Then..."1977 STINGRAY: Chevrolet continues its updating and upgrading program, making the latest version the most desirable." Thus read the headline on page 10 of the Fall 1976 version of what was then known as VETTE QUARTERLY. Ignoring the fact that Corvettes officially ceased to be known as "Stingrays" for the '77 model year, we'll address the latter declaration, that this "latest version" of the Corvette was "the most desirable." Simply put, the numbers bear that statement out. A record 49,213 Corvette Sport Coupes were built in the 1977 model run, beating the previous champ, the '76 model. To this day, only the '79 and '84 models, which both saw numbers over 50,000, have sold more. And yet, '77s and their smog-motored brethren are often set aside as non-performers when compared to their high-compression, catalytic converter-less ancestors. So why did so many people pony up the $8,647.65 (plus options) that it took to bring a '77 home?

The answer to that question is actually pretty easy. Though its performance figures may pale in comparison to those posted by earlier Corvettes, the '77 version trounced anything else anyone else put out that year. Even the base 180hp L48 powerplant was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Throw in the optional-everywhere-but-California L82, with its 210 hp, and the '77 Corvette could show that it still had some teeth. In a Summer 1977 drive test, the VETTE QUARTERLY crew managed to get a 15.3@91 mph quarter-mile out of their test vehicle, which was equipped with L82, a four-speed trans, and 3.70:1 gears.

Now, those figures may not seem particularly impressive. Remember, though, that there was a constant barrage of government emissions and safety regulations hitting the OEMs. If that wasn't enough, the Arab oil embargoes of a few years before were still fresh in the public's mind, creating a demand for better fuel economy. Given the circumstances, it's a bit of a wonder that "America's only true production sports car," as the dealer brochure called the '77 Corvette, survived at all.

But survive it did, with subtle yet significant changes. As we mentioned before, the "Stingray" moniker was dropped. The earliest '77 had no fender logos, with only the alarm activator switch on the left front fender. The second version featured a new crossed flags emblem to go along with the '77-only nose and gas door logos, which was placed alongside the exterior alarm switch. The final style featured the emblems only, as the alarm switch was incorporated into the driver's door lock in mid-production. Another exterior feature, the luggage rack, which had previously been a dealer-installed option, became factory RPO V54, and was designed to hold either luggage or the T-roof panels.

The interior received extensive changes, most notably in the center console. This all-new unit featured new gauges, contained the heater and A/C controls, and most importantly, allowed the use of standard-sized Delco radios, which gave Corvette shoppers more choices in the stereo department. Along with the console changes, the shift lever on manual transmission models was made an inch longer to ease parking brake use. The RPO N37 Tilt-Telescopic Steering Column option was also redesigned.

The new unit relocated the headlight dimmer switch and the windshield wiper controls to stalks on the steering column, and allowed the steering wheel to be mounted 2 inches closer to the dash for more driver arm room. Speaking of the steering wheel...the universally detested '76 tiller was discarded in favor of a new, leather-wrapped and color-coordinated piece. Unless you opted for a solid column, that is, in which case you were stuck with the universally detested '76-style wheel.