1966 Chevrolet Corvette: On Driving Tastefully (For the First Time)
July 20, 2015
Two weeks ago, Travis and I took our 1966 Chevrolet Corvette on the Petrolicious Drive Tastefully rally. It wasn?t a competitive event, but instead a cruise with an eclectic group of cool, mostly European, cars. It was also my first time behind the wheel of our Corvette and I approached the experience with the trepidation of driving an old car for the first time on minimal sleep and not enough coffee.
We leave in the early morning for the meeting point, a parking lot by the ocean in Malibu. The Corvette is nice and warm, and its side pipes sound glorious against the freeway barriers in the morning light.
The speedo bears little relationship to the Corvette's actual speed. Fortunately Travis has been using a GPS app on his iPhone and has a few reference points based on gear and rpm. The tach's 500-rpm margin of error means they're rough reference points, but anywhere between 3000-3500 rpm in fourth gear means about 70 mph. Good enough.
We park, down some coffee, and watch the cars roll in. The breadth includes a small army of 911s of varying vintage and preparedness, to a grouping of Alfa Romeos and Triumphs. I love the Benzes, from the 300SL Roadster to the 6.9 SEL and 16-valve 190E. I keep ogling a Porsche 356, but then the matching yellow Ferrari 250 Lusso and Dino steal my attention.
Travis takes the wheel on the first leg, and we fall in with a small group of Americans: A C3 Corvette, a first-gen Camaro and Mustang, a Pontiac LeMans, and so on. We lumber on the route, leaving a breadcrumb trail of small, broken Italian and British cars on the side of the road. We wind through the Malibu hills to Paramount Ranch for a driver swap. Parked with the other domestics, I try to avoid making "Team America" jokes.
Now fully awake, I hop in the driver's seat and take us to Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica airport for lunch. Our Corvette is a simple car, but has no shortage of quirks. The bias-ply tires squirm ever so slightly when pressed upon, and they squeal when they touch paint. Both the steering and the tires wander a bit, but the car is easy to control. The Corvette's narrow width gives you some freedom to wander in your lane and shortly the intimidation fades away.
Clutch engagement is high on the pedal, but it has enough feel to get you off the line smoothly. The shifter moves easily from gate to gate. It doesn't have a lot of definition from gear to gear, but it's fine so long as you trust your throws. Revs fall quick when you clutch in, meaning you either have to rush the shifter into the next gear or bark the throttle to land the next gear. I bark the throttle. Constantly.
The 327 produces more volume than acceleration, but the timbre is so sweet it doesn't matter. The sound is deep, unmistakable Chevy small-block, and it has this sweetness in the high revs that makes you want stay in the lower gears. It makes you proud.
Outside of the warm transmission tunnel, I have a hard time chasing down similarities of character between this and its descendant. The new Corvette shares the name and layout, but so much has changed in the past 50 years, it's hard to find a trace of the new car here.
It makes you wonder about what it was like to own this Corvette back in '66. We're enjoying it now because it's a time capsule. Back then it was just a cool car. But the longer I drive this Corvette, I'm more proud of what it represented than what it represents now.
Or that just might be the exhaust fumes talking.
More photos of the event here, as well as in one of Travis's upcoming posts.
Carlos Lago, Road Test Editor