Mid-Engined Corvettes And Other Myths

Word that Karl Stracke, v.p. of Global Engineering at GM recently visited with the folks at Automotive News and AutoWeek to quash rumors of mid-engined and V6-powered Corvettes comes as no surprise.

Word that Karl Stracke, v.p. of Global Engineering at GM recently visited with the folks at Automotive News and AutoWeek to quash rumors of mid-engined and V6-powered Corvettes comes as no surprise. Speculation surrounding mid-engined Corvettes is an industry unto itself, going back to at least 1959 when the Corvette’s chief engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, began messing with a mid-engined design in the late 1950s.

Arkus-Duntov, Chevy general manager Ed Cole and GM Design chief Bill Mitchell were quite taken with the performance possibilities presented by the layout, and the sportiness of the then-new Corvair. Building such a car would have catapulted Corvette far ahead of its international competition (only Porsche had its engine behind the driver at the time), and wiped out the embarrassment of the 1957 Corvette SS racer. It would have been a moon shot 10 years ahead of Apollo 11. [For those who are curious, the leading 1959 design looked like the 1963-1967 Corvette in convertible form. The cockpit was a bit forward on the wheelbase, and a large faired-in scoop ahead of each rear wheel brought cooling air to the engine compartment. The project never went forward to production, though GM continued to play with mid- and rear-engined Corvettes for decades.]

This time around, however, the rumors about a mid-engined Corvette were more than just rumors. There was a serious program to build a Ferrari/Porsche/Aston Martin rival with the Chevy bow tie emblem on the nose. Insiders say Bob Lutz and GM Design chief Ed Welburn were the biggest proponents of the new car, which would have been part of a multi-step Corvette family. Both Lutz and Welburn dislike the bulkiness of the current Corvette, despite is relatively diminutive dimensions, and hate that Corvette is not held in high esteem in international circles. They set out to change that with a two-pronged approach.

At the lower end, the “C8” Corvette would shrink in size, and be powered by a physically smaller and more powerful direct-injection V8. Composite materials would continue to be used for the bodywork, and high-line versions would get carbon fiber clothes and twin turbochargers. In addition, the interior would finally meet expectations, with a hand-stitched leather dash cover, tasteful design, fewer and better plastics, and build quality that rivals Porsche.

The next rung of the ladder would be the mid-engined car. To keep size under control, the V8 powerplants would be transversely mounted and drive through a dual-clutch gearbox. Saab took the lead on gearbox design, and was told to package-protect for both naturally aspirated and turbocharged versions. External dimensions were pegged to Porsche’s 911, and the price tag was rumored to start just above $100,000.

Unfortunately for this car, the cost of the semi-automatic dual-clutch gearbox rose precipitously, and eventually scuttled the program. Or so the story goes. Some also have suggested that the government took a dim view of a mid-engined Corvette supercar at a time when taxpayer funds were being used to bail out the automaker. My sources say Lutz and Welburn tried everything to save the project, including adding a Cadillac version to help defray the costs. This car would have replaced the XLR as Cadillac’s two-seat flagship, and included a convertible version perfect for cruising to your yacht anchored in Monaco’s harbor during the annual Formula One race. Reportedly, it never made it beyond the sketch phase, but would have been a direct competitor for Audi’s lovely R8.

With tougher fuel economy and emission standards on the horizon, plans were made to fit the cars with high-output V6 engines. No one expected them to be used, but they were there just in case. After all, all “real” Corvettes, except for those built before 1955, have V8s.

While all of this was going on, members of the Automotive Task Force began prowling around GM’s Warren Tech Center, and making nuisances of themselves. I have been told of one accounting type who insisted GM could double Corvette sales by fitting the car with Lamborghini-style scissor doors. Day after day this fellow insisted this was the “one thing” the Corvette really needed to break out from the crowd, and was not shy in pushing his point. Engineers finally quashed the idea by claiming that simulations showed the doors could not be retrofit, and could increase the chance of driver or passenger injury under certain circumstances.

So the C8 Corvette with its conventional front-engine/rear-drive layout moves forward. It will be smaller, lighter and better built. There will not, at least for now, be any V6 versions.

However, rumors have resurfaced concerning a new mid-engined Corvette for 2015. Though currently not part of the official product plan (that makes it easy to deny), it features a lithium-ion battery pack packaged into the floor for a low center of gravity and a concentration of the weight within the wheelbase. Aimed at cars like Porsche’s 918 and the coming electric Mercedes-Benz SLS, the electric ‘Vette features a Chevy Volt-style range extender gasoline engine, individual motors at each wheel, and the ability to cruise for more than 50 miles on electric power alone in two-wheel drive mode.

The individual hub motors not only give the car four-wheel drive capability, they allow the stability control system to vector torque both front-to-back and side-to-side for greater traction and better handling.  Torque output in the 600 lb-ft range has been mentioned, as has a top speed of 200 mph. Drawings exist of the car in full race regalia, suggesting an attempt at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. Price has yet to be set, but…

Sorry. Just kidding.