The Corvette is synonymous with speed, performance, and agility. This is a fact which few can argue. Today’s C8 Corvettes are capable of reaching top-speeds of nearly 200 MPH while mustering sub-3.0 second 0-60 MPH times. These figures adequately represent the enormous performance potential that the Corvette exudes with every jab of the accelerator.
However, America’s iconic sports car has not always been the fastest or most technically gifted vehicle on the block. On the contrary, the Corvette’s output was rather subdued during its infancy and again during the onset of modern emissions mandates in the 1970s.
The following are the five slowest production Corvettes to ever roll off of the assembly line.
During its initial two years of production, the Corvette was often ridiculed as being underpowered, even by standards of the day. While still faster than passenger cars of the era, these early Corvettes were estimated to have taken approximately 11 seconds to reach 60 MPH from a standstill, and 18 seconds to complete a ¼ mile pull.
To put this in perspective, the bulk of today’s fuel-efficient, compact cars offer substantially more in the way of output than that produced by the 1953-54 Corvette’s 150 HP “Blue Flame” 6-cylinder powerplant. The 2020 Honda Civic, equipped with a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine produces 175 HP, posts 0-60 MPH times of 8.2 seconds, and is capable of covering ¼ mile in 16.3 seconds.
By the mid-1970s, the muscle car era had essentially been snuffed from existence. Increasingly stringent emissions mandates forced manufacturers to stifle vehicle output in a bid for compliance. The Corvette was no exception to this downward spiral in performance, and base model vehicles in 1975 were powered by a 350 cubic-inch, small-block V-8, which produced only 165 horsepower.
Corvettes produced for the 1975 model year were also the first to feature catalytic converters, which were intended to minimize the output of pollutants rendered as a byproduct of combustion. As subdued as these early emissions based Corvettes were, consumers were still treated to the inclusion of a 4-speed transmission as standard equipment.
As if federally enacted emissions standards of the day were not stringent enough, the state of California decided to take their smog combating efforts to the next level. As a result, GM was unable to certify its 350 cubic-inch small blocks as “California Emissions Compliant.” This resulted in the use of a 180 HP, 305 cubic-inch V8 in all Corvettes produced for sale in California during the 1980 model year.
Each engine was fitted with stainless steel exhaust headers, computer-controlled carburetors, and closed-loop oxygen sensors. Consumers were also excluded from the purchase of a manual transmission, instead being forced to settle for a 3-speed automatic transmission.
Following the 1975 Corvette’s dismal display of performance development team knew that serious changes needed to be made. However, the technology did not yet exist to adequately circumvent the drastic reduction in power that had come at the hands of recently enacted emissions standards.
After an initial gain of 15 HP between the 1975 and 1976 production years, little changed in the two years to follow. 1976/77 base model Corvettes featured a 350 cubic-inch, small-block V8, which produced 180 HP. The following year, the same engine received minor modifications that led to a 5 HP increase in output.
Although several emissions era Corvettes produced only 190 HP, the 1981 model year is deserving of its own rightful spot on this list. During this model year, the 190 HP, 350 cubic-inch V8 was the only engine available to consumers. Unlike years prior, no alternative engine option was offered. The “new” L81, small-block V8 engine took the place of both the L48 and L82 350 cubic-inch engines that were used during the 1980 model year.
The L81 featured much of the same technology that was used in conjunction with the notorious California emissions engines the year prior. Electronically controlled carburetors now came standard, as did electronic cooling fans. In essence, the twilight days of the Corvette’s third-generation were used as a testbed for new components, aimed at further compliance with increasingly stringent fuel consumption and emissions based oversight.