Potential Heart Transplant: 1979 Chevrolet Corvette

Like many of you, I have been astounded at the huge amounts of horsepower people have been getting from Chevrolet LS series V-8 engines.  While independent shops and many of the hot rod type magazines have built engines surpassing these numbers, Chevy offers an LS376/515 crate engine that produces an astounding 533 horsepower and 477 lb-ft of torque.  While the engine produces that amount of horsepower at 6600rpms, those are horsepower and torque numbers that are in what was formerly big block territory.  The other good thing about this engine is that it has an aluminum block for weight savings.  So, where would one put a beast of an engine like this?  Why, in a third generation Corvette of course!  Take a look at this 1979 Corvette that I have found on Craigslist in Smith Grove, Kentucky.  This blue beauty is in excellent condition, and the $9,000 sale price reflects that.  However, is this one is ready for that ultimate engine and transmission swap?

My reasoning for picking a good Corvette like this is that all you have to worry about is adding the engine and transmission, and beefing up the suspension.  It would also probably be a good idea to call up Art at Van Steel Corvette Parts to get your swing arm assemblies, half shafts, and rear end rebuilt to ensure reliability.  Maybe add to the package some Wilwood brakes.  For a transmission, only a Tremec six speed from Silver Sport Transmissions will do.  Instead of the 1:1 fourth gear ratio of the factory GM four speeds of the era, this combination allows as low as a  .50:1 ratio in sixth gear.  These transmissions also allow first gear to be a lower ratio as well.  This package packed into a 3,480 lb. two seat sports car would be awesome to say the least.

As it sits, this is still an awesome car.  Sporting just 56,000 miles on the odometer, and a long list of options, this Corvette likely was well loved and cared for a majority of its life.  Looking around at all the C-3s for sale on eBay and Craigslist, a majority of them need work.  Many of them need full on restorations, which would be an exercise in financial futility.  However, even the junkers hover around $5000-6,000 asking prices.  Of course, they sit for months and months until patience is finally exhausted and the next person with cash shows up and gets to drag the carcass on their trailer.  Then, that guy learns the hard way that rough Corvettes can be giant holes to throw money down.

This one will need little to get it back to showroom condition.  The Corvette Dark Blue paint looks to either be a perfectly cared for factory finish, or a recent re-spray.  The interior is in a matching dark blue with leather seats.  Speaking of the seats, all 1979 models were equipped with the new style of “high back” seats that were introduced on the previous year’s Indy 500 pace car models.  These seats folded over at a higher place than the previous seats, and allowed for better access to the cargo area in the rear.  They also looked very nice and were fairly supportive.

A deeper look inside shows this car to have a number of options, and a few dash cracks as well.  While it is hard to make out in the picture, it looks like the car has the cruise control and intermittent wiper stalk, and a tilt steering wheel.  The power windows you can clearly see, but I don’t see a switch for power door locks.  Usually they came together in a package, so it may be so equipped.  It is also equipped with air conditioning and an automatic transmission.  Automatic transmission cars made up a lion’s share of the 53,807 Corvettes produced that year.

While this blue beauty is almost too nice to modify, making some drivetrain changes will not cause any damage that cannot be easily undone.  The Corvette used this same basic frame, driveline, and suspension from 1963 through 1982, albeit with minor modifications and improvements here and there.  Because of this, the aftermarket has been able to produce a number of bolt on parts to enhance and modernize these cars to the point they can be made to perform in league with many of the best sports cars of today.  A big boost in horsepower and the gears to put that power to the ground efficiently is just what the doctor ordered here.


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  1. Chuck Cobb

    Wondering as to why all the talk about a “heart transplant”? Craigslist listing/pictures don’t say anything about the drive train, good or bad, needed or just an idea. With 56,000 miles on a SBC, it’s just broke in and by the appearances of the rest of the car, probably not needed. Doesn’t seem to bad a price either.

    • Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

      Chuck. Nobody in their right mind would desecrate such a lovely car by dropping in another engine. Leave it in what appears to be, original condition, for future enthusiasts to appreciate.

  2. Racer417

    So easy to just modify what’s there and save huge bucks, while having plenty of fun. Cam, carb, a little head work, and a free flow exhaust. The transmissions and rear end on these cars were designed to handle lots of power.

    • Poppapork

      Nonsense, even throwing a whole performance package ($$$) with heads and all.the goodies will give you maybe 350hp that will provide minivan like acceleration (280hp and 8 speed) trust me thats exactly what i have in mine (also 79) plus the diff will blow up, thats double the factory output, there is a reason why everybody was swapping solid axles to drag race these things. Its been proven on the vette forum for decades now that even 400 rear wheel hp requires huge mods, even the frame cant handle it, body and windows crack from flex.

      I know these had big blocks back in the day but that was on skinny bias tires, any type of modern rubber and things will break big time.

      Sorry to kill your enthusiasm!

      • TriPowerVette

        +Poppycock – What you can’t see in the picture of the blue Corvette, is his opponent in that minivan holeshotting him off the lights. It was a tough race, but the Vette just nicked him in the traps. Close race. Those minivans are tough! (To paraphrase James Taylor in Two-Lane Blacktop.)

        The ONLY rear end mod I made to mine was solid u-joints to replace the hollow ones. Lots of HARD launches, no failures. Guess I just wasn’t getting 300 H.P. to the tires.

      • HARDBALL

        I’m going to have to differ with you on the rear end issue. Big block Corvettes have made more than 300 HP at the rear wheels since 1965 and they were warranted from the factory for 24k miles. The L-88s raced at LeMans and on the Drag strip with over 500 hp. Sure they blew up once in a while and were reinforced inside, but that shouldn’t stop a person from running a car that they like. I have a 1965 corvette coupe with a 425 hp 454 crate motor. I beat it like an army mule. Even with oversize tires, it never complains, and I wouldn’t drive anything else. It is the best car I have ever owned and believe me I have had them all.

      • Poppapork

        Lol Tripower Non of your arguments are valid, you keep showing us modified cars… the car from the add had 180hp and 3 speed from the factory, 10 year old kia spectra is faster. I feel like im arguing with my girlfriend back in highschool, i talk about a 79 corvette from this add, referencing to my experiences trying to modify my own 79, then im referencing corvette forum( 400.000 members), while you just paste some picture from google of a highly modified vette from a different era and think its a counterargument? Cant come up with anything valid so lets start the name calling? time to grow up 5th grade was long time ago pal….

  3. Poptheclutch

    I’m with you chuck.leave as is and enjoy!

  4. Steve R

    Assuming this car has no mechanical issues it would make no sense financially to use this for an LS conversion. With some searching it shouldn’t be to difficult to find a mid-70’s Corvette with some mechanical issues that is in otherwise good shape for a fraction of the price. If this car has mechanical issues it’s so overpriced that it’s not worth considering.

    Steve R

    • Poppapork

      Spot on Steve ! At 515hp there wont be much stock parts left if you want to use modern rubber, the diff is super delicate, youd prolly want an overdrive, lots of frame reinforcement needed, suspension work …. might as well pick up a shell since all the mechanicals will need to be swapped (visit a rabbit hole called corvette forum to check out some ls projects)

  5. Rock On Member

    Would be a fun swap but check your lottery tickets first. Just the LS engine is over $10,000.00. Add the transmission, oil pan, exhaust and you are getting into big money.

    • Steve R

      Every car needs to have an LS swap or turned into a gasser or lemons car. This line of thinking is not specific to this site, much is a product of group think by those that never have or never will perform those tasks so they don’t run the numbers.

      Steve R

    • Poppapork

      This car would fall apart with the 515hp engine…. been proven over and over again, just visit the c3 section of the corvette forum, differential is super fragile with modern rubber. Youd need to spend another 20k on driveline, frame that flexes like crazy etc

  6. jw454

    OR…. Instead of making all those modifications, let’s get real crazy and leave this above average C3 just like it is! With the right caretaker, it will become even more rare than a modded out P.O.S.

  7. Rx7turboII

    Wow…i never noticed until this post how much name dropping for businesses can be in one post. Is this post more about the Corvette or the advertisers? Hmmmm. Lol. Nice Vette though!

    • Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

      Hi Rx. I don’t think it’s name dropping, I would call it information dropping. If I were restoring a car I would be only too pleased to be advised where to go to acquire parts instead of having to hunt all over the country to possibly arrive at the same suppliers.

      • Pa Tina

        There are so many aftermarket parts providers for C3 Corvettes your biggest problem will be picking one. There are probably fifty providers of stainless-steel lined brake calipers alone. One trip to Corvettes at Carlisle and you will have all of the information/catalogs/business cards, and goodie bags you could ever need.

      • TriPowerVette

        +Ken Tilly – My eyes almost water, when I pick up these little vendor tid bits on various boards. It makes thinks soooo much easier, and it has the advantage of being peer reviewed.

        I gave you and Pa Tina a thumbs up (also gave myself 1 by accident – sorry).

    • TriPowerVette

      +Rx7turboII – I have no business interest with the people in the photo. However; I didn’t crop the name off, because there is otherwise no photo credit. Besides; it is possible that some day, BF will be able to monetize these mentions. Just looking out for our friends.

  8. 86 Vette Convertible

    Good looking car, they go for much more here. Personally I’d go through it and drive it a while before doing anything major to it other than maintenance. I happen to prefer those windy roads over straight-line acceleration. If I was going to do anything major I’d consider one of the aftermarket frames that run the C4 suspension, then maybe look into if the Banski Suspension kit would fit it but that would all be after driving it a while and see how it handled.
    Myself, I’d let the car tell me what it wants done to it based on driving it rather than jumping into something without really knowing much of the car.

    PS if done properly, you literally would not make any changes to the car this way. Save the original frame and suspension and you could return it to original status in the future if you ever decided to sell it and wanted it oem.


    Nice Sunday driver. Upgrading the running gear would put you so far under water you’d drown in the project.

    • Suttree

      A mild cam and better heads would go far in restoring horsepower to levels of a decade before.

  10. William

    Why does this vette (and many c3s I’ve seen lately) look like it sits awkwardly high?

  11. Chuck

    Looks nice but I ordered a ’79 new from the factory with every available option. (L82, close ratio, frt/rr spoilers, glass tops, etc. I can honestly say it remains the worst car I’ve ever owned. (And I’ve owned around 50 or so.) Mine was so bad that it put me off GM forever and domestics for 26 years.

  12. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Not that I need another Corvette, but I would drive as is. I agree with jw454 and Steve R. Find a beater vette for less and have some cheap thrills.

  13. Mattyou63

    I think I would buy it and just drive it the way it is.if I had a pot to piss in.. and if I wanted Something with massive horse power …well I would put a 454 in an old beat up farm truck

  14. Mattyou63

    I could see a 73 impala station wagon with an outrageous big block with a high rise sticking out of the hood

  15. Gary

    I’d like to find a way to make my 2009 Hummer h2 with an LS2, around 389 HP 6L80E trans 3.73s have some more get Up and Go.. it’s a real sled for that HP and gearing… Feels like it has retarded timing bottom end… any insights? Thanks

    • TriPowerVette

      +Gary – Two words… Gale Banks.

  16. KR

    I saw this car today in.person. it is very presentable.

    • TriPowerVette

      +KR – That is helpful. Thank you.

  17. Lane

    I just sold one exactly like this one including color 2 years ago. I had it for 5 years 57,000 mile car. It was perfect inside and out, good enough to get compliments at shows. That car was a huge money sucking funnel. I sold it for $5,000 and did cartwheels as it pulled away. Since then i have talked to others that had one around that year and they all said the same. Constant fixing and a money hole.