Mid-engine prototypes—and rumors and speculation about them—are a major part of Corvette lore. Here we take a quick look back at a few memorable examples.
For decades now, General Motors has been experimenting, in both public and private, with mid-engine prototypes for the Corvette, America’s sports car. These concept vehicles, and the rumors and speculation that surrounded them, have long fired the imaginations of car enthusiasts. And in the meantime, the automotive press has turned the topic into a cottage industry with hazy photos and evergreen cover blurbs like “This is the New Corvette!”
Now, after all these years, it appears that a Corvette with an engine behind the driver will finally become reality with the 2019 C8 model due in 2018. With that date rapidly approaching, this seems like an opportune time to explore a little mid-engine Corvette history. Here are five noteworthy examples.
There were two Chevrolet Astro concepts: the Corvair-based 1967 Astro I and the V8-powered Astro II, and the latter had intriguing potential as a production Corvette. Officially designated XP-880 and introduced at the 1968 New York Auto Show, the Astro II utlilized a Chevy big-block V8 reversed in the chassis to drive a Pontiac Tempest transaxle. With its backbone chassis and two-speed automatic drivetrain, the Astro II wasn’t especially road-friendly and Chevrolet engineers returned to the drawing board.
Probably the most famous of the Corvette mid-engine prototypes is the Aerovette. Originally constructed in 1969 as the XP-882 with a big-block Chevy V8 and Olds Toronado final drive mounted transversely behind the driver, it was then repurposed in 1973 as the Four-Rotor Corvette and equipped with GM Wankel rotary power. But with the demise of the GM Wankel program, a small-block LT1 V8 was dropped in and the Aerovette achieved its final form. Today the concept, still stunning after all these years, can be seen at the GM Heritage Collection in suburban Detroit and at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The Corvette Indy first appeared in pushmobile form with silver paint at the 1986 Detroit Auto Show, followed by several functional prototypes including this red example. Advanced features included a one-piece passenger canopy, carbon bodywork, and a 32-valve DOHC V8. While the Corvette Indy never made it to the production stage, obviously, it did spawn the even more advanced 1990 CERV III research concept.
Technically, the 1964 XP-819 prototype was not a mid-engine but a rear-engine design with its Chevy V8 mounted behind the rear axle in Porsche fashion. However, it was an early opportunity for Chevy engineers to experiment with a layout that placed the powerplant behind the driver. Handling was a disappointment, reportedly, as the XP-819 was crashed at the proving ground and then ordered cut apart. Decades later, the pieces (in the possession of Smokey Yunick for a time) were reassembled and restored by a dedicated Corvette enthusiast.
There were at least two versions of the Corvette XP-895: an all-steel prototype built on an XP-882 chassis that proved to be overweight, and an aluminum-bodied duplicate commissioned by Chevy boss John DeLorean in March 1972. Known as the Reynolds Aluminum concept, the alloy version reportedly weighed 450 lbs less than the original. However, the special bonding and joining techniques required by the aluminum construction rendered it too expensive for production, and the project ended there.