The History and Future of the Mid-Engined Corvette

The Corvette is a staple of American automotive culture, first being designed in the 1950s to compete with the powerhouses that were European sports cars that companies like Triumph and Jaguar were creating. Their beautiful body lines to the sense of freedom the Corvette seemed to embody; it was an instant classic. Still, a man by the name of Zora Arkus-Duntov thought that something fundamental was missing from the Corvette. Zora Arkus-Duntov thought the engining being in the front of the Corvette was doing a disservice to the car's overall potential for greater handling and performance, especially when stacked up against many of their European rivals of the time. Zora insisted that the Corvette making the switch to a mid-engined layout was a necessary step in the evaluation of the Corvette. Zora, who was also a highly qualified race driver, was obsessed with the concept of the Corvette but was appalled by the crude mechanics and clumsy behavior the car exhibited in its first generation. Duntov Strongly believed in his idea of a mid-engine layout for the little Corette. He would spend his entire career campaigning for this idea as a cure to the Corvette's problems.

Zora spent decades experimenting, in both the public eye and behind closed doors, privately working on his mid-engine prototypes for the Corvette, along with designing new mid-engined race cars. Over 60 years ago, Duntov's tinkering with the idea of the perfect American sports car led him to create the first functioning prototype based on that very idea was put together. Known as 1959 CERV I (Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle), Zora started this open-wheel single-seater rocket with the help of a Belgian engineer of Russian descent who joined Chevrolet in 1953, just after the launch of the first Corvette.

When Ford finally won the 24 hours of LeMans in 1966, the general motors Design and R&D departments teamed up to build something to stand up to the GT40. The remarkable Astro II, a mid-engine concept car that was developed for the subsequent year's New York auto show. two years later, at the 1968 New York Auto Show, another GM prototype stole the show, exclaiming, "We'll stake our reputation on this being the Corvette of the future." It was called simply a Corvette Prototype, but the internal code at General Motors was the XP-882. This new mid-engine Corvette prototype was built with a transverse small-block V8 bolted to an Oldsmobile Toronado transaxle. To the surprise of GM, Ford's Pantera, Mercedes-Benz's C111, and AMC's AMX/3 were all mid-engine concept cars unveiled at the same show. The next stage of XP-882 development was a thorough redesign to shed weight; The new aluminum unibody lost 500 pounds for the 1972 prototype car codenamed XP-895. Sadly though, the XP-895 spot-welded and adhesively bonded body was deemed too expensive to put into production. Zora was adamant about staying loyal to his vision of the Corvette, but when the Chevy CEO at the time, John DeLorean, denied the mid-engine Corvette from production, Zora threatened to resign.

Although chevy led the design of most General Motors Mid-engined concept cars; The Australian-based company Holden which is owned by GM, took a unique crack at it in the late 1960s. The 1969 Holden Hurricane concept car had a 253ci V8 stuffed behind the driver's seat. The 253ci V8 drove the rear wheels through an experimental transaxle. The hurricane canopy shell that covered the cockpit mimicking a fighter jet was raised and lowered by electric motors for easy entry into the vehicle. The hurricane possessed many advanced features for its time and included one of the first back-up cameras along with an oil-cooled disc brake system.

When you think of a rotary-powered vehicle, the first thing you will probably think of is an old Mazda, but in the early 1970s, General Motors was considering putting a rotary engine in their new Corvette. This mid-engine concept Corvette was codenamed the XP-987 GT. The XP-987 GT debuted at the 1973 Frankfurt motor show. The concept car was very striking with its General Motors designed, Pininfarina coachwork crafted body over a Porsche 914 chassis, and an all-new experimental two-rotor engine placed in the middle. Later that year at the Paris Salon, Zora made a lasting impact in the car world with his remarkable Four Rotor (two rotary engines stacked in series) under the beautiful Pininfarina body; XP-987 had also been custom fitted with folding gull-wing doors.

When GM's rotary engine program shut its doors, a traditional V8 was transplanted into the XP-987, and the car was renamed the Aerovette. After he retired, Zora Arkus-Duntov told anyone who'd listen that this was his all-time favorite mid-engine design. Zora's 23-year occupation with General Motors is intimately tangled with the Corvette's history. But sadly. Zora took it as a personal failure to finally change the Corvette to a mid-engine layout, and it was an enduring source of frustration for him.

But Duntov sowed the seed of a mid-engined Corvette in the minds of General motors. There were many more prototypes and concept cars based on Zaro's idea, produced over the following decades, some of them directed by Duntov himself. However, many of them were made after his time with the automaker. Over 60 years after the arrival of both the Corvette and Zora at Chevy, General Motors unveiled the first Mid-engine Corvette that was going into production. The new C8 Corvette platform was unveiled at the July 18th Los Angeles auto show to the thrill of many car enthusiasts. The 2020 C8 Corvette, with its mid-engine layout, improved rotational inertia and dynamic weight distribution, taking the C8 to a new level of performance compared to previous years. As for the power plant, the C8 has a 6.2-liter V8 that produces an aggressive 490hp and 465lb-ft. But can achieve an extra 5hp and 5lb-ft with the optional performance exhaust spec.

The first mid-engine Z06 is suspected of going on sale in early 2021 as the 2022 model. The Z06, a more hardcore, track-focused version of the standard Vette, will be complete with bolder styling and some serious performance upgrades. There has been lots of speculation about the upcoming C8 Corvette Z06, although surprisingly, it might not be the most interesting new variant of the C8. That credit could fall to the hybrid model, which is rumored to be named the E-Ray. General Motors announced its plans to be an all-electric automaker by 2035; meaning the Corvette's future is pure electrification; if the Corvette has a future at all. The E-Ray would be the first step in possibly making the C8 fully electric. As expected, the aluminum structure of the Corvette C8 is already designed to support GM's Ultium lithium-ion battery cells. Supposedly the new E-Ray will take the place of the old Grand Sport, meaning it'll be placed in between the base Stingray and the more track-focused Z06. There is also a rumored limited ZR1 Zora edition to honor Zora Arkus-Dunto himself.

11 views0 comments