Typically, once a prototype or experimental car has outlived its usefulness, automakers have them crushed for liability and copyright reasons – but there are a few exceptions. The 1964 Chevrolet XP-819, part of a string of sports car prototypes crafted in pursuit of a mid-engine Corvette, is one example, and it’ll be displayed this March at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
While Corvette chief engineer/ patron saint Zora Arkus-Duntov was keen on the idea of a mid-engine sports car, Frank Winchell – the man in charge of Chevrolet’s formidable R&D group (and its underground racing activities) felt differently. Winchell felt it was feasible to build a true rear-engine car, hanging the engine out the tail of the car like a Porsche 911.
Duntov was opposed to the idea, citing both poor weight distribution and ungainly packaging (“it would be very ugly duckling,” he once reportedly quipped.). Winchell felt otherwise, and had stylist Larry Shinoda start working on a proposal. Like several of Shinoda’s other concepts of the era, the 819 used a slender, pointed nose and a cockpit pushed to the aft end of the car. Winchell’s team moved the radiator to the front of the car (hence the large hood scoop), and placed a marine-spec, reverse-rotation small-block V-8 – mated to a two-speed transaxle – aft of the rear axle.
Once Duntov signed off on the preliminary design, XP 819 was built into a functional prototype. To help offset the car’s rear weight bias, the prototype utilized larger tires and wheels on the rear axle. This reportedly helped – in a interview with the Corvette Action Center, Shinoda said the car could pull up to 1G on the skid pad, but only with the staggered wheel sizes. After one engineer allegedly installed equal-sized rolling stock at all four corners, the handling worsened, and the car was wrecked.
Per GM convention, the car was ordered to be cut sold for scrap, but that didn’t exactly happen. Thanks to his backdoor ties to Chevy’s R&D operations, racer Smokey Yunick inherited the remnants of XP-819 (this wasn’t uncommon; he also inherited an aborted open-wheel racer that Chaparral’s Franz Weis later adapted for Formula A racing). The car sat in his shop for several years, until a Chevrolet dealer discovered and purchased the car in the late 1970s. It has since been reassembled and resold several times, but it is now owned by Mid America Motorworks founder Mike Yager.
Normally part of Yeager’s personal museum collection, the XP-819 will be shipped off to Florida early next year for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance – much to the delight of show organizer Bill Warner.
“So many valuable prototypes disappear or end up in the junk yard once their usefulness ends,” Warner said in a prepared release. “I’m glad this one made it back to tell its story. It’s a unique piece of GM heritage and a design that might have worked if it had more development and testing time.”
The 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance runs from March 9-11, and will be held at The Golf Club of Amelia Island in Florida. For more information, please visit www.AmeliaConcours.org.