A Brief Corvette History

With the new C8 Corvette hitting the market in early 2020, it’ll be the first mid-engine Corvette the world has ever seen. That is, if you don’t count all the prototypes Zora Arkus-Duntov churned out half a century ago.

Zora Arkus-Duntov was known as the father of the Corvette, even though he didn’t invent it. Rather, in the 1950s, he used his position as the director of Chevrolet’s high performance division to transform the Corvette from a simple roadster into a powerhouse that rivaled Porsches, Ferraris, Maseratis, and Mercedes-Benzes.

How Zora Arkus-Duntov Immortalized the Corvette

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Image Credit: G.M. Media Archive

Not only did Zora Arkus-Duntov turn the Corvette into a status symbol by developing it into America’s only two seat sports car, but he also brought the Corvette to stardom with his radical prototypes. He was an engineer who graduated from the Charlottenburg Technological University in Berlin in 1934. He used his knowledge to help develop the mid-engine platform at GM. He was also the mastermind behind a number of mid-engine Corvette prototypes in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Right up to the day Arkus-Duntov retired, he kept urging GM to release a production mid-engine Corvette. Despite all the prototypes Arkus-Duntov created, GM never made the mid-engine Corvette a reality until now. Chevrolet’s sales department was reluctant to adopt a mid-engine layout for several reasons:

  • The mid-engine design could cut into cockpit space, which was already rather small.
  • The design could make the engine a hassle to service.
  • There wasn’t a big demand for it among die hard Corvette fans.
  • It could radically change the whole car’s aesthetic design, which was already very effective.

The idea of a mid-engine Corvette remained on the back burner until the 2000s. The engineers at Chevrolet realized that a mid-engine Corvette would bring a lot of great benefits. The rear weight bias would allow it to compete with European supercars.

Unfortunately, Zora Arkus-Duntov wasn’t able to see his dream become a reality because he passed away in 1996.

The father of the Corvette designed the first mid-engine Corvette prototype 60 years before it went into production. Let’s take a look at all the mid-engine Corvette prototypes that paved the way to the the 2020 C8.

A Brief History of the Mid-Engine Corvette: the Radical Prototypes


Here’s a timeline of the mid-engine Corvette prototypes that inspired the first ever mid-engine Corvette to hit the assembly line:

1959: The R Car

59 R Car

The idea of the mid-engine Corvette was manifested in a 1959 R car, an open wheel one-seater that raced Grand Prix in Riverside, California in 1960.

1964: CERV-II

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Image Credit: Michael Furman Courtesy of RM Auctions

With this one, Duntov’s goal was to build a LeMans type of car designed just for endurance racing. Unfortunately, GM nixed the idea to put this car into production because there were concerns about the engine placement. Only one prototype was created, and it was used for demonstration and testing. A private buyer eventually acquired it. In 2013, the car was sold in an auction for 1.1 million dollars.

1968: XP-880 Astro II

Astro 2

Image Credit: GM Authority

When the third generation rolled around, Duntov set out to make the mid-engine layout the norm for Corvettes, but Chevrolet had different plans. However, this prototype was still created. The XP-880 Astro II produced 390 horsepower, which was a pretty big deal in the 1960s, and it was the first mid-engine Corvette to be designed for personal driving (rather than racing).

1970: XP-882

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Image Credit: AutomobileMag

15 years before Back to the Future turned the DeLorean into a widely recognized (and often coveted) car, Duntov built this prototype. Ironiocally, John Z. DeLorean was the company’s general manager at the time, and he nixed the project. Duntov still found a way around him and he was able to debut one of the prototypes of this car in the 1970 New York Auto Show. The press loved it, and Mr. DeLorean was forced to allow the project to continue. Unfortunately, it fizzled out (along with some other Corvette projects) due to the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

1972-1973: XP-895 and Reynolds Aluminum Corvette


Image Credit: Remarkable Corvettes

Chevrolet wanted to make the 1972 Corvette more European looking. However, that plan backfired on them because the design was slower and heavier than the XP-882. This led to Chevrolet coming out with a lighter body made by aluminum supplied by Reynolds. It was a whopping 450 pounds lighter than its predecessor.

1973: XP-897 and the Four-Rotor Corvette

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Image Credit: Hemmings

1973 was a busy year for Duntov. Despite the Arab oil embargo going on that same year, Duntov still released two prototypes of the mid-engine Corvette:

  1. XP-897: Also called the Two-Rotor Corvette, this protoype was radical because it featured a two-rotor Wankel engine. It was built on a Porsche 914 chassis, and it sported a Pininfarina body. It was supposed to be a preview of a new sub-Corvette model to be launched to the public in 1975, but Chevrolet killed the project before it could become a reality.
  2. Four-Rotor Corvette: This prototype was even more radical than the Two-Rotor Corvette. It featured two dual-rotor Wankle engines producing 420 horsepower, and it had gullwing doors. The drivetrain wasn’t well received inside GM, but the styling was executed very well. Even the biggest skeptics at Chevrolet liked the concept car so much that they wanted to put it on the back burner until after the oil crisis. This masterpiece was never launched because Duntov left Chevrolet in 1975. The body was later used for the Aerovette.

1977: Aerovette


Image Credit: Corvsport

When Chevrolet was finally ready to release a mid-engine Corvette (due to increasing interest in mid-engines in the Corvette world), Duntov had already left and the rotary engines developed in 1973 had become outdated. Chevrolet’s engineers spent about 4 years developing a new V-8 powertrain and redesigning the Four-Rotor Corvette. The end result? The 1977 Aerovette. Unfortunately, GM got new leadership and they nixed the project in order to save money. Instead of getting this Corvette, the public got the C4.

1986: Corvette Indy


Image Credit: Autoblog

Aptly called the Corvette Indy, this prototype looks like it came straight from the distant future. GM wanted to release a Corvette model that was groundbreaking and packed with all the new technologies they had developed in the recent years. Situated behind the seats, Chevrolet’s new Indy 2.64 Twin Turbo V8 engine powered this work of art and gave it a massive 600 horsepower. This radical concept car was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and it was a huge hit among attendees. It sparked a lot of interest in the idea of a mid-engine Corvette. However, GM decided not to put this car into production.

1990: CERV-III

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Image Credit: Supercars

The engineers of this concept car borrowed a lot of aspects of the Corvette Indy’s design. However, it was a lot more road-friendly than the Corvette Indy. Its V8 engine produced 650 horsepower. It was a great contender for the 1990 Corvette lineup, but for some reason GM decided not to go ahead with this design.

2020: C8 Corvette

Corvette C8

The 2020 C8 with the Q8P wheels.

Chevrolet finally decided to launch the first ever production mid-engine Corvette! The C8 Corvette is an iconic work of art that produces 450 horsepower and offers amazing wheel options. Despite the fact that this Corvette won’t be available until early 2020, it’s already nearly sold out.

We’re elated that the mid-engine Corvette is finally available. It’s 60 years overdue, but better late than never.