If insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results, are we insane for always asking if the "next Corvette" will be mid-engined?
As recently as May of last year, news reports surfaced claiming a mid-engine layout "is a strong possibility" for the upcoming C7 'Vette. The reasoning, as usual, is that this setup would make the Corvette more competitive with Ferrari and other supercars.
What happens next is predictable: the mid-engine hype becomes white hot in the buff books and on forums and blogs, but then the next Corvette ends up being front-engine, rear-wheel-drive just like its predecessors.
Even though details on the C7 remain sketchy, I guarantee you this is what's going to happen. It's been happening on and off for nearly 50 years (well, minus the websites and blogs part, but you get my drift) and the Corvette always ends up sticking with its traditional layout. Our own renderings of the C7 make a mid-engine setup seem unlikely.
So who is to blame for this, besides car journalists who swallow the hype a little too easily? The answer's simple: General Motors, a company that has been teasing us with mid-engine Corvette since the 1960s. In many cases, the idea has emerged as concept and prototype cars that never make it into production.
It all goes back to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Belgian-born engineer of Russian descent widely credited with being the father of the Corvette. He was one of the folks to pushed for the first-generation 'Vette to get a V8 instead of its anemic Blue Flame straight six, setting it down the path of ass-kickery.
In 1959 he started the development of the first Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle, or CERV I, which kind of resembles a Formula 1 car from that era. GM engineers learned quite a bit from this vehicle, but it wasn't technically a Corvette.
Then in 1963, Arkus-Duntov and his team developed that car's successor - the CERV II. He built this mid-engine roadster to compete with the Ford GT40 endurance racing, but GM policy at the time prevented direct involvement in motorsports. Still, design cues from the CERV II made their way into the 1968 C3 Corvette, specifically the V-shaped front end and arched fender flares. It was also decades ahead of its time due to an all-wheel-drive powertrain.
The late 1960s would see other competing mid-engine Corvette concepts developed by different factions within GM. As Automobile tells it, Frank Winchell's team cooked up the Astro II XP-880 concept (which looked even more like the C3), so Arkus-Duntov and his engineers created the XP-882 in response.
While things seemed prime for the next Corvette to have its engine behind the driver, Chevy's new general manager John DeLorean nixed the idea, with the marketing people fearing a midship layout would alienate traditional Corvette buyers. Road & Track still featured the XP-882 on their January 1971 cover, proclaiming it (incorrectly) to be the next Corvette.
As we move further into the 1970s, things start to get a little weird. GM showed off not one but two mid-engine Corvette concepts with rotary engines — one had a two-rotor engine and the other had four. This last engine, which had more than 400 horsepower and was shoved into the XP-882 body, ended up getting shelved along with the entire project due to the ongoing oil crisis. It may have been better this way as a rotary Corvette seems almost unimaginable today.
Strange mid-engine Corvette concepts died down until about 1985 when the Corvette Indy Concept came into being. Low and sleek, the Indy featured a spec sheet that you might expect on a modern Lamborghini or McLaren: four-wheel-drive, a twin-turbo V8, four-wheel steering, a rear-view camera and a drive by wire system. Once again, even though the Indy was a show car and technically inoperable, Car and Driver reported that a mid-engine Corvette was juuuuust on the horizon.
Four years later, the world was introduced to the CERV III, pictured up top, which remains one of the craziest concept cars ever created. Remarkable Corvettes says it had a carbon fiber and kevlar body, a Lotus-tuned twin turbo 5.7-liter V8 with 650 horsepower, dual disc brakes on each wheel and not one but TWO transmissions. I'll have whatever those engineers were drinking, please.
The front end looks eerily like the C5 Corvette; everything past that looks like the offspring of the first Dodge Viper and the Acura NSX. The rear end kind of looks like the Camaro from the 90s as well. I find a quote from "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" appropriate here: "One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die."
None of these concepts made it into production, and many of them languish in museums owned by GM or other folks today. More recently GM came out with the Corvette Daytona Prototype for the Grand-Am Road Racing Series.
As for us, the car buying public, we're still waiting on our mid-engine Corvette. In that same 2010 Automobile article I mentioned earlier, it was reported that engineers spent much of 2007 developing a midship C7, but it was scrapped the next year. Maybe it was the Carpocalypse; maybe there was another reason.
Which leads me to my big question: Why does GM keep investing resources, time after time, into mid-engine Corvette concepts only to keep it front-engine? Is it internal politics? Lack of cash? Fear of turning off Corvette buyers used to having their motors up front? Too much respect for the car's heritage?
Frankly, I think that one of the Vette's biggest strengths is its performance-to-cost ratio. Yes, the interior is never great and the car is stuck with an unfortunate middle-aged bald guy reputation. But it's also a great value. Most cars that can match the Corvette in speed and handling are a lot more expensive.
Maybe GM feels that if they put the engine in the middle for real next time, the price tag of the Corvette would go up to unacceptable levels.
What do you think? Why don't we have a mid-engine Corvette for sale yet? Is that even a good idea?
All photos credit GM