Corvette Oddball: Did GM ever consider a rear engine Vette?
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Quirky Vette Factoids
Question: Did GM’s Chevrolet ever seriously consider a “rear-engine” Corvette?
By K. Scott Teeters, creator of Illustrated Corvette Series as seen in Vette Magazine
Answer: Ah… yes, but fortunately, not seriously. I covered this unusual engineering study car in The Illustrated Corvette Series as installment No. 42. Take note of how tiny the car was. Here’s the story…
Car companies make prototype cars all the time. Most of these machines are never shown to the public. Corvette prototype cars often become very high-profile machines. Only a few were never shown, for good reason. The XP-819 was an engineering study used to prove a point concerning the correct direction for future Corvette development.
The XP-819 was the result of a clash between Zora Arkus-Duntov and engineer Frank Winchell, who’d been involved with the Corvair project. Winchell contended that you could make a balanced, rear-engine, V-8 powered sports car by using an aluminum engine and larger tires on the rear to compensate for the rear weight bias. Duntov adamantly disagreed. A loose design was drawn that received some very unflattering comments from Duntov and Dave McLellan. Winchell asked designer Larry Shinoda if he could make something beautiful with the layout, to which Shinoda told him that a tape drawing could be shown after lunch. Shinoda and designer John Schinella sketched out the basic shape shown here. Duntov asked Shinoda, “Where did you cheat?”
It didn’t look “too bad”, so a working prototype was ordered. Shinoda supervised the styling and Larry Nies’ team of fabricators built the car. In only two months the XP-819 was on the test track.
It turned out that Winchell’s theory about rear-engine, V-8 cars didn’t work out very well. However, Shinoda’s design was well received. They were obviously into the “shark thing” and picked up styling points from the Chaparral cars. It even had wheels from a Chaparral.
This car was definitely a Corvette, even though the back end was big. Unfortunately, with all that weight behind the rear axle, it was only a matter of time before it crashed during a high-speed lane change test. The question of stability was answered, and the XP-819 was send off the the scrap bin…almost.
Oddly enough, GM sent the car to Smokey Yunick’s shop in Daytona, Florida. The chassis was cut in half and usable parts were removed. What was left was stored in an unused paint booth as just “old junk.” Years later, a Corvette collector was buying some parts from Yunick and offered to buy the junked XP-819.
So the pile of car scrap was rebuilt and finished as a street-able car, like a kit car. A cast-iron V-8 was used in place of the original all-aluminum engine. We’re talking serious rear weight bias here. It’s quick and now does awesome wheelies!
The XP-819 Rear-Engine Corvette was certainly one of the most unusual Corvette engineering study cars. Another aspect of the story is that it shows that Zora Arkus-Duntov wasn’t the only engineer with designs for the Corvette. In The Illustrated Corvette Series No. 151, I covered three Corvette engineering study cars that were the work of Frank Winchell’s design group. The layout is shown to the side and you can read the entire story here…
Frank Winchell worked very closely with Jim Hall to assist in the development of Hall’s early Chaparral cars. Hall still has many of his old race cars and a few years ago started making new Chaparral 2E cars. How cool is that?!
Corvette Oddball by K.Scott Teeters
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