Rumors of upcoming mid-engined Corvettes are one of those things that never seem to go away, like that funny rash on your thigh or that process server who just can't seem to take a hint. Strangely, there was another alternate Corvette layout that never seems to resurface: the rear-engined 'Vette. Yet there actually was one.
It had the lovely name XP-819 (presumably named after a Chevy engineer's girlfriend) and was created, in the mid '60s, as the result of an argument. Really. I mean, sure, GM called it an "engineering exercise" to test a rear-engine layout for the Corvette, and it proved to be a useful styling exercise as well, foreshadowing the legendary Sting-Ray design. But, really, it came to be because of a fight between Corvette godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov and an engineer from the Corvair, Frank Winchell.
The fight was over the fundamental viability of a rear-engine sports car design with a large V-8. The Porsche 356 proved the layout could work quite well, but the 356 only had a small flat-four. The rear-mounted V8s on the Tatra worked, but always with some handling caveats and, of course, those weren't sports cars.
The fight actually led to some interesting work getting done:
Winchell contended that you could make a balanced, rear-engine, V-8 powered sports car by using an aluminum engine and larger tires on the rear to compensate for the rear weight bias. Duntov adamantly disagreed. A loose design was drawn that received some very unflattering comments from Duntov and Dave McLellan. Winchell asked designer Larry Shinoda if he could make something beautiful with the layout, to which Shinoda told him that a tape drawing could be shown after lunch. Shinoda and designer John Schinella sketched out the basic shape shown here. Duntov asked Shinoda, "Where did you cheat?". It didn't look "too bad", so a working prototype was ordered.
So, thanks to Larry Shinoda (the guy who designed the later Sting-Ray) coming up with such a sleek looking car that Zuntov thought he must have "cheated," this very novel Corvette managed to get off the paper and into reality.
The end product did turn out to be pretty great looking. It used an aluminum marine V8 to keep the rear weight bias manageable, along with larger rear tires to keep that oversteer in check. That engine was mated to a two-speed transaxle (an overdrive, I'm guessing) and all of the suspension parts are unique to this car.
It looks a lot like a '68 and up Vette, I think, with a decidedly elongated tail. You can definitely see a future Corvette in the buttresses of the B-pillar that flow down into the tail. It had the shark-like nose and covered lights of later 'Vettes as well.
Of course, an ass-heavy powerful V8 car can be a tricky beast to drive, and, as you probably guessed by the fact this sentence exists at all, the Corvairvette was doomed. A test driver, prior to doing a high-speed lane-change test on a wet track, mistakenly had normal-sized tires put on the rear, instead of the larger ones specified. As a result, the car bounced off some walls and got nice and destroyed.
The driver was okay, but it's hard not to shake your head at this one: rear engine, wrong rear tires, wet track, high-speed lane change — is there any way that car wasn't going to get wrecked?
The car was eventually rebuilt, and is now at the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, where it hopefully avoided an ass-first plummet into a sinkhole. It better be okay, because this is my favorite Corvette of all.