2002 Chevrolet Corvette Long Term Road Test


2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: Midengine Corvette C5

October 15, 2010

1986 Corvette Indy Concept Car by GM.jpg

The Corvette C5's shape doesn't strike me as anything special until I see the Corvette C6, which looks too much much like the Mattel Hot Wheels that my kid used to get at Target.

But I remember the concept car that inspired the Corvette C5, the Corvette Indy concept car which appeared at the 1986 Detroit auto show.

Those were great days in Detroit. The Corvette had just been reinvented and was proving unstoppable in street-stock road racing. The Camaro and Firebird had been reinvented as well and were making the Porsche 928 look stupid.

Anything seemed possible, even a midengine sports car like the Corvette Indy.

CERV III Concept Car 1995 by GM.jpg

The Corvette engineering group had been talking about a midengine car since the early 1960s, when GM R&D hooked up with Jim Hall's Chaparral racing team to study its midengine Can-Am racing cars. And when midengine sports cars suddenly became popular in the late 1960s and then GM bought rights to develop the Wankel rotary engine, a midengine Corvette seemed to be right round the corner.

Unfortunately, Frank Winchell's Chevrolet R&D group encountered jealousy from Zora Arkus-Duntov's Corvette group and there were so many proposals and counter-proposals that the GM execs didn't know what to think and then the fuel crisis came along and suddenly there was no GM development money to do something so radical as a midengine Corvette.

All that changed by the 1980s and a midengine Corvette looked to be on the table again. Jerry Palmer, the most gifted designer of the time at GM, created a sleek shape and the Corvette Indy appeared on a stand at the 1986 Detroit auto show with a small-displacement, DOHC Lotus V8, all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, and computer-style instrument screens.

The Corvette Indy evolved into the CERV III (Corporate Engineering Research Vehicle) that appeared at the 1990 Detroit auto show, continuing the tradition of CERV experimental vehicles produced by the Corvette group. It packed a twin-turbo version of the Lotus-engineered 5.7-liter, 32-valve, DOHC, LT5 V8 that produced 650 hp and also featured all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, active suspension, ABS brakes and traction control.

But in the end, the midengine Corvette didn't get built and the styling cues of the Corvette Indy found their way to the Corvette C5 and refreshed Camaro and Firebird.

I don't expect a midengine Corvette to be built anytime in the future. While the midengine concept seems sexy, a front-engine Corvette is not only more practical in terms of packaging but also far more friendly to drive in every way.

Anyway, whenever I see the Z06 in the parking garage, I seem to look past the Corvette C5 and see instead the midengine Corvette that will never be built.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com

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