The Nine Mid-Engine Corvettes that Led to the C8

This isn't the first time a Corvette has put the engine behind the driver.

The mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is finally here—and it's been a long time in the making. With mid-engine dynamics and performance a personal obsession of Corvette legend (and the car's first chief engineer) Zora Arkus-Duntov since the 1950s, a Vette with its engine behind the driver always seemed to be just around the corner, with GM launching several dream cars over the ensuing decades that teased the layout. To wit: this list of nine prototypes, show cars, and engineering testbeds that paved the way for the production 2020 C8. The corner has officially been turned.

CERV II

If a mid-engine Corvette seems a revolutionary idea in 2019, imagine how the car that would become the CERV II prototype must have seemed in the early 1960s. By then, it had become abundantly clear to Belgian-born General Motors engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov that the future of serious performance sports and racing cars was rooted in mid-engine chassis architecture. Arkus-Duntov, a man known now as the "Father of the Corvette," had been hired at GM in 1953 just after Chevrolet had launched its new Corvette sports car, and by 1955 he was the brand's high-performance director, bringing V-8 power to the two-seat roadster for the first time.  A handful of years later, in 1960, he had developed CERV I, the first Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle that, like a growing number of contemporary race cars, had its engine mounted behind the driver but ahead of the rear wheels. [Full Story HERE]

XP-880 Astro II

For a period starting in the late 1960s, it looked like everyone was going mid-engine. After Lamborghini turned the world on its head with the excruciatingly beautiful Miura in 1966, mid-mounted drivetrain layouts became de rigueur in 1970s supercars. Ferrari followed suit with the 206 Dino and later 365 GT4 BB, Lancia with the Stratos, and even Maserati joined the fray in 1971 with the mid-engined Bora. It wasn't just the Italians, either—Mercedes-Benz tested the handsome C111 platform, and later BMW launched the M1. If there was a high-performance, high-dollar car in the 1970s, you can be sure the automaker at least tested a mid-engine platform. [Full Story HERE]

XP-882 Mid-Engine Corvette Prototype

April 2, 1970 was a notable day for Corvette fans, as the XP-882 mid-engine Corvette concept made a surprise appearance, wowing the crowds at the New York auto show. Even this early in the mid-engine Corvette story, such a model had already taken on mythical status among the faithful, and the XP-882's drop-dead looks gave Corvette lovers everything they didn't even know they wanted. And then some. [Full Story HERE]

XP-987 GT (Two-Rotor Corvette)

Felix Wankel's rotary engine, a version of which would power the car that would become the Two-Rotor Corvette, was billed as the next big thing for a time. Germany's NSU and Japan's Mazda were the first to build Wankel rotary-powered production cars beginning in 1967. Mercedes-Benz experimented with a rotary in its C111 supercar testbed of 1970, the same year Mazda entered the North American market and quickly made a splash among enthusiasts with its Cosmo sport coupe. Mazda also used versions of the engine to power the RX-2, RX-3, RX-4, and Rotary Pickup truck. [Full Story HERE]

XP-895 Reynolds Aluminum Corvette Prototype

During his tenure as the general manager of Chevrolet, John Z. DeLorean always seemed to have his eye fixed on something over the horizon. After the Corvette XP-882 mid-engine prototype chassis improvements were approved (the 882 would morph into the XP-895), DeLorean authorized the design team headed by Bill Mitchell to create a new body for the updated prototype. Something rounder, with big wheel flares, a sugar scoop rear roof treatment, and NACA ducts on the hood. [Full Story HERE]

Four-Rotor Corvette Prototype

Famed Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov absolutely did not want to do the Wankel-rotary-engine-powered Four-Rotor Corvette project, which itself was an evolution of the mid-engine XP-882 prototype. With his retirement looming, the window of opportunity for a mid-engine Corvette was narrowing. Familiar with the Wankel engine since 1955, Duntov knew that the basic design was inefficient because of the surface-to-volume ratio in the combustion chamber. Additionally, the Chevy Vega was scheduled to be the first Wankel-powered car produced by General Motors and Duntov didn't want the Corvette to be powered by a Vega engine. But GM president at the time Ed Cole was hot on the Wankel and tactically said, "yes" to the mid-engine Corvette, but only with a Wankel in the middle. Duntov had no choice. [Full Story HERE]

Chevrolet Aerovette

By 1976, the Chevrolet Corvette, once "America's Sports Car," had been well and truly neutered. The C3 Corvette launched in 1968 had started off well enough, with svelte chrome bumpers, curvaceous styling borrowed from 1965's Mako Shark II concept, and a standard 300-hp, 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine. GM's engineers had even developed a "for racing only" L88 engine: a 430-hp, 427-cubic-inch V-8 that many say was closer to a 500-hp, 500-lb-ft monster in reality. [Full Story HERE]

Corvette Indy

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. [Full Story HERE]

CERV III

Of all the mid-engine Corvette prototypes, the 1990 CERV III was arguably the closest one to reaching production reality. The third Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle was an evolution of the 1986 Corvette Indy, and while it was intended as GM's showpiece for the 1990 Detroit auto show, many of its elements indicated the possibility of a production-ready car. [Full Story HERE]