The Super Corvette: The L88

January, 2024

L88 Corvette

In the late ‘60s, during the height of the “Muscle Car Wars,” Zora Arkus-Duntov (also known as the Father of the Corvette) wanted to create the ultimate Sting Ray racer, one that could take on the international super cars of the day. He not only faced a significant technical challenge, but he also had to convince GM management that such a car should be built. Fortunately, he succeeded in doing both, and the race-ready 427 L88 option package debuted in the 1967 model year. Initially, only a few people outside of professional race teams knew about the L88. Of course, this changed as news of the success these Corvettes were having on the race circuit began to reach the general public. Although GM intentionally discouraged the purchase of L88 Corvettes for street use, it was a factory option that anyone could buy. So, for those who knew what the professionals were running and were into either sanctioned or unsanctioned racing, this was the car to have.

Corvette: Small or Big Block

Buyers who walked into a Chevy dealership in the late ’60s to purchase a Corvette had to decide, among other things, whether they wanted a small block or big block engine.   Those that chose to have “427” emblazoned on the sides of the hood scoop were going all-in.

However, the emblem, alone, didn’t specify the car’s power, because not all 427 engines were created equal.  Initially offered in ’66 Corvettes, the 427 engine, known as the L36, had a horsepower rating of 390. Its successors, the L68 and L72, with their improved performance options, boosted the Corvette’s horsepower to 400 and 425, respectively.  Ranking even higher, the L71 and L89 versions of the 427 engines were rated at 435 horsepower.

Nevertheless, to many, the elusive L88, of which only 216 were ordered from 1967 through 1969, remains the Holy Grail of Corvettes of the ’60s.   The L88s low production numbers can be attributed to GM intentionally under-rating the L88s horsepower, when in fact it was much more powerful than any other 427 engine of the time. 

Corvette L88 Engine

The L88 designation referred to a special set of race-ready equipment upgrades to the standard Corvette that added power and improved handling.  The engine, which was the key element of this option package, is what makes this car so unique and collectible.  The ploy used by GM was to specify in their sales literature a 430 HP rating at 5,200 RPMs.  However, the L88 engine could actually turn 6,200 RPMs or more, making 550+ HP.  Here’s the “magic” modifications to the 427 engine that made the L88 so powerful.

  • CanAm-spec aluminum heads with oversized valves
  • 850 double-pump carburetor
  • Solid lifters
  • Radical timing
  • Special high compression pistons (12.5:1 compression ratio)
  • Strengthen crankshaft
  • Transistor ignition
  • Cowl cold air induction hood (unique to L88)

Corvette L88 Option Package

The unique hood bulge, with cowl cold air induction, is the first clue that a Corvette has an L88 option package.  Lift the hood (if you have the owner’s permission), and you’ll find an air cleaner embedded in the underside of the fiberglass hood, with a fire arrestor screen setting on the top of the carburetor. As an added precaution, drivers raise the hood on the L88 before starting the car. By doing this, the chance of a backfire through the carburetor and into the fiberglass held air cleaner is avoided (a known fire hazard).

Corvette L88 Requirements and Deletions

The L88 engine came with a strict requirement that 103 octane gas should be used during its operation.  In fact, each car came from the factory with a plaque on the dash stating this requirement.   For race teams, who were accustomed to using high-octane fuel, this requirement didn’t pose a problem.  However, 103 octane gas was not readily available everywhere in the country — another reason GM didn’t want to promote the L88 option to the general public.

To control the extra horsepower, a heavy-duty suspension, larger brakes, a positraction rear end, and the M22 “Rock Crusher” 4-speed were added to the package.  However, since GM intended the L88 to be a race car, not a street car, some of the commonplace features that were available on other Corvettes were automatically deleted from the L88, such as:

  • Air Conditioning
  • Power Steering
  • Fan Shroud
  • Radio
  • Heater

This isn’t to say that one or more of the above features won’t be found on a Corvette L88 today, particularly on the 1969 model (the last year the L88 was produced).  As word began to spread to the general public about these super Corvettes, almost half of the total L88s sold were purchased in 1969.  And, a relatively higher number of those sold were headed for the street instead of the track.  Of course, these non-race related options may also have been added later in the Corvette’s life by new owners who wanted to make their L88 more “civilized.”

L88 Interior

The story of the Corvette L88s wouldn’t be complete without mention of a unique variant of this rare car. In 1969, GM offered an option for a lightweight aluminum 427 L88 motor (an all-out performance engine originally developed for CanAm racing) — the ZL1 package. Because of the added cost of this option (almost $5,000, essentially doubling the base price), only three Corvettes were ordered with the ZL1 package. In 2023 one of these legendary Corvettes (highly documented) was sold at auction for $3,140,000 including sales commission.
Note: Some sources indicated that only two such Corvettes were shipped from the factory with the ZL1 package.

3 Zl1s  1969 Corvettes with ZL1 Package

Corvette L88 Production Numbers

Here are the production numbers for the Corvette L88.

  • 1967: 20
  • 1968: 80
  • 1969: 116

The 1967:  The Most Valuable L88

Only 20 L88s were built in 1967, making them the rarest and therefore the most valuable of this elite Corvette model. To demonstrate the collectibility-factor of these L88s, in 2014, a 1967 L88 sold at auction for a hammer price of $3.5 million.

  1967 L88 Coupe Sold at 2014 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction ($3,500,000)

Significantly, in 2018 one of the super rare 1967 L88 Coupes crossed the auction block at Mecum Indy. The car was bid to $1,700,000, but did not meet the seller’s reserve.  See our interview with Ken Lingenfelter, who as a collector, gave us his perspective of this special Corvette L88 Coupe. Update:  This 1967 L88 Corvette sold at the 2024 Glendale auction for $1,815,000.

  1967 L88 Coupe received high bid of $1,700,000 at 2018 Mecum Indy

Another of the super rare 1967 L88s crossed the auction block at Mecum Kissimmee in 2020 but did not sell. High bid was $1,800,000.

  1967 L88 Convertible receives high bid of $1,800,000 at 2020 Mecum Kissimmee

Recent Corvette L88s Sales at Auctions

Whenever an auction company wants to have a ‘Star Car’ on the docket, a L88 Corvette is definitely a go-to classic.   The 1968 and 1969 models consistently receive bids into the hundreds of thousands, some approaching the $1M mark, while 1967s are well over $1M. Not all of these cars reach the reserve price set by the owner, but here are some of the sale prices for L88s sold at auction in recent history.

Prices include buyer’s commission unless otherwise noted.

 

Auction CompanyLocation of SaleYear SoldCar YearColorCoupe/Conv.Price w/Buyer’s Commission
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20071969GreenCoupe$   264,000
MecumSt. Charles20071969RedCoupe$   446,250
MecumBloomington
Gold
20091968BlueCoupe$   324,000
MecumKissimmee20091969YellowCOPO Racer$   329,400
MecumMonterey20101967BlackConvertible$1,375,000
RM AuctionsSan Diego20101969RedCoupe$   401,500
MecumDallas20111969BlackCoupe$   607,500
MecumKissimmee20121969YellowConvertible$   671,000
MecumKissimmee20121969BlueCoupe$   297,000
MecumIndy20121968BlueConvertible$   660,000
MecumMonterey20121968BlackConvertible$   632,500
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20131968Owens/
Corning
Coupe-Racer$1,100,000
MecumKissimmee20131968RedConvertible$  605,000
MecumMonterey20131968BlackConvertible$  880,000
MecumDallas20131967RedConvertible$3,520,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20141967RedCoupe$3,850,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20141969Red (w/stars & stripes)Convertible$2,860,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20141968BlueConvertible$   880,000
MecumMonterey20141968RedConvertible$   863,500
MecumKissimmee20141969GreenCoupe$   450,000
MecumKissimmee20141968BurgundyConvertible$   583,000
MecumDallas20141969BlackConvertible$  748,000
MecumMonterey20151969WhiteConvertible$  935,000
MecumMonterey20151969BlueConvertible$  825,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20151969RedT-Top Coupe$  495,000
Barrett-JacksonLas Vegas20151968RedCoupe$  330,000
Gooding & CompanyScottsdale20161969BlackCoupeUndisclosed
Worldwide AuctioneersHouston20161968SilverConvertible$   610,500
Worldwide AuctioneersHouston20161969GrayConvertible$   525,000
MecumIndy20171968SilverCoupe$   550,000
Worldwide AuctioneersScottsdale20171967GrayConvertible$1,980,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20181968BlueCoupe$   495,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20191968WhiteCoupe$   291,500
Worldwide AuctioneersScottsdale20191969RedCoupe$   522,500
MecumKissimmee20191969BlackSold as Pair:
Coupe/
Convertible
$   990,000
Barrett-JacksonScottsdale20201969GrayCoupe$   330,000
Ritchie Bros. LeakeScottsdale20201968WhiteT-Top Coupe$   275,000
MecumKissimmee20211967Tuxedo BlackConvertible$2,500,000
MecumGlendale20211967YellowCoupe$2,650,000
MecumMonterey20211969BlueCoupe$   435,000
MecumKissimmee20221969WhiteConvertible$   335,500
Worldwide AuctioneersScottsdale20231969GreenConvertible$   414,750
RM Sotheby’sScottsdale20231969OrangeZL1 Convertible$3,140,000*
MecumKissimmee20241967/1969Black/GreenSold as Pair:
Convertible/
Coupe
$2,585,000
MecumKissimmee20241967RedCoupeUndisclosed**
(Bid to $2,800,000)
MecumKissimmee20241969BurgundyConvertible$   495,000
MecumGlendale20241967YellowCoupe$1,815,000

*The only ZL1 (L88) convertible.
**Sold after the auction, bid to $2,800,000 on the block.

Notes:

  1. Over the three year run of L88 Corvettes, tweaks were made to the L88 package, both to satisfy government regulations and to improve the Corvette’s design.   This article only addresses the major aspects that made the L88 package unique during its limited years of production.  Click here for spec details.
  2. Corvette and Sting Ray are used here interchangeably, recognizing GMs nomenclature was different over the years.  In 1967 (C2), they named the car a Corvette Sting Ray, in 1968 (C3) , it was badged just Corvette, and then in 1969 (C3), it was renamed to Corvette Stingray (Stingray was one word).

Note: This post, which was originally published in January, 2017, has been updated with additional information, including latest market results .