Golden Jubilee of Mid-Engined Corvettes

Don Sherman

XP-895 DeLorean's engineering background and broad base of influential contacts proved instrumental in moving the mid-engined Corvette idea another major step forward. The Reynolds Metals Company was persuaded to craft an aluminum body to explore how much weight could be saved.

With a driveline carried over from XP-882, the finished spot-welded and adhesive-bonded aluminum prototype weighed about 3000 pounds, a savings of 450 pounds over a steel-bodied car.

This time around, the red light was cost. The extra expense of aluminum over steel or fiberglass would drive the price of a Corvette beyond the reach of its traditional customers. Soliciting bids from European suppliers was also tried to no avail.

Stored out-of-doors for years, the cast-aside XP-895 prototype was eventually rescued and refurbished to become an admired member of GM's heritage collection.

TWO-ROTOR XP-987 Originally planned as a successor to the Opel GT, the Corvette 2-Rotor show car was an expeditiously rebodied and repowered Porsche 914. An attractive GM-designed two-place coupe body was constructed by Pininfarina in a mere three months. In the fall of 1973, this stunning red prototype appeared at the Frankfurt auto show to herald GM's profound interest in Wankel rotary engines.

The smooth rotary powerplant developed 180 horsepower at 6100 rpm and redlined at 8500 rpm. Teamed with a 2600 pound curb weight, the engine delivered acceptable but not sparkling performance. Predictably, Arkus-Duntov had a more creative solution in mind.

After its show car service ended, the Corvette 2-rotor was rescued from the crusher by Tom Falconer, a British car collector.

FOUR-ROTOR In 1972, under Arkus-Duntov's direction, GM engineer Gib Hufstader crammed a pair of rotary engines into XP-882's engine bay. That package constituted the largest Wankel ever installed in an automobile; the estimated output was 350 hp at 7000 rpm.

GM's design staff contributed one of the most spectacular wrappers to ever wear a Corvette nameplate. The windshield was creased along its centerline and canted back a steep 72 degrees. The radically low and pointed nose was accompanied by a sharp, sleek tail. The gull-wing doors gracefully folded as they opened to provide easy reach in the raised position.

Presented with the 2-Rotor, the remarkable 4-Rotor Corvette made its debut at the 1973 Paris Salon. Just over a year later, a fastidiously crafted scale model of the car was presented to Arkus-Duntov as a retirement gift. During a visit to his home years later, Arkus-Duntov pointed to his treasure and announced that the 4-Rotor was his all-time favorite Corvette.

Even before Arkus-Duntov's departure, GM's entire rotary engine program had been shelved. To keep the much loved gull wing design flying for a few more years, the two rotaries were plucked from the engine bay and replaced by a conventional small-block V-8. Renamed Aerovette, this prototype is currently in the GM heritage collection.

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