978 Corvettes came with a Positraction rear, and an example equipped with the L82 and close-ratio gearbox ran from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, through the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 95 mph, and to a top speed of 127 mph, according to Car and Driver. That may not be impressive by modern standards, but in 1978 it was about as good as things were going to get from the showroom floor.
When the Corvette was selected as the Indy 500 Pace Car (in the days before Chevrolet had a contractual lock on this), the automaker initially planned on producing a very limited number of Pace Car Replicas. Just 300 were to be built, but when word leaked to the public, demand grew. Eventually, Chevrolet opted to produce one for each of its 6,000 dealers in the United States, plus a reserve (of 502) to ensure an ample supply, and these cars even received dedicated serial numbers, a first for the model. A base Corvette stickered for $9,351.89 in 1978, but the list price for the Pace Car Replica Corvette was $13,653.21, before the inevitable dealer price gouging was added.
To the base Corvette, the Pace Car Replica added unique two-tone black and silver paint, special graphics, power windows, power door locks, removable glass roof panels, rear window defogger, air conditioning, sport mirrors, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, P255/60R15 white letter tires, heavy duty battery, AM/FM/8-track stereo, power antenna, dual rear speakers, aluminum wheels with red accents, convenience group (dome light delay, headlamp warning buzzer, underhood light, low-fuel warning light, interior courtesy lights, floor mats, intermittent wipers, right visor mirror), and special seats. Buyers could add any other options they wanted, and the L82 engine and FE7 Gymkhana suspension were popular choices.
Those unable to procure a Pace Car Replica could still purchase a Silver Anniversary Edition Corvette, as this option (specifically, B2Z 25th Anniversary Paint) was not limited in production. Selecting this livery required checking the box for the aluminum wheels and dual sport mirrors, and buyers received a Corvette finished in silver metallic above and charcoal silver below, with pin stripes to accentuate the fenders, wheel arches, fender vents and hood. The 25th Anniversary Corvette could be ordered with a wide array of options, meaning that no two are likely to be identical. Overall, Chevrolet built 15,283 Silver Anniversary Editions as part of the 1978 Corvette’s total production of 46,776 cars.
Many 1978 Pace Car Edition Corvette buyers believed they had an instant collectible on their hands, so low-mileage and well-preserved examples are plentiful. Long-static prices have begun to climb in recent years, and NADA shows a jump in value of $4,000, from $24,200 to $28,200 for a Pace Car Edition with the optional L82 engine in average shape, over the past two years. At the high end of the range, show-ready 1978 Pace Cars with the L82 were priced at $36,100 in 2017 but have now climbed to $43,100 in 2019.
Other 1978 Corvettes have gone up in price, too, but not in as dramatic a manner. In 2017, NADA published an average value for a base, L48-powered Corvette of $13,050, while today that number is $14,750. Anniversary Edition models, with the B2Z two-tone paint, command a 10-percent premium.