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1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car

The Corvette legend is founded on racing and performance, and the mid-to-late '70s was the pits. Power was down, weight was up, and Porsches were eating the Corvette's lunch at the race track. The announcement that the 25th anniversary Corvette would also be the pace car at the '78 Indy 500, looked like the highlight of the decade for Corvette fans. But controversy was in the mix right from the beginning.

Initially, it looked like a triple-play for Chevrolet. First, the '78 Corvette received a sleek new fastback roof that completed the overall redesign started in '73 with the soft bumper covers. Second, all Corvettes wore the 25th Anniversary badges. And third, a special edition Corvette would serve as the pace car at the '78 Indy 500. Then the details set in.

The initial idea was that there would be 300 pace car replicas the same number as the '53 production run. The car would have a two-tone silver paint (for the silver anniversary), red pin striping, and special Goodyear tires with "CORVETTE" sidewall lettering. Then the plan was to make 2,500 replicas, 100 for each year of production. But there were 6,200 dealers that all wanted at least one replica, so production went up to 6,502 units.

Then there was the price issue. The RPO Z78 package cost $4,302! Here's what came with the option. The exterior had special two-tone paint and pin striping, front and rear spoilers, glass roof panels, sport mirrors, and red pin stripped aluminum wheels on P225/60R15 tires. The interior came with power windows and door locks, tilt-telescopic steering column, convenience group, silver thin-shell seats, AM/FM with a CB radio or an 8-track tape player, dual rear speakers, and a power antenna. The $525 L82 engine rated at 220 hp was not part of the package.

The controversy started right on the showroom floor. For a "premium collectible," quality was not good fender seams were clearly visible on many cars. Then there were the opportunistic dealers who tacked on surcharges that bumped the price up to between $15,000 to $22,000. One dealer was asking $75,000 for his replica. Then, there were individuals making replicas of the pace car replica, asking full price for their creations! All that, for a car with no more "grunt" than a regular Corvette.