1969 L88 Corvette Vintage Road Test
1969 L88 Corvette Vintage Road Test
The 1969 L88 Corvette was tested by two car magazines when new, Hot Rod and Car Life. Here we find some vintage photos and some commentary about the original test by Steve Kelly at Hot Rod Magazine.
Personally, I have my own commentary that I would like to make about the real performance levels that the L88 Corvettes were able to achieve. As most of you know, I’ve discussed the motorsport history of the L88 Corvettes in my hardbound book: Corvette Racing Legends, the story of the L88 option package. I’ve also discussed a few of the accomplishments of the early 1966 and RPO 1967 L88 Corvettes in my Corvette Legends Magazine. The 1969 L88 Corvette was at the top of the food chain when it came to Corvettes and most other muscle cars of the era. It was a diamond in the rough.
The only visual clue that provided a hint of it’s performance levels was the L88 specific cowl induction hood which was only available in a new L88 Corvette. Otherwise, the L88 Corvette appeared like any other 427 Corvette of its day.
This 1969 L88 Corvette was a Daytona Yellow convertible that was built with a factory TH400 automatic transmission.
Today, we all take tire technology for granted. In fact, I think we’ve all taken it for granted since the mid 1990s. The street tires that we have today far exceed the limits of the best racing tires of the 60s and 70s. That’s a fact. So when this 1969 L88 Corvette was provided to Hot Rod Magazine for testing, the Corvette engineers knew that lack of traction with street tires was a major concern. This L88 Corvette was rolling on a set of Firestone Indy tires which were in essence, dry weather only high performance tires. They were not factory installed tires, but were bolted on for better grip during this test. It was hoped that these Indy tires could have been an option, but it never developed as factory installed all season tires were required of every new Corvette at that time.
Continuing the lack of traction concerns, equipping any L88 Corvette with 4.11, 4.56, or 4.88 gears without racing slicks would be like driving a car on ice. So this L88 Corvette was set up with 3.36:1 rear gears in an attempt to control wheel spin in the quarter mile. With these gears and the Firestone Indy tires, this L88 Corvette clicked off mid thirteens at over 110 MPH. 11 second or quicker quarter mile times were more the norm with L88 Corvettes running four series rear gears with slicks, as they have been documented in my Corvette Legends Magazine. That is why I consider the L88 Corvette a diamond in the rough as in was delivered new from the factory. It could be drag raced, road raced, or even used as a pleasure vehicle and street raced. You just needed to understand its needs and treat it accordingly.
Below you can find an analysis of the original Steve Kelly article by
The engine, as you’d imagine, was very right—with a few caveats. In the story’s subhead Kelly described the L88 version of the 427-inch big-block as “an engine that’ll torque the whole car over if you don’t hang on tight!” He acknowledged that the L88’s power ratings, 430 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, were both lower than the triple-carbed L71 version of the 427, “but don’t let that fool you,” he said. “The L88 is the top runner in this family.”
The L88 option added $1,032.15 to the convertible’s $4,583.45 base price. “Almost every Corvette we’ve driven has had an abundance of convenience items, from air conditioning to stereo AM/FM receivers,” noted Kelly. “This one had an L88 engine, Turbo Hydramatic, and little else that you could see. But heavy-duty disc brakes, special-purpose suspension, transistor ignition, and Positraction rear axle have to be ordered first. The thousand-dollar L88 option buys the motor and a bubble-top hood,” he added. “Things like power steering, radio, and electric windows can’t be had.”
Apparently low-speed operation couldn’t be had, either. “At stop lights, with the trans left in gear, the engine pulls down low on speed, and will sometimes quit running. It will surge when in gear at rest, and the only effective control is to put one foot on the throttle and the other on the brake, or to put the lever up to Neutral. Then the idle speed goes over 1,500.”
High speed blasts were another thing entirely: “When the throttle is kicked down at mid-range speeds (normal ones), say 30-45 mph, the gear downshifts all the way to low, and it’s ‘hang on, ’cause we’re goin’” time. What a good sound it makes as it snaps to 6,500, bangs into the next gear, and starts the climb again!”
Kelly ordered the Vette with a 4.56 rear gear, but it came with 3.36 cogs, “which in some Chevrolet spec books is called a ‘performance’ ratio,” he said. “Evidently Zora Arkus-Duntov isn’t writing spec books.” The tall gear hampered quarter-mile performance; the 13.56 e.t. was “two seconds from where it should be. The only ‘performance’ that big rear gear netted was when it got us over 10 miles per gallon for one tank of gas. [Kelly averaged 8.30 mpg for the test.] It absolutely must have a lower ratio, preferably nothing less than 4.11:1, to do any good quarter-mile work. Just as it’s passing the last speed light in the traps, the engine wants to go to work.”
Kelly had nothing but praise for the “special-purpose suspension required with an L88,” saying it “plays an important part in its being the best-handling car built in this country. It outdoes many imports, some of them costing twice the Corvette price.”
He did note that the manual steering “is a real arm-bender,” and “almost impossible to crank the wheel at rest.” The quick steering ratio, though, did mean “that cornering requires very little wheel movement.” He also warned readers that the heavy-duty disc brakes “take breaking-in before they feel right.” They felt “sluggish” at first, “but they need to get blistering hot once or twice, seating them in, and then they feel firm and positive.”
The various Corvette history books on our shelves describe Vettes equipped with the L88 (and its all-aluminum ZL1 cousin) as essentially race cars that could be driven on the street, but probably shouldn’t. Kelly said as much back in 1969: “The L88, even in showroom form, is closer to being a racer than a cruiser, and it would seem almost sacrilegious to see an L88 Vette serving duty as a transportation machine only.”
This Daytona Yellow 1969 L88 Corvette vanished shortly after the magazine tests were completed. It’s never surfaced. I have an idea where it is, but I don’t believe I will have the opportunity to inspect it. Even if I did, five decades of use and rebuilding can show very easily and I’m convinced that the original parts to correctly identify it are long gone. It’s not the same car as was delivered to Hot Rod Magazine early in 1969 for these vintage tests.
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