The History of the Mid-Engine Corvette

Slideshow

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1.1959CERV-I

Knowninternallyasthe‘RCar’,theCERV-Iwasanopenwheelsingleseaterracerpoweredbyasmallblock283cidV8featuringacustom-madelightaluminumblockthatwas90poundslighterthanaregularcast-ironcoreofthesamesize.Thetotaloutputwas353horsepowerat6,200rpm,38hpmorethanthesimilarsizedproductionV8.TheCERV-IwasrevelatoryforChevrolet,acompanythathadneverbuiltavehiclewithsuchcapacitiesandcompetenthandling.DuntovhimselfranitupPikesPeak60timesin1960withgoodresults,butin1957ChevrolethadwithdrawnfromalltypesofracingandthustheCERV-Iwasneverinanytypeofofficialcompetition.Actually,itsexistencewaskeptsecretforalmosttwoyears,untilanexhibitionappearanceduringtheUSGrandPrixinRiverside,CaliforniainNovember1960.

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2.1964CERV-II

Duntov’snextsteptowardsthemid-enginedCorvette,wastobuildaLeManstyperacertocompeteinenduranceracesopentoexperimentalcars.Theoriginalplancalledfortheproductionofsixunitsofthisvehicle,whichunsurprisinglywasnamedCERV-II.Thefirstunitwasfinishedinearly1964,justastheCorvairdebaclebegantounfold.GMpulledtheplugonallracingactivitiesandunconventionalengineplacementswithinGMgotahugeblackeye.TheonlyCERV-IIeverbuiltwasusedasademonstrationandtestvehicle.BoththeCERV-IandCERV-IIwenttoprivateownership.In2013theCERV-IIwasauctionedbyRMSotheby’sfor$1,100,000.Notbadforacarthatneverwas.

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3.1968XP-880AstroII

ZoraArkus-DuntovwasdeterminedtomakethethirdgenerationCorvetteanmid-enginedsportscar,buttheonlyfruitofhiseffortswasthisgorgeousshowcar.DesignedbyBillMitchellandengineeredbyDuntov,theAstroIIwasconceivednotasaweekendtrackwarrior,butratherasapersonalsportscarcapableoftransportingtwopassengersandtheirluggageincomfort.Powercamefromamidmounted390horsepower427cidV8matedtoatwo-speedtransaxle.TheAstroIIdebutedattheNewYorkAutoShowof1968,ironicallythesameyearthatthefirstunitsofthelonglivedthirdgenerationCorvettearrivedatChevroletshowrooms,withtheirV8sprominentlyplantedinsidetheirlongandbulbousfrontends.

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4.1970XP-882

ImmediatelyafterthedisappointingAstroIIsetback,Duntovwentbackintoaction.Bytheendof1968hehadtwogorgeousfunctionalmid-enginedprototypesknownastheXP-882sthatlookedanddrovebetterthananyCorvetteevermade.Butinmid1969theprojectwascancelledbynoneotherthanJohnZ.DeLorean,thenChevrolet’sgeneralmanager.DuntovfoundawayaroundDeLoreanandmanagedtoshowoneoftheprototypes,properlyrepaintedandreconditioned,inthe1970NewYorkAutoShow.PublicandpressalikewentwildfortheXP-882andDeLoreanwasforcedtofundfurtherdevelopment.However,the1973ArabOilEmbargonotonlykilledanychancesforthemidenginedCorvettetobeproduced,butalsoslowedfurtherCorvettedevelopment.LonglivetheC3!

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5.1972XP-895and1973ReynoldsAluminumCorvette

In1972oneoftheXP-882carswasrebodiedwithamoreEuropeanlookingbodystylethatwaslessforwardlooking,lessCorvettelikeandlesswedgythanthebelovedXP-882,althoughstilllovely.Italsowasconsiderablyheavierandslowerthanitspredecessor.Thesolution?AsecondidenticalcarwithanallaluminumbodymadebyGM’ssupplierReynoldsMetals,finishedin1973.Thetwocarswereindistinguishablefromoneanothertothenakedeye,buttheReynoldsVettewas450poundslighter.TheReynoldsAluminumCorvetteresidestodayintheGMHeritageCenter,whiletheXP-895wasmercifullytransformedintosomethingelse.

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6.1973XP-897GT.a.k.aTwo-RotorCorvette

Ifacareverhadmotivesforafullblownidentitycrisis,thisisit.ThisWankeltwo-rotorenginepoweredshowcar,wassupposedtobeapreviewofawholenewsub-Corvettemid-enginedsportsmodeltobelaunchedin1975,justtolaterbecomeanothermid-enginedCorvetteunfulfilledfantasy.ConsistingofaPininfarinabody,overamodifiedPorsche914chassis,thiscarinitiallyknownastheXP-897GT(orwasitXP-987GT?)andlaterrenamedtheTwo-RotorCorvette,wasfirstshowninthe1973FrankfurtAutoShowasasilvercarandlatershownasaredcarelsewhere.Confused?Welcometotheclub!

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7.1973Four-RotorCorvette

TheFour-RotorCorvettewasabeautifulmid-enginedCorvetteconceptwithgullwingdoorsandgreatproportionsthathadthemisfortunetobepoweredwithnotonebuttwoWankelenginesproducingacombinedoutputof420horsepower.GMhadpaidasmallfortunefortherighttodeveloptherotaryengineandwaseagertolinkittoitsmostprestigioussportscar.BillMitchelllikedthisdesignsomuchthathedecidedtogarageitandwaitforabettertimetobringitbacktothepubliclight.

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8.1977Aerovette

TheFour-RotorCorvettespendfouryearsgaragedwaitingforagoodtimetofinallygetridofitsinadequaterotaryengines.In1977ChevyfittedthecarwiththeXP-895powertrainandshoweditwithanewandevocativename:theAerovette.Instanthit!Soonafterthecarwasapprovedtobeproducedforthe1980modelyear,themid-engineCorvettewasfinallybecomingareality.Sadly,DuntovandMitchelldidn’tstayinGMlongenoughtoensurethatthiswouldactuallyhappen.ThenewregimeatGMkilledthemid-enginedCorvetteasacostsavingmeasure.InsteadwegottheC4.

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9.1986ChevroletCorvetteIndy

Themid1980swereabusytimeforGeneralMotors.Thenthebiggestandmostpowerfulautomakerintheworld,GMwasimmersedinthedevelopmentofquiteafewgroundbreakingtechnologieslike;activesuspension,fourwheelsteering,anti-lockbrakes,tractioncontrol,on-boardelectronicscreensandevenaGPSbasednavigationsystem.Thecompanyneededacarthatwasasgroundbreakingasthetechnologiestobeshowcasedinit.In1985,theChevroletCorvetteIndyShowcarwasgreenlighted.ByJanuarytheconceptcarwasreadytobedisplayedatthe1986NorthAmericanInternationalAutoShowinDetroit.TheCorvetteIndywaspoweredbyChevy’snewIndy2.65Twin-TurboV8producing600horsepowerlocatedrightbehindit’sonlyseat.Allthosetechnologieshavesinceseenthelightoftheday,butitwouldstillbe33moreyearsforthemid-enginelayout’sturn.However,itspresenceintheconceptgavewaytowildspeculationabouttheimpendingarrivalofamid-enginedCorvette.

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10.1990CERV-III

TheCERV-IIIwasaderivativeoftheChevroletCorvetteIndy,anditsurelookedthepart.ItbasicallywasaroadworthyCorvetteIndy.UnliketheCorvetteIndyhowever,theCERV-IIIhadapassengerseatandamorepublic-roads-friendlymidandtransverselymounted5.7-liter32-valvedual-overheadcamLT5V-8,producing650horsepower.ThecarwasbuiltbyLotusinEnglandgenerouslyusingcarbonfiberthroughoutitsbodywhichwasslightlymodifiedtoinsureitsroadworthiness.It’sheightwasincreased,itsnoseshortenedanditwasgivenfunctioningsidewindows.1996sawthearrivalofaCERV-IV,butitswasafrontenginedcarandthusnotasubjectofthisslideshow.

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11.2020ChevroletCorvetteStingray

Ittook30moreyearsafterthelastmid-enginedCorvetteprototypewasshown,butthefirstproductionmid-engineCorvetteisfinallyhere.

Ifyouthinkthatthemid-engineCorvetteisanewidea,thinkagain.It’sbeen60yearsinthemaking.

Theideaofamid-enginedmid-enginedCorvetteisnotnew.Infactitwas60yearsagothisyearwhenthefirstfunctioningprototypebasedonthatveryideawasputtogether.Knownas1959CERVI(ChevroletEngineeringResearchVehicle),thisopenwheelsingleseaterrocketwasthebrainchildofZoraArkus-Duntov,aBelgianengineerofRussiandescentwhojoinedChevroletin1953,justafterthebirthofthefirstCorvette.

ZoraArkus-Duntovandthe1959CERV-I.

ZoraArkus-Duntovbehindthewheelofthe1959CERV-I.

Duntov,whowasalsoaverycompetentracedriver,fellinlovewiththeideaoftheCorvette,butwasappalledbythecrudemechanicsandincompetentbehaviorofitsfirstiteration.Duntovthoughtthatthemid-enginelayouthewouldspenthisentirecareerchampioning,wastheperfectcuretothelittleroadstermaladies.His23-yearcareerwithGeneralMotorsisintimatelyintertwinedwiththeCorvette’shistory,andhisfailuretofinallyswitchtheCorvettetoamid-engineplatform,wasalifelongsourceoffrustrationforhim.

The1964CERVIIcouldhavecompetedwiththeFordGT-40inLeMans.

The1968ChevroletAstroIIwasconceivedasapersonalsportscarcapableoftransportingtwopassengersandtheirluggageincomfort.

ButDuntovplantedtheseedofamid-enginedCorvetteintheheartofChevrolet,wheremanymoreprototypesbasedonthatideawereproducedduringthenext6decades,someofthemdirectedbyDuntovhimself,andmanyofthemmaderafterhistimewiththeautomaker.Today,66yearsafterthearrivalofboththeCorvetteandDuntovinChevy’shistory,andontheeveoftheunveilingoftheveryfirstmid-enginedCorvette,wesawfittotakealookatthemid-enginedCorvetteprototypesofthelast60years.Enjoy

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