If there’s a year to feel nostalgic about the Indy 500, it’s 2020. Due to the global pandemic, no spectators were allowed and the hallowed May running date was swapped for August. Let’s cast our minds back to another Indianapolis 500, one held away from the shadow of COVID-19 and the very first event to be paced by America’s sports car. This pristine C3 Corvette Pace Car celebrates that 1978 running at the Brickyard in near time-capsule style. The car quite literally checks all of the boxes, and it’s up for grabs on Hemmings and on Craigslist as of this writing.
We’ve covered the history and collector cache of Corvette pace cars in depth here, but suffice it to say that the Corvette hogs the bragging rights as the model with the most pace laps at Indy. (Sorry, Camaro, Mustang, and Trans Am. Oh, and Viper.) In addition to a generous dose of television coverage—the 2019 event garnered 5.44 million viewers on NBC—pace cars receive the celebrity touch. Typically driven by a celebrity or renowned racer on the pace laps, the car also goes home with the winning driver. The additional weight given to the model’s on-track reputation is coveted.
Naturally, automakers like to capitalize on the glowing aura of the pace cars. Chevrolet inaugurated the tradition of pace car collecting with the Corvette’s first run at the Brickyard in 1978. However, the initial small batch of pace cars became a run of 6502. Collectors smelled a worthy investment and didn’t hesitate to swallow a hefty dealer markup to tuck 1978 Pace Cars safely in their garages.
Whoever ordered this particular 1978 model, however, really went all out. In addition to luxuries like power windows, a tilting/telescoping steering column, and air conditioning, this car boasts the 350-cubic-inch, 220-hp L82 V-8, M21 close-ratio four-speed, and Gymkhana suspension. (The last option, FE7, packed uprated shocks and a rear sway bar. The engine represents an upgrade over the 185-hp L48 mill.) Together with the desirable aluminum wheels, these options add $6350 to this example’s value in the Hagerty Price Guide. Adding that figure to the $58,800 #1 (Concours) condition value for a 1978 Corvette Pace Car, we’re looking at $65,150. Since the seller’s listing it for $64,790 on Craigslist, we think that’s pretty reasonable.
For those of you whose eyes water at the idea of a $60K+ late-model C3, Hagerty’s Greg Ingold, associate editor of the Hagerty Price Guide, has some input:
“This Corvette ticks all the boxes. Literally, someone ticked all the boxes on the order form when they walked into their Chevy dealer. Corvette Pace Cars are not exceedingly rare, but when you add items like the L82 engine, four-speed, and the optional Gymkhana suspension, it adds a level of desirability that even late C3 haters can’t ignore.
“While this may seem like a lot of money for a C3 from the Corvette’s dark ages, it’s easy to forgive that fact because of how original and unique this car is.”
Production numbers—and collector interest—varied throughout each installment of Corvette pace cars, but they usually carry a premium over base models. The 1978 cars carry one of the largest: a base ’78 L48 coupe carries an average value of less than $10K and one in #1 condition is valued at $25,700—roughly half of its L48 pace car sibling’s comparable value ($52,300). If we compare L82 to L82, the difference is still dramatic: a #1-condition base model rings in at $27,600 versus $58,800 for the pace car.
With only 626 miles, and accompanied by the original build sheet, window sticker, and a fully documented owner history, this example might be the ’78 Pace Car to have. The fluids have been changed and the brakes serviced, according to the listing, and the car “is not kept in a cocoon … starts right up.” You can probably guess what our first action would be, once we slid into those leather buckets …