Chevrolet Corvette L88

Beginning in 1966, General Motors’ Regular Production Option codes became the mantra for performance junkies, and perhaps even more so for Corvette aficionados. Ask any muscle car-aholic for proof—Z28, LS6, ZR1, ZL1, and of course, the legendary L88, to name but a few.

The new 427-cubic inch L88 V-8 was an outgrowth of the “big block” Mark IV engine program first introduced in the form of a 396-cubic inch V-8 in 1965. GM management had initially decreed that no car line smaller than its full-size lineup should carry an engine larger than 400 cubic inches, including the Corvette. Since the 396 V-8 squeezed in just under the limit, it replaced the fuel-injected 327 in the Corvette as the top offering. Dubbed the L78, with 425 advertised horsepower, some 2,157 buyers checked the option block and paid $292.70 for the privilege, but Chevrolet was about to be upstaged. Carroll Shelby began installing Ford’s 427-cubic inch V-8 in his two-seat Cobra, and Chevrolet engineers were compelled to respond. It materialized for 1966 in the form of Chevrolet’s own 427 V-8, basically a 396 with a larger 4.25 bore, an 11:1 compression ratio, and an advertised 425 horsepower.

GM engineers wanted more, and for 1967, Chevrolet introduced the L71, a 427-cubic inch unit with a trio of progressively linked two-barrel carburetors producing 435 horsepower. Some 3,754 buyers paid $437.10 for the latest and greatest. Still, engineers wanted more and offered the L89—this time with aluminum heads for the L71—essentially an option for the optional engine. Only 16 buyers chose the L89 at an additional cost of $368.65 over the L71.

The engineers went for broke one more time, which resulted in what is known as RPO L88. Once more, it was based on the 427, but it had 12.5:1 compression and was topped by a single Holley four-barrel carburetor sucking 850 cubic feet per minute while being capable of running on 103 high-octane fuel. Sources quoted the true output to be closer to 560 horsepower. Chevrolet upped the price of admission, too—this time with a $947.94 price tag! Ordering the engine required certain mandatory options, and the radio and heater were deleted in order “to cut down on weight and discourage the car’s use on the street,” according to a press release at the time. Just 20 buyers said “yes” and bought what was essentially a racing engine for the street that was given an RPO code.

The L88 was back for 1968, this time enveloped by an all-new Corvette. Despite the hefty price tag for the optional engine, 80 buyers signed up for the blistering performance. Contemporary road tests quoted 0–60 mph in 4.2 seconds and barely 8.0 seconds to 100 mph! The L88 came back one final time in 1969, when 116 buyers said yes before the history books closed the chapter on one of the Corvette’s most powerful engines of all-time.

Part of the RM Auctions event in California in August, 2009 and in Arizona in January, 2013.

540 hp, 427 cu. in. OHV L88 V-8 engine, four-speed manual transmission, independent suspension in the front and rear, and front and rear power-assisted disc brakes. Wheelbase: 98 in.

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Jaci Clark

Gallery: Chevrolet Corvette L88