Imagine having the confidence of 1980s General Motors. The kind of confidence that bolsters you to design a svelte, tapered, mid-engined hypercar thing loaded to the gills with (then) ultra-advanced tech and a small-displacement V-8 designed primarily to race at the Indy 500, and then proudly proclaim that, yes, this may well be what the fifth-generation Corvette could look like.
This is exactly what happened back in 1986 with the mega-cool Corvette Indy concept. Of all the mid-engined Vette concepts, design studies, and engineering prototypes, the Indy and subsequent CERV III perhaps sting the sharpest as the ones that really should have been built. Instead, this pie-in-the-sky concept ended up primarily showcasing the engineering might of General Motors without the company having to bring all the resulting tech to market.
Aesthetically, the Indy remains one of the most striking Corvette concepts ever created. It’s a very long and lean supercar shape, like someone took a paring knife to a widened Jaguar XJ220. It’s the brainchild of former GM Design Vice President Chuck Jordan and staff GM designer Tom Peters, who saw it as a dramatic shell to house cutting-edge hardware without having to worry about ergonomics, windows that go up or down, or cockpit space.
The Indy’s party piece was the 2.65-liter twin-turbo Indy V-8, rumored to put down more than 600 horsepower. The engine was just one of the Corvette Indy’s many mind-boggling features. That aeronautical body shape was composed of Kevlar and carbon fiber, hiding a bespoke composite monocoque underneath. GM tapped Lotus for its active suspension, and added four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, traction control, and drive-by-wire steering,
Inside was just as future forward. Displays mounted on the door handled climate and entertainment info, while a rearview camera made sure that long rear end didn’t bump into anything. There’s even a center-mounted CRT cluster that displayed navigation, though during the mid-1980s GPS was limited to military use only. At Turin, Italy-based Cecomp, a full-scale clay model was mocked-up.
Allegedly, the Corvette Indy only took six weeks to go from clay to show car, and was ready for its debut at the 1986 Detroit auto show. Public reaction was strong, inspiring the team to create an additional two examples—one in fiberglass, and one used for testing and engineering. The fiberglass Indy was used mostly for publicity purposes, utilizing a more reliable 5.7-liter V-8. It’s not quite the same race-bred 600-hp stunner from the original concept car, but the Lotus-sourced 32-valve DOHC 5.7-liter still put down 380 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque, an engine that later wormed its way to production in the C4 ZR-1. The roadworthy Indy’s performance was strong, with zero to 60 mph allegedly taking less than five seconds and its top speed cracking 180 mph.
Apparently, the Corvette Indy greatly impressed the higher-ups in GM. So much so that the project continued, eventually evolving into the CERV III, a concept that almost made it to the factory floor. For now, the original mock-up Indy concept remains in the hallowed halls of the National Corvette Museum, and at least one of the running prototypes appears to be in the bowels of the GM Heritage Center, no doubt to be trotted out as the 2020 mid-engine Corvette takes its star turn.