5 Cars That Paved the Way for the Mid-Engined Corvette

This is prime time for Corvette fans as the first ever mid-engined Corvette is heading our way. Read about the 5 cars that lead up to the final creation of the mid-engined Corvette below.


1960 CERV I

Following a dismal DNF at the 1957 Sebring Grand Prix, Corvette patron saint Zora Arkus-Duntov concluded that the “heat source” (his expression for the engine) was in the wrong place. This prompted the abandonment of the Corvette SS’s conventional front-engine, rear-drive layout in favor of a mid-engined open-wheel single-seater mimicking the day’s winning Formula 1 racers.

Duntov designed this Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle (CERV) around a small-block V-8 blessed with an aluminum block and heads and a few cast-magnesium parts. The first engine produced 353 horsepower, but trials with supercharging and turbocharging eventually kicked it over the 500-hp hurdle. Tests were conducted at Pikes Peak, Riverside, Sebring, and Daytona Beach. Duntov topped 200 mph in this car at GM’s Milford, Michigan, proving grounds.

The independent rear suspension developed here went straight into C2 Corvettes introduced for the 1963 model year. In 1972, GM temporarily lost control of the CERV’s fate by loaning it for display at the Briggs Cunningham museum. After it spent years in private hands, the company spent $1.3 million at a recent Barrett-Jackson auction to return the CERV to the fold.


1972 XP-895 Reynolds Aluminum Corvette

After pondering a switch from fiberglass to steel bodies for the Corvette, with the inevitable conclusion that the weight gained vastly exceeded the cost savings, GM boss John DeLorean convinced Reynolds Metals to craft a unibody Corvette in aluminum. Both the steel XP-892 and the visually identical aluminum XP-895 were production-intent mid-engine designs.

The net weight savings was 500 pounds. The panel joining technology—spot welding combined with epoxy adhesives—migrated throughout GM. Unfortunately, the cost of switching from fiberglass to aluminum bodywork was a showstopper.


1973 4-Rotor

Two rotors whirling out 180 horsepower were not nearly enough for Duntov. So, concurrently with the XP-987GT, he lashed together two GM Wankel engines for a revived XP-882, known to its admirers as the Four Rotor Corvette.

Bill Mitchell, Jerry Palmer, and their able assistants freshened the Corvette prototype’s skin with radically pointy ends, folding gullwing doors, and a creased windshield laid back 72 degrees from vertical. The interior featured an early application of digital display technology with 29 LEDs reporting engine rpm.

Duntov treasured a scale model of the Four Rotor at his home, rating it the aesthetic equal to his all-time favorite Corvette, the 1957 SS (ironically, the car that prompted the engine’s rearward migration). Recently retired GM design boss Ed Welburn concurred, referring to the Four Rotor as one of the General’s crown jewels.

The two rotary Corvettes shared a stand at the 1973 Paris auto show. Four years later, GM announced the demise of its rotary-engine research. The total cost was an estimated $50 billion.

Fortunately, both of the mid-engined Corvettes lived on. The 2-Rotor is owned and displayed by a Corvette specialist in Snodland, England. The 4-Rotor’s reprieve was a conversion to conventional V-8 power. Rechristened Aerovette, this mid-engined Corvette now resides at GM’s Heritage Center.


1986 Indy/CERV III

Following the C4’s launch in 1983, the first major overhaul for the Corvette’s chassis in 20 years, GM Design maintained its mid-engine mindset for possible C5 use well after Duntov had retired.

Designed in-house, modeled in Italy, and given life by Lotus in England (then owned by GM), the Corvette Indy contained every known tech tidbit except a kitchen sink: active suspension, all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, drive-by-wire, and the newest navigation and cockpit display gear. The name was inspired by the twin-turbo 4.3-liter V-8 Chevy supplied to Indy racers.

Significantly longer, wider, and lower than the day’s production Corvette, the Indy boasted a composite chassis and a transverse engine orientation. CERV III—now standing for Corporate Engineering Research Vehicle—followed at the 1990 Detroit auto show with the engine swapped to a twin-turbo, 650-hp version of the Lotus-designed 5.7-liter DOHC V-8 (the original LT5).


2006–2008 C7 Engineering Proposal

Instead of adopting a mid-engine layout for the sixth-generation Corvette, introduced in 2005, engineers focused on enhancing performance with better handling and additional power. The Z06 version packed 505 horses into a 7.0-liter small-block. Topping the 6.2-liter V-8 with a supercharger yielded the 638-hp ZR1. A cost-effective Grand Sport brought comprehensive suspension and brake upgrades.

These achievements did not hinder assistant chief engineer Tadge Juechter from championing the move to mid-engine just like his predecessors. GM designers played along with a full-size clay and more than a dozen scale-model alternatives. Tom Wallace, Juechter’s boss and an inveterate road racer, was an easy sell. GM product chief Bob Lutz was initially skeptical but became convinced by the Juechter-Wallace tag team. The three mid-engine musketeers then won over chairman Rick Wagoner.

Unfortunately, GM was bleeding cash, and it slipped into bankruptcy when the Great Recession hit in 2009. The mid-engined Corvette—along with every dollar aimed at developing any new sports car—left the building with Wagoner. When the feds arrived to revive GM, an early discovery was the fat profits associated with selling 30,000 or so Corvettes per year. Work on the seventh generation quickly resumed, but the time was not right to risk the mid-engine move.

Fortunately, C7 has helped GM thrive, and the planets have finally swung into alignment. Just as Road & Track did in 1970, we’ll stake our reputation on the mid-engined C8 Corvette arriving before the end of next year.

Orginally from: Car and Driver.

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