What if GM Made the Mid-Engined Corvette in the ’80s?

The XP-882, a Mid-Engined Corvette prototype

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.

  • The CERV I
  • The CERV II

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.

  • XP-882
  • The Aerovette

The Aerovette

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.

It’s almost a crime that this car didn’t get made. 2016 © Car Design News

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.

Photo © 2016 Car Design News

[Opinion] Hypercars don’t excite me anymore

It’s been a while! I took a little hiatus while I was setting up the site’s new store, but now I’m back! The new print store will be up this week!


The gorgeous Pininfarina Battista. Image © Autotimesnews.com

The Geneva International Auto Show is underway…

…And already there are some poster-ready sports cars and concept cars that could adorn the walls of teenagers who aren’t really into Fortnite. The most notable car for me is the Pininfarina Battista; a technical tour-de-force from one of Italy’s most well known car design studios, famous for penning the sultry bodies of Ferraris for decades. The Battista itself is a push forward towards the limits of electric drivetrain technology, with a motor in each wheel making a combined 1,874 horsepower and 2300 Newton meters of torque. And of course, its very good-looking.

So, why is it that I’m not very impressed with it?

Don’t get me wrong; I think the Battista is an absolutely gorgeous car, with plenty of references to one of my favorite concept cars of all time; the Maserati Pininfarina Birdcage 75th Anniversary Concept. It’s just that with all of the super sports cars and hypercars that have come out in the last couple of years, I might be a little jaded hearing about another sports car for the uber-rich. It just seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it?

The Pininfarina Battista and the Maserati Birdcage 7th Anniversary Concept car. Definitely a family resemblance.

On one hand, of course a car like the Battista is going to be ridiculously expensive; it’s essentially a concept car for the road. I should be glad that a car like this even exists as it represents the cutting edge of automotive technology. On the other however, I’ll likely never get to own or even drive something like this as fast as I want, because I live in a country with an average maximum speed limit of 55mph.

It could be a multitude of things that are making me feel this way about this car. Could it be that I’m now more cognizant of the current issues of our society, such as poverty and income inequality? When viewed through that particular lens, the Batista becomes another tool of which billionaires can use to flaunt their wealth to the lower classes. Maybe it’s the practicality of it, or lack thereof. I’m certainly someone that believes a car is meant to be driven and enjoyed, especially with a standard transmission and a short throw shifter. A car like this is likely going to take up space in a climate-controlled garage filled with other pieces of beautiful automotive engineering, only to be brought out for special events and gatherings; not that I don’t appreciate it. Certainly there will be people who would drive the Battista, but then we run into the first issue again.

Mostly, I think it’s my own preferences evolving as I get older. As I said before, I’m not interested in things that I have little to no chance even owning, let alone driving. Instead, I’ve noticed a trend toward interesting, quirky cars that don’t break the bank for owning and maintaining. In fact, I’m more impressed with cars that tick all the right boxes and still reside in the land of feasible ownership. A Lotus Esprit or an 90’s Acura NSX fall within this realm for me, and lord knows how much I’ve drooled over something like the Mazda Autozam AZ-1. Even new cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C interest me more than the Battista, because there’s a slight chance that I’ll be able to own or drive it.

I used Alfa Romeo’s Configurator to spec out a 4C. Base models go for around $66K

I suppose this is just the thoughts of someone shedding their teenage desires for owning an exotic car and settling with something more in my socio-economic standing. How many of us grew up with a Jaguar XJ220, McLaren F1, Lamborghini Diablo, or a Ferrari F50 taped to their bedroom walls, and are currently driving those around? I personally can’t answer that. But I can say that I could get a 90’s Lotus Esprit for around $25k and still feel like a million bucks.

The Pininfarina Battista is still a good-looking car though.

Opinion: A 1000HP Hybrid Lotus completely misses the point

The Hot Wheels Lotus 40th Anniversary Concept. Photo © TopSpeed.com

Lotus is reportedly making plans to create a 1000HP Hybrid Hypercar…

Is it just me, or does that statement seem kind of…wrong?

I know more than a few people that own a Lotus sports car. I also know a handful of people that have more than one Lotus. When I asked them what got them into Lotus in the first place, the most common answer is “Because they drive like nothing else.” Any Lotus is the culmination of a single ideal: to create a sports car that enforces the connection between man, machine, and the open road. To drive a Lotus is to eschew modern amenities for the sake of an unparalleled driving experience; without unneeded distractions, the need for more horsepower, and a high price tag. 

In other words, Colin Chapman said it best when it came to designing his cars: “Simplify, then add lightness.” A 1000HP Hybrid Hyper-Lotus then, would be the exact opposite of what a Lotus should be.

The Lotus Exige Cup 380; So fast and light, it could only be used on a track! Photo © Road & Track

When the Chinese automotive giant Geely purchased a controlling stake in Lotus back in 2017, a lot of Lotus owners held their breath. What would Geely do now that they controlled a small British sports car company with deep racing roots? Most feared that Geely would pivot Lotus from a boutique sports car maker into something that wouldn’t have stayed true to the brand, and Colin Chapman’s ideals.

However, with the introduction of newer and more powerful models of their current line up (including the fastest road-going Lotus ever, the Evora Sprint 430), most of those fears were abated. Recently, Geely announced plans to make a super SUV that utilizes Lotus’ suspension technology and tuning techniques, likely to be introduced as a vehicle under another marque within the Geely portfolio: Volvo. While that’s all fine and dandy (there have been cars with Lotus-tuned suspensions before, like the ill-fated DeLorean DMC-12), Lotus announcing that they are beginning development on a $2.2 million hypercar with a hybrid drivetrain seems to be a slap in the face of the brand itself.

When is a Lotus not a “Lotus”?

The fabulous 1991 Bertone-Lotus Emotion Concept. Photo © Motor1.com

Lotus has never been a super-exotic car marque like Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, or even Bugatti. Anyone can learn to drive one without breaking the bank: Lotuses are not that expensive compared to other marques to own and maintain, and they have a cult following of like-minded and esoteric individuals who are simultaneously cocky and super-friendly (“Nothing drives better than a Lotus! Jump in; I’ll show you!”).

On top of that, Lotus cars are designed to follow Colin Chapman’s philosophy right down to the nuts and bolts. If a part is unnecessary, it’s tossed in an effort to save as much weight as possible. And with a lightweight car, minimal amounts of power is needed in order to create a sporty driving experience. This was how the legendary Lotus Seven was created. It was essentially a go kart with some creature comforts like lights, electric start, and not much else. Therefore, if Geely does create a Lotus hypercar with an electric hybrid drivetrain making over 1000HP, it can be argued that it’s no longer a Lotus since it’s such a large departure from what Lotus should be.

The “Lotus” Alternative

The “Blue Lightning” Electric Lotus Evora. It uses the battery pack from the Chevrolet Volt, mated to the Tesla Model S 85 drive unit. Photo © OnPointDyno.com

Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money developing a one-off hypercar with an electric hybrid powertrain, why not refocus on developing a lightweight car designed to take an existing electric powertrain? Several car companies have already used the Lotus Elise as a template for a sporty, fully electric car, including Detroit Electric’s SP:01, and the original Tesla Roadster. However, the design limitations of the Elise chassis meant that the hardware had to be designed around the body. This meant that room for the AC motors and the battery packs were severely limited, which translated to lower ranges for these electric sports cars.

Instead, Lotus could use existing hardware, and then design a lightweight chassis to house the powertrain. In fact, Lotus has always used off-the-shelf parts for developing the engines for their sports cars. The engines used in the Elise, Exige, and Evora are all Toyota engines with Yamaha-tuned top-ends. What’s not to say that Lotus couldn’t take the engine and drivetrain from the Prius Hybrid, lighten the engine and the battery pack, and then wrap the whole package in a new chassis design based on an existing product? Maybe Lotus and Geely could develop a faster, electric successor to the Elise, or even the Evora?

In the end, it all boils down to market share. Lotus has captured less than 0.01% of the European Market since 2001. Even if Lotus were to develop an electric sports car using existing technologies, then they would have to build to volume in order to recoup the the money spent in development. If that’s the case, then it does make sense to build a multi-million dollar hypercar. 

That being said, Geely runs the risk of alienating the core fan base of Lotus by developing this proposed hybrid hypercar. Then again, if it does help Lotus recoup losses because of it’s minuscule market share, we’d all have to be content with Colin Chapman rolling in his grave.

Maybe we could hook up a dynamo to him then?