During the muscle era, GM's hot engine was the 427 cubic-inch V-8, which first appeared in the 1963 Daytona 500 stock car race. It was later offered in GM full-sized cars, but it was the Corvette Sting Ray, with its irresistible combination of big block power and aggressive body style, that made the engine famous. Having a Corvette with "427" emblazoned on the sides of the hood scoop was quite a status symbol. Not only did it mean your car was packing some serious horsepower, but it was also fair warning to any potential competitors. However, the emblem, alone, didn't specify your 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 improved performance options, boosted the Vette's horsepower to 400 and 425, respectively; and even higher on the food chain, the L71 and L89 versions of the 427 engines were each rated at 435 horsepower. However, to many, the Holy Grail of the Corvettes of the '60s was the elusive L88, which was offered in only 216 Corvettes from 1967 through 1969.
GM intentionally reported the L88 as having 430 horsepower, instead of the 550 that was actually housed under its hood. Their reason for misrepresenting the L88s power was to encourage buyers to select other engines, such as the L71 or L89, which seemed, at least on paper, to have more power. Therefore, the L88 cars remained a limited-production vehicle purchased mainly by professional and weekend racers who knew the real potential of this special engine. But, a few of the L88 Corvettes were initially purchased as street cars, or later after they retired for racing, they were driven on the streets. These L88 survivors from the '60s are some of the most sought-after Corvettes today, commanding six- and, sometimes, seven-figure prices.
Their rarity is only part of their appeal. The mystique of owning the most powerful Corvette offered by the GM factory during the heyday of the muscle car era is what seals the deal.
L88 Package Special Features
Features Absent in L88 Package
The story of the bowtie 427 engine would not be complete without the mention of one other very special variant of this power plant. In 1969, an option was offered for an extra lightweight 427 L88 motor, designated the ZL1. Because of the added cost of this option (almost $5,000), only three Corvettes were ordered with this unique setup.
Yearly Sales for the L88
Here are some of the hammer prices for L88s sold at auction in the last several years.
Recent Years of Corvette L88 Sales
|Company||Location||Sale Year||Car Year||Color||Coupe/Conv.||Hammer Price|
|RM Auctions||San Diego||2010||1969||Red||Coupe||$365,000|
|Barrett-Jackson||Scottsdale||2014||1969||Red (w/stars & stripes)||Convertible||$2,600,000|
|Gooding & Company||Scottsdale||2016||1969||Black||Coupe||Undisclosed|
*Significantly, in 2018 a 1967 L88 Coupe crossed the auction block at Mecum Indy. See our interview with Ken Lingenfleter about this L88 Coupe.