Should You Care About Corvette Pace Cars?


If the Indy 500 is “the greatest spectacle in racing,” serving as pace car for the race must be a marketing goldmine.

After all, a pace car is basically a rolling advertisement, driven on parade laps by a celebrity or famous athlete, and subsequently leading the procession of thundering, eager racers around the Brickyard to the green flag and during caution periods. It’s a lofty endorsement of the car’s worthiness to be on track at the same time as the real competitors. The winning driver even gets a pace car as a prize. Naturally, carmakers squeeze as much publicity out of the pace car glamour as possible. They continue that squeeze even after the race is over, offering limited edition replicas of the pace car, sprayed and stickered to look just like the ones used at Indy.

But are pace cars special just because marketing departments say they are? Do collectors buy into the “limited edition” cachet? How does the market treat them? Let’s dive into the history and explore the data.

1978 corvette indy pace car graphics

Within the world of Indy pace car replicas there are DeSotos, Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, and even Fieros. Traditionally, the cars are decked out with graphics, decals, and loud paint until they’re about as subtle as a forest fire. The king of these “pace car editions,” though, is America’s sports car—the Corvette.

The Indy 500 had been around for nearly seven decades by the time Corvette was first chosen to pace the event in 1978. After that late start, though, America’s sports car has gotten more pace laps under its belt at Indy than any other model. This year, when an E-Ray will lead the field, marks the 21st time that a Corvette has served as pace car for the Indy 500.

C3 Pace Car Rear Three-Quarter

The 1978 pace car wasn’t simply the start of Corvettes pacing the 500; it established a tradition of pace car collecting. Though Corvette celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1978, and the model got a new fastback rear end as well as a new interior, all the attention was on the pace car replica, a limited edition finished in black and silver with Indy 500 graphics. What was originally supposed to be a small batch for public consumption quickly ballooned to about one car for every Chevrolet dealer in the country. Pace car replicas comprised about 15 percent of Corvette production for the whole year.

In the end, GM built 6502 pace cars for ’78. An article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Few Want to Drive This Car, but Many Are Eager to Buy It,” touting the potential of the pace car to become a valuable collectors’ item and prompted people to snatch up ’78 pace cars for well over MSRP. Customers stuffed the cars into storage and waited for that sweet, sweet ROI.

Choosing which automobiles to buy as investments is never a sure thing, and nobody ever got rich off of ’78 Corvettes. However, Chevrolet has still released an official pace car replica for many (though not all) of the years a Corvette has paced Indy. After 1978, a few years passed before Corvette again got the honors in 1986. Chevrolet didn’t introduce a separate pace car replica but instead sold all 7315 Corvette convertibles in 1986 with Indy 500 decals, and it was up to the owner whether to apply them or not. In 1995 another Corvette convertible paced the 500, but Chevrolet again produced a separate model, this time painted in a brash purple and white and with a production total limited to just 527 units. The 1998 Corvette pace car is among the more famous, due to its almost painful combination of purple and yellow. Chevrolet built 1163 of them. The only other years in which Chevrolet sold a significant official run of pace car replicas to the public were 2007 and 2008, with 500 built for each year.

Relatively limited production and loud paint typically mean that pace car replicas sell for a decent premium over the equivalent base car, but the differences vary.

For 1978 pace cars, the difference from a base model is purely cosmetic, but the changes are significant. In addition to the paint job, each car got a full silver interior, better seats, glass T-tops, and alloy wheels. Even 46 years after all the hype, and despite not being that rare, a ’78 pace car is still worth significantly more than a “normal” ’78 Vette. Pace cars equipped with the range-topping L82 engine carry a condition #2 (“excellent”) value of $41,300, which is over 60 percent higher than a base car.

As for 1986 pace cars, things are a little different. Like the ’78 models, they’re not that rare—Chevrolet built 7315 over a quarter of production for the year. They also weren’t technically a limited edition, as all ’87 Corvette convertibles are “pace cars.” People selling one will often tout it as a “1986 Pace Car Edition,” when what they really mean is “1986 Corvette convertible.” Nevertheless, 1986 marked the first Corvette convertible since 1975, and 1986 convertibles command a slight premium over 1987 convertibles, with condition #2 values of $23,500 and $21,300, respectively.

For the purple-and-white 1995 Pace Car Convertible, production was much more limited with 527 built. Yet the premium for them isn’t huge. The condition #3 (“good”) value is $14,500 compared to $11,500 for the base car, but its #2 value of $27,800 is within a few hundred dollars of the base. The purple-and-yellow look-at-me-mobile that is the 1998 pace car also doesn’t cost all that much more than a base ’98 soft top. Its $32,800 condition #2 value is just 6.5 percent higher.

Corvette paced the 500 again in 2002, just ahead of the car’s 50th birthday in 2003. Chevrolet sold thousands of “50th Anniversary Edition” cars for the ’03 model year, all finished in a special shade of Anniversary Red Metallic over Shale two-tone leather. But Chevrolet also offered an “Indy 500 pace car” decal package to Anniversary Edition buyers for about $500. That’s a lot of money for some stickers, but they actually turned out to be a decent investment, as cars wearing them carry a #2 value of $37,100 compared to $33,000 for a regular ’03 50th Anniversary Edition.

The 2007 and 2008 Indy Pace Car replicas number 500 examples each. The ’07 Indy Pace Car Convertible carries a #2 value of $37,300 (11 percent higher than a base car), and the 2008 Indy Pace Car Coupe carries a #2 value of $42,400 (13 percent higher than a base car).

In addition to the pace car replicas you could buy at the dealer, there are the actual pace cars used for the race, which are naturally more desirable. There are also “track cars” (used by race officials and VIPs for the event) and “festival cars” (used in the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade) that are often similar to the dedicated pace car. When the festival or track cars aren’t given out to execs or VIPs or otherwise come up for sale, they can be even more sought after by collectors than the production replicas. Some collectors are so crazy about pace cars that, for years when GM didn’t sell an official replica, they commission their own with special permission from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sale prices for all of the above, though, are mixed. For example, one of three official pace cars used at the 2004 Indy 500 sold at auction last year for $38,500 and one of the Parade Cars from that year sold this January for $40,700, both of which seem low. As does the $59,400 for the 2019 Parade Car driven by Alexander Rossi. There are 2019 Corvettes on used car lots asking more than that. On the other end of the spectrum, a parade car from the 2005 race sold for $132,000 at auction this month, and one of the six official pace cars for the 2006 race sold for $242,000 at auction last year.

corvette indy pace car collection

Since pace cars are sought out by collectors, they are sometimes sold as a collection. Back in 2018, a pace car collection of 16 Corvettes sold for $1.6M, which works out to an even $100K apiece. Which is a lot, but the group included four official track-used cars and five replicas that were commissioned by the owner and authorized by Indianapolis Motor Speedway because no official replicas were offered for those years. Another group of 18 sold at auction two years ago for $1.375M, or over $76,000 apiece. That group included two real pace cars used at the race and eight Indy-authorized replicas.

Corvette pace cars, then, are proven collectibles. They have been for over 40 years. They’re often not that rare. Their paint is often gaudy. They’re not any faster than a mechanically identical base model. But their connection to the greatest spectacle in racing, and their uniqueness, negates all that. The prices don’t lie, and we should indeed care about pace cars.


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    With the exception of a few Camaros the Corvette has been ‘The Official Pace Car’ since 04. Apparently GM must have a lock on Indy by agreement, if not contract, in that respect. Not being independently ‘chosen’ as in the past makes them less than special, just another year of, ho-hum. Vette fans may like it but I doubt it’s really impacting sales otherwise. If there is such a thing as overexposure this might be a good example.

    To be considered to be a Pace Car the company also has to0 supply race engines. As only Chevy and Toyota supply engines, the choice is easy. After picking the Stealth in ’91 the United Auto Workers protested a foreign car as the Pace Car, even if it was the Dodge version. I guess that would eliminate Toyota, leaving only Chevrolet.

    Toyota doesn’t supply engines to Indycar. The only two current supplies are Chevrolet and Honda.

    Toyota doesn’t supply engines to Indycar/Indianapolis 500. Only Chevrolet and Honda currently supply engines.

    tbenvie, It ruins your credibility to make a statement that is so wrong. Toyota does NOT supply any race engines for the Indy car series. HAH! Honda is what you are searching for!

    The Corvette pace cars are hideous. Normally with a Corvette you feel that everything is there for a reason since their interiors are chincy and their powertrains besides the new ones and the LS7 are stout.

    But these cars border on being gimmicky. And pointless.

    Yep, I agree. They always looked like some real estate salesmans car that he was trying to write off as a business expense.

    If you like sure collect them.

    What I think some miss is the cars are used to draw attention on a race track at the biggest race on earth. A bit over the top yes and good reason.

    My favorite was the 78 as it was the best looking.

    There is no thing about over exposure here. The car is selling out year after year and is one of the best sports cars on the road.

    The interiors have been fine for a number of years and the engines are anything but Chincy. The LS is the top performance engine for going on 30 years.

    The fact is this is an American race and they only use American cars. The only other cars really able to fill the role is the Camaro and Mustang. By no Mustang pace cars Ford may not be able to afford the costs. They have laid off so many. Same at Stellantis.

    I prefer to just have a Vette but these are out there for those who want something special.

    Every chassis that runs in Indy car is made in Italy by Dallara. So much for it being an all American race…

    Dallara indeed makes all of the chassis. However this Italian company manufactures them in…Speedway Indiana.

    The Corvette pace cars are all ugly.

    The most valuable Indy pace car of all time might have been the 1971 Dodge Challenger convertible, as only 50 were built. The Challenger’s crash at the end of pit road kinda screwed that up.

    I think the prettiest Indy pace car had to be the orange on white 69 Camaro SS/RS convertible. I’d park that one in my garage.

    I don’t follow IndyCar anymore, but my guess would be the Pace Car duties are tied to Chevy’s engine supplier deal.

    The ‘78 Pace Car Corvette had a magic all its own. I lusted after one for years as I was only 18 at the time and it was out of reach.i purchased a 6,000 mile original in 2005 that was in the living room of the original owner. It was a very early car # 590 if memory serves. L-82 and 4 speed. I sold it in 2010 as we were moving to a different state. I must of gotten that itch scratched as I have owned 5 other Corvettes since, never looking for another Pace Car. I still stop and admire them when I see them though.

    I would suggest that the ’67 & ’69 Camaro Indy Pace Cars are arguably more collectible than any year Corvette IPC, especially the 69 396 model with a 4 speed.

    I enjoy cruising around in my ’93 Z28 IPC, of which they only offered 650 or so. The color scheme really screams 90s Radwood era, in a good way.

    I like the 1978 Corvette pace car, but I’d like to have a LeBaron Convertible Pace Car. Have not seen one for sale for many years. Assume they all went to the crusher. Underappreciated car.

    I admit to not caring about pace cars mainly because I hate the decals on the car. I do like the ’78 two tone color. My wife’s uncle had one for a long time.

    “Should You Care About Corvette Pace Cars?”

    No. Corvettes have very little appeal to me. The most recent versions are garish caricatures of an affordable performance car.

    “Should You Care About Mary Kay Cosmetics Cars?

    Also, No. But they are rare and tied to some measure of personal accomplishment.

    how about really limited production pace car replicas, such as the 1970 olds 442 (less than 300)……more subtle

    In 1978 my boss at the time bought a ’78 Corvette pace car. The purchase price was $16K out the door and he wanted to flip it and double his money. He immediately put it up for sale for $32K and waited. And waited. He never drove the car and eventually sold it maybe 6 or 7 years later for somewhere near the purchase price. He didn’t enjoy the car, didn’t make a killing, and had to store it all that time. Not a good business model.

    Because I had purchased their one new 1976 Corvette, he Chevy dealer from my tiny home town called me to ask if I wanted a “limited edition” Corvette that was coming out in 1978. I agreed and we set the price at MSRP. By the time the car arrived, I had a buyer wanting it badly enough to pay $5,000 over MSRP. Owned my ’78 Pace Car for five minutes . . . Between the two of us, I think I made more on that car than he may have. Being young and stupid, I spent the money on round trip tickets to Europe for myself and a college buddy, and bought a gold Rolex on the French Riviera. “A fool and his money soon go different ways.” Great fun all the way around, though.

    Nyle Maxwells Vehicles Unique in Austin TX has a ’78 Pace Car with 5 miles on it and the plastic still on the seats. He’s got a bunch of other cool cars there too. It’s an interesting collection that I got a chance to see recently during a Ride, Drive, Give charity pre-event for the Center for Child Protection in Austin (great folks:

    Certainly, any of these pace cars would be a much worse investment than just sticking the same amount of cash in an index fund, especially when you consider maintenance and storage costs, but they sure are a lot more fun than an index fund.

    I agree with your last paragraph if you actually drive the car, at least once in a while. But if there is still plastic on the seats and less then 10 miles on the odometer after 45 years, that could not have been any fun, should have went with the index fund. Or even gold.

    Circa 2000, I worked with an Air Force chaplain who had a ’95 (purple/white) pace car replica.
    It stood out from the other cars on base.

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