The opportunity to serve as the official pace car for the Indianapolis 500, “the greatest spectacle in racing”, is an honor for any manufacturer. Driven on the pace lap leading a pre-race procession of thundering Indy racers around the Brickyard it is an endorsement of a car’s worthiness to be on the track alongside the actual competitors. The Corvette’s debut year as pace car in 1978 not only started the tradition of Corvettes pacing the 500, but it also established a tradition of pace car collecting.
Although the 1978 model introduced the Corvette’s new fastback rear as well as a new interior, all the attention was on the pace car replica. The 1978 Corvette Pace Car is arguably one of the most popular examples of the C3 Corvette. Its original design was quite different from the car that everyone knows today. During its design phase, the original Pace Car design was to feature a two-tone silver paint with red striping and included special Goodyear tires with the word “CORVETTE” imprinted on them in raised, white, sidewall lettering. Additionally, only 300 of these collector Pace Cars were going to be produced in commemoration of the original 300 Corvettes built in 1953.
The significance of the 1978 Corvette Pace Car was further enhanced because it marked the Corvette’s 25th anniversary of production. To celebrate, Chevrolet introduced two special-edition Corvettes that year. The first of these was known as the “Silver Anniversary” edition Corvette. It featured a two-tone silver over gray exterior with special pin-striping and special “25th Anniversary” badging. The second special-edition Corvette was the 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car. This car, much like the Silver Anniversary Edition, featured a special two-tone paint scheme. However, unlike the Silver Anniversary Edition, this car came finished in black over a silver metallic and featured a bright red pinstripe between the two-tone paint. The Corvette Indy Pace Car also featured a special front and rear spoiler, both of which were designed to add a more dramatic appearance to the car. The front spoiler wrapped under and around the front of the car before blending into the wheel wells. Conversely, the rear spoiler curved down at its out-bored ends to meet the body-sides of the Corvette.
The Pace Car Replica was actually offered to consumers as an option package – RPO Z78. All of the Pace Car replicas included new glass T-tops, alloy wheels, power windows, a rear window defogger, air conditioning, sports mirrors, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a heavy-duty battery, an AM/FM stereo equipped with either an eight-track tape player or a CB radio, and power door locks. In addition to these features, each Indy Pace Car Corvette replica owner would receive a set of regalia decals that they could install at their discretion. The decal set included the famous “winged wheel” Indy Speedway logos for the rear fenders as well as large door emblems that read “Official Pace Car”. The interior of the Corvette Pace Car was directly influenced by Bill Mitchell and featured either full silver leather or leather/gray cloth upholstery and gray carpeting. Notably, for the 1978 Pace Car, Chevrolet introduced a new, thin-shell seat design that featured more lumbar support. Although these seats were originally slated for the 1979 model, the development program was accelerated so that these new seats could be introduced in the 1978 Pace Car package. Even before the car was officially announced, rumors of a special-edition Corvette Pace Car excited enthusiasts and would-be future owners. Chevrolet initially decided that they would produce 2,500 Indy 500 Pace Car replicas – 100 cars for each year of Corvette’s production since 1953. Each of these cars would be sold on a “first come, first serve” basis.
However, as Chevrolet already had 6,200 established automobile dealerships at the time, it was quickly decided that a minimum order of 6,200 units should be built so that each showroom could have at least one Pace Car in it. As such, the “Limited Edition Indy Pace Car Replica” Corvette actually accounted for 15 percent of all the 1978 Corvettes, with a total of 6,502 Pace Cars produced that year. Following a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal, prices for these limited-edition Corvettes went through the roof as they were quickly snapped up by collectors. Unfortunately, the sudden scarcity of these cars combined with their collectability status tempted some owners of standard 1978 Corvettes to try and pass them off as factory Pace Cars. All that was needed was a black or silver car with the right options, access to a paint-booth, moderate skill painting a car and access to someone in a Chevy dealer’s parts department that was willing to sell the two spoilers and the special silver cabin trim. However, most counterfeiters were either unaware of or would forget about the special pace car only seats.
Today, the 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car continues to hold its value far better than most other Corvettes from that era.