From an acclaimed concept car John DeLorean reportedly dismissed because he wanted something “smaller and more European,” to the design that ended a feud between a pair of GM giants — but may have set the Corvette back decades — a trove of unique documents, sketches and models tells a secret history of the 60-year quest to build a mid engine Chevrolet Corvette.
The story begins in the late 1950s with legendary Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov and came to fruition when the first mid engine 2020 Corvette Stingray sold for $3 million at auction in January.
Titled “The Vision Realized: 60 Years of Mid engine Corvette Design” and created by GM Design Archive & Collections, the exhibit included 19 original sketches by designers including Larry Shinoda and Tom Peters, the massive 4-Rotor rotary engine from the 1973 Aerovette engineering, a wood wind-tunnel model, even letters from Arkus-Duntov’s personal files.
“The story of the mid engine Corvette is incredibly complicated, full of fits and starts,” said Christo Datini, manager of the GM Design Archive & Collections.
Cristo Datini at the General Motors Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan on Friday, January, 31, 2020 (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
A mid engine Corvette was a dream shared by GM designers and engineers. The layout, in which the engine is behind the passenger compartment and immediately over the rear wheels, improves acceleration and handling. It’s been a mainstay at Ferrari for decades, and inspired repeated design and engineering projects at GM. None of them made it to production till now, largely because the Corvette’s original front-engine layout was so successful.
“Why would we change the Corvette?” GM chairman and CEO Richard Gerstenberg said to Arkus-Duntov before both men retired in the mid-1970s. “We sell every one we can make.”
‘Design without limit’
A generation of GM designers and engineers had already fought that attitude toward the sports car that debuted in 1953 model, and a couple more would before the midengine eighth-generation C8 Corvette Stingray debuted last year.
The exhibition included dozens of sketches, models, photos and documents.
“Our mission is to preserve the heritage of GM Design and educate our designers on GM’s prominence in the world of design,” Datini said. The archive also is working with the Detroit Institute of Arts on a massive exhibition dedicated to automotive design that opens this summer.
The Corvette exhibition closed at the end of January, but elements of it are likely to be displayed at other events and locations, possibly including the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which provided materials for the collection.
Original magazines with drawings of what Corvettes could have looked like on display at the General Motors Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan on Friday, January, 31, 2020 (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle I, Also called SERV I and XP-708, was the beginning. A running model that debuted in 1960, the car had the looks of an Indy car and a chassis that tested what a midengine layout could do. It was “a design without limit” and an “admirable tool” to help Chevy figure out “what to put in Corvette,” said Duntov, himself a former driver in the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race.
CERV I was used as a test vehicle for years. Larry Shinoda, who would go on to be known as the father of the ’63 Corvette Stingray and the Mako Shark concept car, tweaked its design repeatedly as engineers tested it with seven different power trains.
GM eventually retired CERV I, selling it to the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum for $1. When the museum failed in the 1980s, GM bought it back for “somewhat more,” Datini said.
A model of the 1968 Chevrolet mid-engine Corvette Roadster that is one of many items for General Motors workers to see at the Corvette design display at the General Motors Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan on Friday, January, 31, 2020 (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
Corvettes the world never saw
Shortly thereafter, Duntov heard rumors Ford was developing a Le Mans racer to challenge Ferrari and launched work on CERV II. GM decided not to race, Ford and Carroll Shelby built the GT40 that inspired “Ford vs. Ferrari,” and the CERV II was used as an engineering test bed at secret proving grounds and never seen by the public during its active lifetime. Built in 1964, CERV II had a 500-horsepower V8, 210-mph top speed and 2.8-second 0-60 mph time.
A picture of the CERV II Corvette. The sports car never went into production but it was influential in the design of the C5 production Corvette. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
“By that time, engineers and designers knew a midengine chassis was necessary” to get maximum performance from the ‘Vette, Datini said. Putting the engine behind the passenger compartment puts the car’s weight over the rear wheels to put down more power without spinning. Shifting balance from the production ‘Vette’s nose-heavy weight distribution would also improve handling.
Also in 1964, the XP-819 experimental car was being tested. Designed by Shinoda, it bore a strong resemblance to 1970 Corvettes, but Duntov hated it, calling it an “ugly duckling” at least in part because he wished his engineering team got some of the budget allotted to designing the car. It had a 327 cubic-inch V8 and pop-up headlights.
Like many concept and engineering vehicles, XP-819 was destroyed, chopped up. Years later, the pieces were found in NASCAR designer and mechanic Smokey Yunick’s garage.
Half Corvette, half Porsche
With a name GM would later recycle on a minivan, the Astro II XP-880 was never publicly identified as a Corvette, but it was one, intended for production in 1970, but never got there. It debuted at the New York auto show, featuring a nose, front fenders and Firefrost Blue paint that that foreshadowed 1970s production cars.
DeLorean, then Chevrolet general manager, asked for a rush program to create a different midengine design to match the midengine Pantera Ford was developing with Italian sports car maker De Tomaso to debut at the 1970 New York auto show. The XP-882 had a tapering body with dramatic fender flares and a louvered rear window like the Mako Shark II concept car. Like so many midengine ‘Vettes before and after, GM brass decided to stick with the tried and true front-engine layout.
Also in the 1970s GM president Ed Cole — another legendary engineer who led the development of the small block V8 and catalytic converter, among other achievements — became enamored with the Wankel rotary engine. Duntov built two midengine experimental ‘Vettes with rotary engines, glad for Cole’s support despite not sharing his enthusiasm for the engine.
Sketching and notes about the Corvette, one of the many originals on display for workers to see at the General Motors Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan on Friday, January, 31, 2020 (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
The 1973 Corvette 2-Rotor XP-987GT was a smaller, European-scale sports car with a rotary engine. The body was all Corvette, but its chassis came from a Porsche 914. Italian design house Pininfarina built its body. GM displayed the 2-Rotor at auto shows in Frankfurt and Paris before the car disappeared, probably sold to a collector.
Bill Mitchell’s most beautiful car
At the same time, Duntov wanted to develop a bigger midengine Corvette. He and Cole hadn’t been on speaking terms since Duntov refused an annual bonus he thought was insultingly small. They made up, at least in part because Duntov wanted a budget to develop what would become the Corvette 4-Rotor Aerovette, an iconic, gull wing design. Duntov believed it was the most beautiful vehicle GM design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw in a career that included the ’57 Chevy Bel Air and ’66 Buick Riviera.
Duntov recycled the XP-882’s chassis for the Aerovette, which featured silver leather interior trim.
A picture of the Aerovette featuring bi-fold gulping doors in the sports car that was never made. It is one of many photographs, drawings and sketches on display on all things Corvette design inside the General Motors Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan on Friday, January, 31, 2020 (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
Despite the car’s striking appearance, Duntov would come to believe his agreement to use a rotary engine was a nail in the midengine ‘Vette’s coffin.
Despite that, another midengine engineering car arrived in 1974. The XP-895 began its life with a steel body. Intrigued by the idea of lightweight materials, DeLorean asked Reynolds Aluminum to create an aluminum body. That cut the car’s weight by nearly 40%, but DeLorean pulled the plug on the project because he wanted a smaller, more European design.
That never happened, and design work on midengine ‘Vettes came to a halt for more than a decade, as GM struggled meeting the challenge of higher fuel prices.
Closing the deal
By 1986, the quest for a midengine Corvette was ready to create another giant figure, and it got one when a young designer named Tom Peters began work on the Corvette Indy concept car. Peters went on to become the chief designer of the sixth- and seventh-generation C6 and C7 Corvettes and play a key role in starting work on the 2020 C8.
With a radically short hood compared to production ‘Vettes and cutting-edge technologies including four-wheel steering, traction control and active suspension, the Indy — so named because it used a 2.65L V8 Chevy developed for Indy Car racing — kept dreams of the midengine ‘Vette alive
The 1990 CERV III — this time the C stood for “Corporate,” not Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle — was the next step. Datini’s research convinced him it was an attempt at a production version of the Indy.
CERV III had scissors doors and was built of Kevlar, carbon fiber and aluminum. With a 650-hp twin-turbo 5.7L V8, GM predicted a top speed of 225 mph. It debuted at the 1990 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
After that, work on the midengine Corvette went undercover for two decades. Photos of disguised prototypes at test tracks surfaced from time to time, but the car seemed to be as much myth as metal. There are whispers the Great Recession halted work on one, setting development back years.
A display of Zora Arkus-Duntov known as “The Godfather of the Corvette” at the General Motors Warren Technical Center in Warren, Michigan on Friday, January, 31, 2020. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
Development of the 2020 Corvette Stingray began around eight years ago, a long time for most projects, but the blink of an eye when it’s the last chapter of a 60-year story.
Mark Phelan for Detroit Free Press
Zora’s dream of bringing a mid-engine Corvette to market has finally been fulfilled!
Chevrolet is celebrating the Start of Regular Production (SORP) of the 2020 Corvette Stingray today and they shared this photo of a Black mid-engine Coupe on the Corvette assembly line in Bowling Green, KY.
The car is the VIN 001 Corvette that was purchased by Rick Hendrick for $3 million last month at Barrett-Jackson. Chevrolet told us previously that the first mid-engine Corvette produced for customers would be a Black Coupe with the Z51 package.
Here is Chevrolet’s tweet celebrating the start of C8 production from this afternoon:
Chevrolet is saying that initial vehicle shipments to dealers are expected to begin in late February or early March.
Congratulations to all those who worked on the new Corvette to get it to this point and we are excited for all of our friends that have a new C8 Corvette on order. The new Corvette Stingray is a grand slam home run for Chevy and from it, we will see a paradigm shift in how people will view mid-engine sports cars in the future.
And with VIN 001 coming of the Corvette assembly line today, that future is now!
Chevrolet also offered up this trailer for a documentary of the C8 Corvette’s development called Revolution:
[UPDATE] Contacted by Motor1.com, GM spokesperson Chris Bonelli says production of the new Corvette will begin in February.
It’s a great day for those who have signed their names on the dotted line to buy a C8 as it appears production of the mid-engined Corvette has finally started. The eighth generation of Chevrolet’s popular sports car was originally scheduled to hit the assembly line towards the end of 2019, but the UAW strike took its toll and forced General Motors to push back production until February.
It looks like they’ve managed to get everything ready a few days sooner, with production at the Bowling Green, Kentucky factory now underway. The reveal comes to us from Chevy salesperson Mike Davenport through his YouTube channel called “Chevy Dude” where he regularly posts videos about everything interesting that’s going on related to the C8 and other models that have the bowtie emblem. He was the first to break the news about Chevy cutting back on dealer allocations for the Corvette’s 2020 model year, which was shortly confirmed to Motor1.com by a spokesperson.
It goes without saying Chevy Dude is talking about the production of customer cars, including his very own C8. Another tidbit revealed is about the cancellation of the optional exposed carbon fiber ground effects for the 2020MY due to supplier issues. If you have ordered the car already with this option, Chevy will have no other way but to delete it.
For those who haven’t pre-ordered the new Corvette and are interested in getting the 2020MY, it appears April is going to be the last month when dealers will be able to ask Chevy for cars. Interestingly, Chevy Dude also knows the production of the mid-engined sports car will transition to the 2021MY in September.
That effectively means the initial model year of the C8 will only be in production for about seven months. We also get to learn the first cars will hit dealers across the country around mid-February or closer to the end of the month.
As you might have heard already, the 2021MY is rumored to come with a price bump, but nothing is official at this point. All we have for the time being is a rumor originating from a “well-placed source” cited by Motor Trend who is saying the Corvette will lose the sub-$60,000 sticker. Chevy Dude doesn’t expect the price increase to be significant, based on his 20-year experience in selling cars and analyzing Corvette pricing changes from one model year to the next.
Motor1.com has reached out to Chevy for comment and will update the article if we get a response.
Source: Chevy Dude / YouTube
The 58th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the first round of the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, saw the first race for the new Corvette C8.R, the participation of an all-female driver line-up, 2019 NASCAR champion Kyle Busch’s first start in a 24-hour race and Ben Keating at the wheel of two different cars.
A NOTEWORTHY DEBUT FOR THE NEW CORVETTE C8.R
The #3 Corvette C8.R finished the first 24-hour race of its career in fourth place in GTLM (the equivalent of LMGTE Pro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans). Drivers Antonio García, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg encountered zero problems with the car and completed 785 laps (nearly 5,000 kilometers). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the #4 Corvette C8.R of Gavin-Milner-Fässler. As the car was in the top 5 in its class going into the ninth hour, an oil leak caused the car to return to its garage. The leak was found to be in an area that forced the mechanics to remove the engine for repair and the work took almost nine hours. The #4 was then able to hit the track again and finished the race in 36th place.
Much like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Daytona is an extremely challenging race. To make it to the checkered flag with an all-new car is already a major accomplishment for Corvette Racing. The American team’s next stop is the 6 Hours of the Circuit of The Americas on Sunday 23 February in Austin, the fifth round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship season.
AN ALL-FEMALE DRIVER LINE-UP
All-female driver line-up Christina Nielsen, Katherine Legge, Tati Calderon and Rahel Frey shared GEAR Racing powered by GRT Grasser’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 in the GTD class, but the car was forced to retire after a fire.
KYLE BUSCH ENJOYS HIS FIRST ENDURANCE RACE
2019 NASCAR champion Kyle Busch took the start in his first Rolex 24 at Daytona at the wheel of the AIM VASSER SULLIVAN team’s Lexus RC-F GT3. Along with teammates Parker Chase, Jack Hawksworth and Michael de Quesada, Busch finished 26th overall and ninth in the GTD class. The American driver pulled off a double and a triple stint without the slightest mistake and said after the race he really enjoyed the experience and hopes to return for the overall win.
BEN KEATING DOUBLES DOWN
Ben Keating participated in his 10th Rolex 24 at Daytona at the wheel of not one but two cars: the #52 ORECA 07 fielded by PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports in the LMP2 class and the #74 Mercedes AMG-GT3 fielded by Riley Motorsports in GTD. Both cars crossed the finish line, the #52 ORECA 07 in 10th place overall and second in its class two laps from the winners, and the #74 Mercedes AMG-GT3 in 29th place overall and 11th in its class. This was the fifth time Keating participated in the race with two different cars.
Source: 24H LE MANS
There’s A New Engine In The C8.R Corvette, And It Sounds Nothing Like Its Predecessor.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and although that’s true, it can also be in the ear of the listener.
Since the Corvette first hit the streets back in the 1950s, it was imbued with the beautiful and nearly magical sound of V-8 performance. It was a deep, bass-filled rumble that just oozed a feeling of power. Over the years, the sound emanating from Corvettes, both on the street and at the track, had a distinctive note that became synonymous with the car. When the Corvette moved to the LS1 in 1997, the firing order was tweaked a bit, and although the sound did change, it still had that deep rumble that we all love.
But the only thing constant in the world is change. For the C8.R, Chevrolet Racing really changed things up with its new mid-engine marvel, but it wasn’t the engine placement that ended the car’s iconic sound signature. It was the engine itself. Gone is the deep baritone exhaust note, replaced instead with a high-pitched Ferrari-like sound. Think puberty in reverse. And although we love the sound of a wound-out Ferrari or other Italian supercars, having that pitch emanate from the back of a Corvette is something that will be hard to get used to. We’re not saying the sound is bad—it’s actually pretty badass—but it’s not even close to the sound signature we’ve come to associate with Corvettes.
The real culprit here isn’t the new 5.5L DOHC V-8 that Chevrolet moved to. Instead, it was the choice to go with a high-revving flat-plane crank. This drastically changed the firing order of the engine and eliminated the classic American V-8 sound that’s typical with the firing sequence of a traditional cross-plane crank. But we know what you’re thinking: “Well, this is just the race car, so I’m going to be able to get my V-8 rumble fix from the production car!” Well, yeah, for now. You see, for Chevrolet Racing to run this new DOHC flat-plane crank mill in the C8.R, it has to, according to the rules, run a similar engine in at least 300 production cars. So does this mean that an eventual C8 Z06 variant will lose its iconic exhaust note?
Corvette “had reason” to take its No. 4 car back out on track after lengthy repair…
The “tough lessons” of the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R’s tumultuous Rolex 24 at Daytona debut gave Corvette Racing confidence going forward with its new car, according to team manager Ben Johnson.
The silver No. 4 Corvette spent eight hours in its garage during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener after a cracked bell housing resulted in an oil leak.
Having pitted at around 11 p.m. the car eventually returned to the track close to 8 a.m. but it still managed to be classified as a finisher, albeit 327 laps behind the GTLM class winner.
While not divulging the extent of the oil leak and associated damage, Johnson explained why the team kept its car in the garage for so long.
“To fix the problem we had to move the engine back,” he told Sportscar365.
“We tried to do it with the engine installed to expedite it but then we realized that if we wanted to get it back on track, we had to take time to take the engine out and put it back in.
“We just took our time to make sure that there was nothing else. At that point, we were no longer in contention, but we had reason to go out and just understand where else the car may have issues.
“It was just kind of a test session after that.
“I think we will go back and disassemble the whole car. We have some issues to address with the oil leak.”
Oliver Gavin, who shared driving duties in the No. 4 with Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler, said the Corvette crew “wanted to be methodical” about its repairs which added to the length of time it spent in the garage.
The Englishman suggested that the car was starting to show signs of promising pace that it could have taken through the night had the leak not occurred.
“It was really tough on the guys, eight hours of working from midnight until eight in the morning, it was crazy,” Gavin told Sportscar365.
“As soon as that happened, we knew that our day was done and that we wouldn’t be challenging. It was a shame because up to that point, our car had just started to come along.
“It wasn’t super strong right at the start, but we were gaining on it as we went through the race. Could we have been in the mix at the end? Who knows. But there was a lot that we’ve learned from this.
“As a team, we figured a lot of stuff out today. Testing is great but you really see exactly where you are when you come to a race and see where your competition is.
“We’ll take that away and process the data to see how we can make ourselves and the car better for Sebring.”
The No. 3 Corvette fared better than its sister car with Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg bringing home a fourth-place class finish on the lead lap.
Johnson said that this car’s run wasn’t entirely straightforward, but it held up well enough to remain in contention for a podium heading into the final two hours.
“We had a slight clutch issue at one point, but we had fixed it after the first stop that we witnessed it, so it wasn’t a time loss,” he explained.
“But nothing held up that car specifically again. We were really happy that all the execution, pit stops, driver changes… all things that you don’t get to test in anger until you reach the race, all went super well.”
Johnson added that the Rolex 24 has given the Corvette team confidence ahead of its next race outing at the ‘Super Sebring’ endurance racing double-header weekend in March.
“Coming away from our first race with one car on the lead lap… the issue with the oil leak is obviously very apparent, but when we looked at it we realized it’s a pretty simple fix,” he said.
“I think it raises everyone’s confidence that we can get through some of these early tough lessons and move on to Sebring in a much better spot.”
Source: Daniel Llyod for Sportscar365
GM is sponsoring the permanent exhibit, which is packed with such classics as Lotus-Ford, Ford GT, and Camaro racers and land speed record cars.
The Henry Ford
- From the 1906 Locomobile Old 16 to a 2018 Chevy Camaro to the 2016 Ford GT that won its class at Le Mans (above), you can get your fix of classic race cars with this exhibit.
- Movies, interactive displays and, thankfully, racing simulators will all be part of the Driven to Win exhibit.
- The is the latest in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s exploration of what makes American auto racing special and different, and it’s sponsored by General Motors.
Racers, there’s no need to start your engines.
A new permanent exhibit called Driven to Win will bring a century’s worth of American racing vehicles to the Henry Ford museum complex in Dearborn, Michigan, this summer. But they won’t be speeding around the track. Instead, visitors will try to satisfy their need for speed using screens and sound to supplement an up-close look at the static vehicles on display.
1965 Lotus-Ford | The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford says there will be a number of experience zones that offer up different facets of what it’s like to be on the track. A 15-minute virtual ride called In the Driver’s Seat is the most realistic (and, we assume, the most fun) thanks to six connected, full-motion racing simulators that will let you drive the “world’s fastest cars” on the “most challenging tracks on the planet.” Details on which cars and which tracks were not provided, but there will be a five-minute qualifying session followed by “genuine wheel-to-wheel competition.”
For a less white-knuckle experience, a 4D movie called Fueled by Passionbrings viewers trackside and into the vehicles in five different forms of racing. The Winner’s Circle is a place to celebrate some of people and vehicles involved in American auto racing’s biggest moments. Motorsports Performance Training allows visitors to learn what it takes to prep for a race, and, finally, the Sports Car Race Shop is where some of the engineering behind winning race cars will be explained.
Driven to Win, previously announced as Racing in America, is sponsored by General Motors, but cars from its rivals will be presented as well. The Henry Ford highlighted these vehicles from the upcoming 24,000-square-foot exhibit:
Goldenrod Land Speed Record car. | The Henry Ford
- The 1906 Locomobile Old 16, the first American car to win a major international road race in the United States.
- The 1965 Lotus-Ford (pictured above) that was the first rear-engine car to win the Indianapolis 500.
- The 1965 Goldenrod (above), which held a land speed record of 409.277 mph for wheel-driven cars until 1991.
- The 1967 Ford Mark IV, which earned an all-American victory at Le Mans with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt at the wheel.
- The 1988 Chevrolet-powered Penske PC-17, driven by Rick Mears for the third of his four Indy 500 wins.
- A 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, a track-ready performance car used in engineering tests at Germany’s celebrated Nürburgring racing circuit.
Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb race car. | The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford has its own idea about what specifically defines American racing. In 2011, the museum’s curators issued an article on this subject in which they decided that American auto racing has four distinct characteristics: a love of pure speed (instead of the strategy behind turns and overtaking), a desire to see the entire track at once (ovals and drag strips), a preference for short races (with some outliers, like the Indianapolis 500), and insularity, both from racers from outside the U.S. as well as between different racing styles.
Driven to Win opens in June 2020 inside the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.
Sebastian Blanco for Car and Driver