The long and winding road to the mid-engine C8 Corvette
Dateline 7.18.19 – The waiting is finally over! The “pie-in-the-sky” dream of Zora Arkus-Duntov of a mid-engine high-performance sports car wearing a Corvette badge has arrived. The journey to the mid-engine C8 was long, very long.
The C7 Corvette debuted on January 13, 2013 and by the end of April 2013, Chevrolet announced pricing and hard details. By the third quarter of 2013 C7 deliveries began. Then on August 14, 2014, less than a year after C7 production began, Motor Trend announced online, “SCOOP! Mid-Engine Chevrolet Corvette is a Go”.
I said, “HUH?!?!? The C7 just came out. Come on, quit it with the mid-engine tease!
That was almost five years ago and Corvette fans were tortured mercilessly with rumors, spy images, and 3D renderings. It seemed like “The Never-ending C8 Mid-Engine Corvette Story”. Oh, sure! And now, here we are. The journey to the C8 mid-engine Corvette has become epic.
Duntov passed on in 1996, so we can’t ask him exactly when did he first want a mid-engine Corvette. Duntov knew all about mid-engine sports racing cars dating back to the late 1930s. He built the mid-engine CERV-I in 1959/1960 and the mid-engine, all-wheel-drive CERV-II in 1963/1964.
There were numerous mid-engine cars built at the GM Tech Center in the 1960s that were not specifically Duntov’s cars. The first running, “Duntov” mid-engine vehicle that wore the classic Corvette cross-flags was the 1970 XP-882. This car seriously looked like a Corvette. The 1968 Astro-II looked like a Corvette, but that was R&D chief engineer Frank Winchell’s car. But Duntov got to carry the mid-engine torch.
When Duntov retired and handed over the reins to new chief Corvette engineer Dave McLellan, he told the new chief, “Dave, you must do mid-engine.” Although Duntov was a corporate anomaly during his 21-1/2 years at Chevrolet and many didn’t miss him, he definitely had the hearts of legions of Corvette fans and many GM and Chevrolet insiders.
In 1992 Corvette engineers and managers put three unique proposals on the table for consideration for the C5 Corvette. The three concepts included; the mid-engine CERV-III, a stiffer, lighter, restyled version of the C4, and the “Momentum Architecture”. The CERV-III was too expensive and no one wanted the “stiffer-lighter” concept. The Momentum Architecture design won the contest and became the C5. The C6 and C7 designes are advanced, improved designs of the basic C5 structure.
Jim Perkins was the general manager of Chevrolet in the early ’90s and out of respect for Duntov, he invited the great man to see Dave Hill’s presentation to GM leaders to review past, current, and potential future Corvette designs. Zora didn’t say much.
According to the Motor Trend post on May 4, 2014 titled, “How the C5 Chevrolet Corvette Was Saved”, Perkins had the following exchanges with Duntov a few days later.
“Two or three days later, he called and said [imitating Duntov’s Eastern European accent], “Jim, I look at new Corvette architecture, and I am surprised. No mid-engine.” I said, “No, no mid-engine.” He asked, “Why? Why you make decision no mid-engine? You should fight for mid-engine.”
I said, “Zora, I might as well be fighting the wind. I’m not going to win that one. We’ve got the program, we’re going to go forward with it, we have a great architecture that we’re pretty well settled on.” He said, “No, Jim, you must raise issue of mid-engine.” I said, “OK, fine.”
He said, “I would like to come see you.” I said, “Well, I’m pretty busy, but my secretary will try to find a time.” I thought he was going to come in just to talk, but when he walked in that morning, he had a role of stuff under his arm. He said, “I am here to talk about mid-engine car.” I said. “OK, but I don’t know what there is to talk about.”
He rolled out these plans that he had done himself, and started talking about this mid-engine architecture. I said, “Zora, I’d like to sit here and talk with you about this, but I’m very busy, I have other things I need to do. Nothing has changed. We are not going to do a mid-engine.”
He said, “You are not going to fight for mid-engine?” I said, “No, sir. I am not. It’s a waste of time and effort. There is just no point in trying to do it. I know you’re passionate about it, and you’re probably right, but we just cannot do it.” He said, “OK.” And he rolled up his plans, put them under his arm and said, “You are not going to build mid-engine. I will raise the money, and I will build the son-of-a-bitch myself.” And he walked out of the office.”
After decades of jaw, jaw, jaw about a factory production mid-engine Corvette, it is finally here. Some time this summer the last front-engine Corvette will roll off the Bowling Green assembly line, closing the long chapter on front-engine Corvettes. Wherever Duntov’s spirit is in The Multiverse or out there in the Either, we all hope that he is happy that his production mid-engine Corvette is finally a reality. – Scott