Corvette History Through Ads: Special Editions

Every year since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has used a pace car to assist with the rolling start of the race. It didn’t take the marketing and sales departments long to recognize how to use this to help sell cars. Though hard to believe based on the last decade of pace cars, the Corvette, America’s sports car, was not chosen to pace the Indy field until 1978, astoundingly, a quarter of a century after the car was introduced! It appears that this egregious error has been recognized and subsequently, after the late start, the Corvette has been chosen more than any other car, a total of twelve times to lead the procession around the 2.5 mile oval track.

Using the pace car designation on special edition replica models had proved successful in the past, like on the 1969 Camaro SS, so the marketing department at Chevrolet was quick to jump on the opportunity in 1978 to produce a limited edition special production of 6,502 Corvette replica pace cars. The pace car replicas were given their own vehicle identification numbers and a special black over silver two tone paint scheme with red striping and at $13,653.21 carried a 45% premium over the price of the $9,351.89 base car. In addition the car came with an Indianapolis 500 Official Pace Car decal set, mirrored T Tops, and special seats that did not become standard until the following year. The pace car replica carried the highest MSRP of any production Corvette sold until then. As a part of the marketing plan, only one pace car replica was built for every Chevrolet dealership to help draw customers into the showrooms. Aside from increasing dealer traffic, the “one per dealer” program resulted in several dealers demanding and getting prices above the already inflated MSRP or hoarding the car for their own personal use. The average selling price for the limited edition cars was roughly $20,000, which was 46% above the MSRP. And as the Indianapolis race got closer, prices demanded for the pace car replica continued to escalate to unheard-of prices over $40,000!

But clever dealers were prepared to take advantage of the pent up demand from disappointed buyers who came in to buy the limited edition pace cars, only to find the car priced up to three times the MSRP or already sold (usually to the dealer). Dealers would offer those unhappy customers the Silver Anniversary Edition Corvette, another special edition Corvette that added only $399 to the base price of $9351.89, a bargain compared to pace car replicas. The Silver Anniversary Edition was produced to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Corvette and was basically an appearance package consisting of two tone silver paint, aluminum wheels and sport mirrors. Unlike the pace car, the Silver Anniversary Edition was not a limited production car and of the 40,274 non-pace car Corvettes produced that year, 15,283 were the Silver Anniversary Edition. Every Corvette produced for 1978 had special 25th anniversary emblems even if the car was not a Silver Anniversary Edition.

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Once again the marketing department hit a home run with the Official Indianapolis Pace Car replica and the Silver Anniversary Edition cars with over 46% of the total production being a special edition car. At the time, total sales were the best in Corvette’s history at 46,776 and today, it remains the second best sales year in Corvette’s history.