Blame it all on Corvette patron saint Zora Arkus-Duntov. Roughly half-way through his too-short 21 years at GM, Arkus-Duntov concluded that a mid-engined Corvette was the ideal way to keep performance on an upward swing. His experiments and project cars investigating that approach should have paved the way to a production model with the engine positioned closer to the drive wheels. Unfortunately, when Arkus-Duntov retired at the end of 1974, most of the passion for the mid-engined Corvette departed with him. While successive chief engineers have periodically toyed with the idea, none have succeeded in aligning the necessary technology with a business case and corporate politics.
Join with us now as we traipse the long and winding road of mid-engined Corvette milestones. What better time than 50 years after Arkus-Duntov risked his career playing with a single-seat experimental racer that bore little resemblance to production Corvettes?
CERV 1 The idea of moving the engine behind the cockpit entered Arkus-Duntov's fertile imagination at Sebring in 1957 when the hastily prepared Corvette SS sports racer parboiled driver John Fitch's feet. Were it not for a failed suspension bushing after 23 laps of the 5.2-mile airport course, Fitch may not be walking today. Instead of lining the magnesium bodywork with insulation to block the engine and exhaust heat, Arkus-Duntov shrewdly concluded that the wiser solution would be to relocate the furnace...away from the driver.
Work began on a project car to study the feasibility of a mid-engine layout. Strictly speaking, the resulting Chevrolet Experimental Racing Vehicle (CERV) was not a Corvette. But the fact that this car pioneered the independent rear suspension that did make production for the 1963 model year establishes a clear lineage between the racer and the road car.
CERV was constructed with a steel-tubing space frame supporting two lateral fuel cells, a fuel-injected 4.6-liter (283 cubic inch) mostly aluminum V-8, and a four-speed transaxle. Sandwiching the gearbox between the engine and a Halibrand differential moved the driver's seat well forward in the 96-inch-long wheelbase. Sixty percent of the car's 1450-pound dry weight rested on the rear wheels. With 353 horsepower on tap, CERV's performance was exemplary.
Arkus-Duntov aspired to campaign CERV at Indianapolis if and when GM dropped its ban on direct racing involvement. In the fall of 1960, the car demonstrated competitive speed climbing Pikes Peak. Following limited race track tuning, it made a few demonstration laps before the US Grand Prix at Riverside, California. That prompted a name change - from Racing to Research - as a nod to GM's no-racing edict. To close out the CERV 1 era in a memorable way, Arkus-Duntov installed a 6.2-liter small-block V-8 and toured the five-mile circular track in Milford, Michigan, at 206 mph.
CERV I was donated to the Briggs Cunningham Automotive Museum in 1972. It's currently owned by Corvette enthusiast Mike Yager and is available for inspection at his My Garage museum in Effingham, Illinois.