THE AEROVETTE WAS THE MID-ENGINED CORVETTE THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE
The Audrain Automotive Museum houses some of the most recognizable concepts in GM's history. The EV-1, the Cadillac Sixteen and others are strewn about the showroom floor exemplifying the company's ability to make outlandish concepts. One in particular stands out among the rest - specifically in the context of the new Corvette's release.
The Aerovette sits close to the main entrance, a sitting representation of a seriously inventive brainstorming session. Thanks to the Gas Crisis, the 1975 Corvette was making just 165 horsepower from 350 cubic inches. The average age of the Corvette buy was ascending as fast as its horsepower numbers were decreasing. Chrome bumpers were being replaced with plastic to comply with safety standards and the American sports car was dying inside.
While this disaster was unfolding, the father of the Corvette Zora Arkus-Duntov was working without resolve to develop a mid-engined Corvette. Unfortunately, he had not made any progress. By 1975, Arkus-Duntov had given up and decided to retire. However in 1976, a year before Arkus-Duntov's final goodbye to Chevrolet, GM styling boss Bill Mitchell suddenly decided he loved the idea of a mid-engined Corvette.
After going through the same designs he had rejected in the past, Mitchell dug up the three-year-old XP-895 mid-engine prototype from GM's storage. This design has a GM licensed 420 horsepower four-rotor engine. After review the - and say it with me now - Wankel engine was scrapped and replaced with a 6.6-liter V8.
Mitchell took inspiration from mid-engined Italian sports cars at the time to shape the new Aerovette. The mid-engined, gullwing-door having concept was then shipped off to be shown around the auto-show circuit. Once again, enthusiasts and automotive media alike were asking if they would actually see a mid-engined Corvette see production.
Of course being the wise people of the future that we are, the outcome is easy to predict. Arkus-Duntov's replacement Dave McLellan decided that the mid-engined Corvette wasn't a good idea. Cost and tradition got in the way of seeing a new form for the American sports car.
Seeing the Aerovette in person was a uniquely eye opening experience. It showed what could have been possible if inventive people were allowed to have more leeway with their creations. Not only were we close to having a mid-engined Corvette as early as the C4 generation, but there was a possibility for rotary power in the legendary sports car.
Unfortunately a combination of corporate regulation, the demand to meet numbers and quotas and the realization of the collective automotive world - excluding Mazda - that rotary engines were completely impractical, killed that vision. We now have the coveted mid-engined Corvette and as of writing, it seems to have the capabilities to impress. We'll have to wait for proper tests and reviews but maybe it was for the best. Maybe the Corvette needed time to refine itself and its design before going Mambo Italiano.