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Prototypes: The mid-engine Corvettes that weren't allowed to be

Chevrolet prototypes 1959 - 1990
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M it 66 years, that's when life begins, at least that's what Udo Jürgens says. A new life also begins for the Corvette at the age of 66. For the first time, the production version of the classic US sports car no longer has its engine under the front hood, but as a mid-engine directly behind the occupants. So where it makes the most sense because of the weight distribution, which is why most of their competitors also wear their engines in this position.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Corvette rescuer

That those It was clear to many GM engineers early on that the Corvette would benefit from a mid-engine. Above all Zora Arkus-Duntov. The Belgian with Russian roots, gifted as a technician as well as a racing driver, became the chief engineer for the sports car series in the mid-1950s. At that time, their sales figures fell far short of expectations, and Arkus-Duntov realized why that was: the target group felt they were underpowered with their straight-six with just 150 to 155 hp. So the C1 got a small block V8 that developed up to 360 SAE horsepower, and the Corvette became a bestseller after all.

But Zora Arkus-Duntov was of the opinion that the Corvette was far from reaching its potential exhausts. From his experience as a racing driver, he knew about the dynamic driving advantages of the mid-engine arrangement. He experiments with it a lot - with the aim of giving the Corvette a mid-engine as well. We present the corresponding prototypes from the Arkus Duntov era and the following epochs. Ten beguiling cars, in which Arkus-Duntov and his fellow campaigners and successors unfortunately often showed sensationally bad timing or failed due to major cost hurdles.

It took a long time, now it's finally here: the first mid-engine Corvette C8 Stingray.

1959 Chevrolet CERV-I

The first 'Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle' (CERV) was of course only indirectly related to the Corvette. In fact, it was General Motors' first point of contact with the mid-engine arrangement. The source of inspiration was obviously the mid-engined racing car, which gradually established itself in Formula 1, which was dominated by Europe. The original plan was to develop an Indy racing car from the CERV-I with its 355 hp 4.6 liter V8. It was Arkus-Duntov himself who pushed the design and got involved as a test driver. But nothing came of it. On the contrary: GM kept the project a secret for two years; The company did not make it public until the end of 1960.

1964 Chevrolet CERV-II

In the 1960s, the 24-hour race in Le Mans was the motorsport event that made you shine wanted. If Americans can beat Europeans on domestic territory, global fame would be immeasurable. That was how Ford thought at the time, and the triumphs of the GT40 actually went down in motorsport history. At General Motors it could have gone similar, because the plan was to develop a Le Mans racing car from the CERV-II. The prototype first carried a 497 hp 6.2-liter V8 between the passenger cell and the rear axle, later a seven-liter counterpart with even 557 hp.

The fact that nothing came of it was mainly due to the Corvair road model which at the time was running a media and consumer advocacy campaign due to allegedly unsafe driving behavior. As its sales collapsed and GM slipped into financial difficulties, the controllers put a stop to all motorsport activities. The engineers' trick to rededicate the all-wheel drive CERV-II as a prototype for a new Super Corvette also didn't work. The car remained a one-off that neither participated in a race nor culminated in a production car.

1968 Chevrolet XP-880 (Astro II)

The XP-880, better known as the Astro II, has many similarities with the Corvette C3 for a reason. Had it been up to Arkus-Duntov alone, the Corvette would have mutated into a mid-engine sports car with this model change. Ultimately, the prototype was created using many series parts, for example the wheel suspension. Nevertheless, there were some technical peculiarities. The radiator for the 395 hp seven-liter V8 was located in the rear, which meant that no cooling lines had to be laid through the car, which should benefit the weight distribution. The two-speed automatic transmission was borrowed from the brave mid-range car Pontiac Tempest. But again, the decision-makers could not bring themselves to the radical innovation, again primarily for cost reasons. The series Vette therefore kept its V8 under the bonnet. After all, the Astro II was able to show itself to a large audience at the New York Auto Show in 1968.

1970 Chevrolet XP-882

Zora Arkus-Duntovseems to have been a tenacious fellow. Despite all the setbacks so far, the engineer just continued tirelessly. Two years after the Astro II, the XP-882, the prototype of a mid-engined sports car that would have had the potential to become the next Corvette, made its debut again. The audience and the press enthusiastically welcomed the show car, whose 6.5-liter V8 was installed across the passenger cell and whose three-speed transmission came from the Oldsmobile Toronado. But none other than John DeLorean, then a manager at Chevrolet, made sure that the XP-882 was not transferred to series development. After all, Arkus-Duntov was allowed to use the basis for further prototypes.

1972 Chevrolet XP-895 (Reynolds-Corvette)

Two years later, the was built on the technically unchanged chassis of the XP-882 XP-895. However, in two different versions: One had a sheet metal cladding made of steel, while one had an all-aluminum body. The latter, named after the GM supplier Reynolds Metals, is said to have been over 200 kilograms lighter than its steel counterpart, from which it is visually difficult to distinguish. It did not go into series production anyway. The Corvette C3 was simply too successful in this era to warrant a completely new development.

1973 Chevrolet XP-897GT Two-Rotor Corvette

Experienced in the late sixties and early seventies the rotary piston engine experienced an upswing. NSU and, above all, Mazda brought series-produced cars with rotary engines onto the market; Mercedes tried them out intensively in the legendary C 111 experimental vehicle during this time. During this time, GM developed a 182 hp twin-disc rotary engine, put it in a modified Porsche 914 chassis, put a Pininfarina body over it and presented the result as a concept study at the IAA in Frankfurt in 1973. A possible production car should be located below the Corvette and prepare the way for the drive to be used later in the correct Corvette. This happened just as little as the previously planned use of the engine in the Chevrolet Vega.

1973 Chevrolet Four-Rotor Corvette

Arkus-Duntov came up with the idea of ​​driving the Corvette with a Wankel engine, not very enthusiastic. But GM had spent a lot of money on royalties and absolutely wanted to see him in his flagship sports car as prestigious. So the engineer just went on with Corvette designer Bill Mitchell. Mitchell tailored a body that is still strongly reminiscent of the C3 at the front, but already shows details of the later C4 and sensational gullwing doors. Arkus-Duntov, on the other hand, combined two of the existing two-pulley with a V-belt and a specially manufactured clutch into a four-pulley motor, which - depending on the source - is said to have produced between 365 and 420 hp. However, the drive didn't work particularly well. Besides, he was way too thirsty for thatProject dealt the fatal blow in times of the first oil crisis.

1976 Chevrolet Aerovette

After the Wankel projects failed, Arkus-Duntov pulled out the XP-895 chassis with a conventional V8 again. The design was an evolution of the four-rotor stylings, and again the show car, now known as the Aerovette, was extremely well received by the press and the public. The decision to actually build the car in series was imminent. But after Arkus-Duntov left GM in 1975 and Bill Mitchell in 1977, management got cold feet and turned back to the familiar path. The C3 remained in the program, and the C4, which was introduced in 1983, had its engine at the front again.

1986 Chevrolet Corvette Indy

General Motors
The Corvette Indy from 1986 was an extremely expensive technology carrier.

Now that the Corvette pioneers have all left the Company had left, the mid-engine Corvette project was quiet for ten years. It wasn't until the Detroit Motor Show in January 1986 that the next episode followed with the Corvette Indy. The car was supposed to show what General Motors was technically capable of at the time. Under the carbon body was a monocoque, it had all-wheel drive and steering as well as traction control. Instead of springs and shock absorbers, a hydraulic chassis was used, which was controlled by microprocessors, and a camera system replaced you with rear-view mirrors. And then there was a real racing engine behind the passengers: a 2.65-liter and, thanks to double turbocharging, 600-hp V8, like the one Chevrolet supplied to its partner teams in the Indycar series. No surprise that this concept would have been far too complex for series production.

1990 Chevrolet CERV-III

But the developers absolutely wanted to get the mid-engine ready for production. So they developed the 1986 Indy base further and shaved off in a few places. So they replaced its racing car engine with the LT5-V8 with 5.7 liters displacement and 32 valves, as it would then be used in the Corvette ZR-1. However, not in its naturally aspirated engine configuration, but with double turbocharging. Are accordingly impressivethe data: 659 PS, a maximum of 888 Newton meters, 3.9 seconds from zero to one hundred and a theoretical top speed of 362 km /h.

The carbon fiber body, the complex all-wheel drive, the four-wheel steering, the traction control and The engineers wanted to save adaptive damping in the production car. Titanium springs and carbon brakes were also considered. With the result that production would have become so expensive that Chevrolet would have had to charge between $ 300,000 and $ 400,000 (267,000 to 356,000 euros) for the sports car. For comparison: the Ferrari F40 cost 444,000 marks at the time, the Porsche 959 was 420,000 marks and Jaguar sold the XJ220, which is very similar to both the Indy and the CERV-III, for 413,000 pounds in the early 1990s. A brand like Chevrolet could never have asked for such prices.

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