The "Rubber Bumper Corvette" Stigma

If I had to guess as to how the silliness about rubber bumper C3s—not being as desirable or valuable as their chrome bumper cousins—got started, I would have to guess that it coincided with the fuel crisis of the mid-'70s, as American car manufacturers tried to comply with federal emission and safety mandates.

Corvettes—as well as most other cars made in this country—lost horsepower from the early 1970s all the way through the early 90s, in some cases significantly, while at the same time trying to conform to stricter federal rules like smog equipment and the 1974-on requirement that cars be equipped with "front and rear bumpers that could take angle impacts at 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) with no damage to the car's lights, safety equipment, and engine." (Wikipedia).

But all of that aside, do 1974-1982 Corvettes really look worse than those built between 1968 and 1972?

Well, the answer, in my opinion, is a resolute no!

I chose to leave the 1973 model out of the equation since that particular car is more of a "hybrid" since it sports a rubber front bumper and a chrome rear. A very cool and unique model, by its own right, if you ask me.

Rubber bumper Vettes are just as beautiful as "chromies." And while earlier models may be more desirable because of shorter production runs and more powerful engines, rubber bumper C3s look more up-to-date.

But even within the 1974-and-later C3 ranks, a few owners are waging their own battle, and that is the one between the "sugar scoop" vs. the "bubble window" camps.

In 1978 Corvette designers added quite a bit more room to the Corvette's interior by opening the area behind the seats in order to accommodate a fastback-style window.

It certainly added the much-needed room behind the seats and it looks good, with the only drawback being that it is fixed in place, with the exception of the 1982 Collectors Edition model, which came with a pop-up hatch.

By 1980 Corvette designers updated the bumpers yet again, which as expected, some love and others hate.

Having said all that, it is not surprising really that as the new urethane bumper models arrived in the mid-70s, a few "chromie" Corvette owners decided to update their cars with front and rear rubber bumpers.

Back then we all wanted to have the latest stuff, as these cars were new at the time and the car collecting hobby was nowhere close to what it has become today.

The first four C3 Vettes I owned, a 1969, two 1971s, and my first 1976, all served duty as my daily drivers. Who'd a thunk it, huh?

And as the last iteration of the C3 hit the streets, many 1974-1979 Corvettes started sporting 1980-1982 rear bumpers with built-in spoilers.

Fast-forward to the second decade of the 21st century and we're all into originality, patina, and other crazy notions such as not even washing cars hidden in barns for eons, lest bird poop or a bug that was squashed on the windshield decades before, may be lost forever.

What a tangled web we weave.

But we're not done weaving just yet. This fallacy that older designs are better-looking, more desirable or whatever, is motivating a few rubber bumper C3 Corvette owners to modify their cars to make them look like chromies! And thanks to the proliferation of fiberglass kits, you see this happening more frequently.

If your car has the "sugar scoop" rear window you can get away with that look fairly easy. And if you have a bubble window Vette, someone will find a way to make that 1968-through-1973 rear bumper fit.

I think this phenomenon (madness may be a better word for it), affects mostly C3 Corvette owners. I don't really see this taking place with other generation Corvettes (older or newer), or with other brands or models.

Having owned and restored a few Pontiac Firebirds and being a member of related online forums, I don't think that many (if any) people tried to convert their 1979-81 Trans Ams to look like earlier models, for example.

And the same applies to other Pontiac Firebird generations. Sure, there's always someone trying to turn a base car into a Trans Am, Formula or Pace Car clone, for example, but I am pretty sure no one tried to make them look like earlier models.

It's really ironic since I've always felt that owning a Corvette, regardless of year, is a cool thing. But it is clearly obvious that there are lots of folks out there who are just not happy with the C3 Corvette they bought and will do whatever it takes to make it look like something else.

I have to admit that some of these modded C3 Corvettes look good. However, they are not custom cars per se, but rather Corvettes suffering from an identity crisis.

At the end of the day, to each his own. That's my motto. But, for one, I am very happy with my '76 Stingray and, although I am always trying to make it better in one way or another, it will proudly wear its rubber bumpers for as long as I own it.

Thank you for following my '76 Vette Blog.

Product Links... (#sponsored)

• Corvette Black Book | 1953-2019
• 1976 Corvette Service & Overhaul Manual
• 1976 Corvette Service & Overhaul Manual CD-ROM
• 1976 Corvette Dealer Sales Brochure | GM-Licensed Reprint
• 1976 Corvette Stingray Owner's Manual | GM-Licensed Reprint
• 1976 Corvette Assembly Manual

• How to Restore Your C3 Corvette: 1968-1982
• 1968-1982 Corvette Restoration Guide, 2nd Edition