Yes, there was more than one Mid-Engined Corvette…
Yesterday, I wrote about the latest mid-engined Corvette sighting and commented on how quiet the engine sounded. It’s surprising to learn that this wasn’t the first time General Motors came close to making a mid-engined Corvette. The person responsible for this concept was none other than the man who helped conceive the Corvette; Zora Arkus-Duntov. Inspired by the mid-engined race cars in Formula 1, Duntov believed that the future was mid-engined cars. In 1960, Duntov started the Corporate Experimental Research Vehicle program (CERV) and created several vehicles with blistering performance thanks to their powerful, mid-mounted small block engines. It’s these early efforts with the CERV program that eventually leads to my favorite mid-engined Corvette prototype.
For the 1970 New York Auto Show, Chevrolet debuted the XP-882; an all-wheel-drive mid-engined “corvette prototype” that featured a small block 350 cubic inch V8 mated to an Oldsmobile Toronado transaxle. Despite mid-engined cars being very popular at the show, Chevrolet president John Z. Delorean (yes, that Delorean) decided that the XP-882 would be too difficult and expensive to produce. The XP-882 would later return, however, as a completely new and radical approach to making the mid-engined Corvette.
In an effort to cut costs and explore new technology, Delorean authorized the creation of the XP-895. Based on the XP-882, the new car featured a sleek new body made of aluminum supplied by Reynolds. It was under its shiny new skin though that was completely radical: a 4-rotor Wankel Engine.
At the time, Chevrolet was experimenting with rotary engines, which promised better performance and fuel economy in a smaller package. Delorean had Duntov and his team take two 2-rotor engines and mate them together to make the 420hp 4-rotor engine. Along with the 2-rotor XP-897GT prototype, GM was getting closer to creating the quintessential mid-engined Corvette.
But, in 1973 the global oil crisis killed GM’s foray into rotary engines. Chevrolet did away with the 4-rotor engine and shoved a 350ci LT-1motor into the quicksilver chassis. This final iteration of Duntov’s mid-engined dream was called the Aerovette. Although the Aerovette was basically a remade XP-895, there was no doubt that this would have been the Mid-Engined Corvette. With Duntov’s vision of a mid-engined Corvette nearly complete, GM promised that the Aerovette would be in production by 1980.
Sadly, this was not to be. First, several key executives behind the Aerovette program, including Bill Mitchell and Ed Cole, retired. Then, the new company president David R. McLellan decided that the Aerovette program was not economically viable. His justification was mid-engined cars sold poorly compared to cars like the Datsun 240Z. The decision was unfortunately made to ax the gull-winged wonder. Chevrolet wouldn’t make more mid-engined concepts until the Corvette Indy and the CERV III.
What if GM didn’t kill the Aerovette?
Imagine for a moment that the Aerovette went into production just before the ’80s. What would the vehicle landscape look like then? Would I have grown up with a poster of the Aerovette next to my Lamborghini Countach and Diablo posters?
If General Motors actually put the Aerovette into production, then I think it actually would have been a failure. When GM was in talks for producing the Aerovette, it would have cost somewhere between $15,000 and $18,000 to buy. By comparison, the 1980 Corvette cost just under $15,000, so sales of the original car would have cannibalized the Aerovette’s.
There was also the issue with the new emissions restrictions placed on the Corvette. The early ’80s Corvettes were known for being woefully underpowered as their LT-1 engines were choked to meet emissions standards. A similar engine in the Aerovette would have effectively neutered the car. Additionally, the early Pontiac Fiero would have made almost as much power and less cost to the driver. The Aerovette then would have effectively killed any further developments for an American mid-engined sports car. Ultimately, this would mean that we wouldn’t be talking about the new C8 Corvette Supercar today.
In the end, despite how cool the earlier mid-engined Corvette prototypes were, timing is everything. If GM hadn’t canceled the CERV II, then we might have seen a production mid-engined Chevrolet by the late ’60s. We might have been able to see a mid-engined Corvette finishing Le Mans with the Ford GT40!
One thing is for sure: the new Mid-Engined Corvette is going to have to live up to the hype.