There Was An Almost-Forgotten Mid-Engine Corvette Back In 1959

We at Jalopnik been talking about a possible mid-engined Corvette for an insane eleven years, which is longer than the dinosaurs were around, in internet time. That, however, pales in comparison to how long GM themselves has been playing with the idea. Some recently re-discovered photographs show it’s been on their minds since 1959.

Our pals over at SuperChevy.com were browsing in the Petersen Photo Archive earlier this month when they found a strange photograph stuck in a folder labeled “1959 Corvette.” Here’s the photo:

Photo: GM Heritage Center (via Car Design Archives)
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Huh. This is a strange looking Corvette for when the photo was taken, February 1, 1960. It’s a strange Corvette, period, a Corvette with a little less ‘vette and a little more ‘vair, as in Corvair, GM’s rear-engined, Volkswagen-fighting compact from 1960.

Note the large air-intake vents behind the doors and the lack of any sort of grille or front air intakes. This appears to be a car with the engine somewhere behind the driver. A handwritten note on the back of the photo confirms this:

“The first mid-engined Corvette proposal, 1959.”

SuperChevy reached out to the GM Heritage center, which was able to provide a bit more information about the car, which carried the GM code number XP-719.

The project started in June of 1959, and is described as a V8, rear-engine Corvette. Based on the look of the car, the proportions, and a moving mockup of possible ways to stow a hardtop, I think the car is actually mid-engined, and not rear.

There was a rear-engined—as in the engine is behind the rear axle—prototype Corvette years later, XP-819, just in case any true rear-engine lovers were feeling left out.

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GM Heritage provided a number of other photos of XP-719, and they’re all absolutely fascinating. Here we can see the earlier, 1959 design of the car:

Photo: GM Heritage
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You can see the air intake is much smaller here, and the designers are experimenting with a tailfin/air scoop design.

Photo: GM Heritage
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Here’s a full-size rendering of the car, in profile, the first 1959 version. The rear decklid venting is very Corvair-inspired, as is the prominent horizontal crease/character line that runs the length of the car. In the picture are engineer Ron Hill and famous designer Larry Shinoda.

If I saw this drawing out of this context, I think I would have assumed it was for a sporting Corvair derivative, not a Corvette.

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The 1960 redesign still feels quite Corvair-like at the rear, but the larger air intake and associated rear fender bulge make it feel like a more substantial, muscular car, more like a Corvette. I love the angle-cut exhausts and that central fin down the rear especially.

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GM Heritage also provided three photos of a possible retractable hardtop design being tested out with two-dimensional cutouts. It’s hard to see, but there’s a very light diagram of the rear of the car penciled in on that panel, and the black objects are the hardtop, two struts, and a rear-hinged decklid.

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The stowed position of the roof at the extreme rear of the car suggests the V8 engine is right in front of where the top would be stowed, effectively on the rear axle line. The roof would swing up and over the engine in this design.

This is a fascinating find, and a nice, humbling reminder that everyone already thought of everything cool, long ago.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)