Chevy’s Experimental Vehicles Paved The Way For The Mid-Engined Corvette C8

It took Chevrolet 60 years to launch its first mid-engined Corvette, but that doesn’t mean the thought of a midship layout wasn’t planted in engineers’ minds right from the beginning.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, widely regarded as the father of the ‘Vette, was fascinated from an early age by mid-engine vehicles such as the Auto Union Type C and Type D Grand Prix racing cars. A brilliant engineer, he had a wealth of knowledge which he applied in his auto racing activities and engineering consultancy in automotive and aeronautics.

But it’s with General Motors that his career blossomed. When he started working on May 1, 1953, the original Corvette concept had already been presented four months earlier at the Motorama in New York City.

Also Read: Iconic CERV I Sells For $1.32 Million At Auction

1960 CERV I, 1990 CERV III, and 1964 CERV II mid-engine experimental research vehicles

The design study fascinated him and was probably what brought him to GM in the first place. During his time there he helped Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole turn his proposed Small Block V-8 into a viable technology for the Corvette later that decade.

1960 CERV I

He never forgot those mid-engine European racers, though, so in his position as Corvette chief engineer he pursued the midship layout through various concepts, like the CERV I created in 1960.

Duntov described the CERV I as “a design without limit” and an “admirable tool” that showed Chevrolet “what to put in Corvette.” During its lifespan, it featured seven different engine combinations. However, the original powertrain, a Small Block V8 with a lightweight aluminum core, can be seen as the forefather of the one on the 2020 Corvette Stingray.

1964 CERV II

Four years later, Duntov’s team created the CERV II concept which was envisioned by Duntov and Chevrolet General Manager Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen as a challenger for Sebring, Le Mans, and other races. This research vehicle not only featured torque converters front and rear, but also the first-ever mid-engine four-wheel-drive system, for which Duntov held the patent.

1990 CERV III

GM’s most recent attempt at a mid-engine vehicle came much later in the form of the 1990 CERV III concept built together with Lotus. Unlike its predecessors, CERV III was more of a road car than a track performer. Actually, Chevrolet intended it as a development vehicle to evaluate mid-engine structures as well as explore future levels of performance.

We’re talking very serious levels as CERV III packed a twin-turbocharged 5.7-liter Small Block V8 engine that made 650 horsepower and 655 lb-ft (888 Nm) of torque.

While none of the experimental research vehicles made it to production, many of the solutions they proposed were adopted by the 2020 Corvette Stingray. Until his retirement from GM in 1975, Arkus-Duntov saw the mid-engine layout with the engine mounted ahead of the rear axle as the optimal configuration for weight distribution, excellent handling, and forward visibility.

However, implementation proved problematic from a mass manufacturing standpoint. GM encountered issues with engine cooling, limited passenger and luggage space, noise, and the inability to produce a convertible variant. After six decades, advances in technology helped engineers and designers of the 2020 Corvette Stingray solve all these problems. These are historic days for Corvette fans and for automobile enthusiasts in general and we should all enjoy them.

 

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  • RV9161

    I’m digging this 1990 CERV III more than the new C8…

    • Porkopolis

      CERV III is a very solid design for 1990. I’d be interested to know how close they got to pulling the trigger and putting it into production.

      • ejd1984

        From what I remember reading at the time, it was really the corporate bean counters that killed the CERV III. The car was nearly production ready.

        The consolation is that the overall styling made it to the next vette.

  • javier

    if only they could have used those smooth lines, oh well

  • Smartypants

    Wow that CERV I is a beautiful little beast

  • I ALWAYS LIKED THE CERV III. A LOT SHARPER THAN WHAT THEY FINALLY RELEASE 30 YRS LATER.

    • Thunderbolt

      according to Corvette documentary, its body structure used carbon fiber pretty much where it can be used.

  • kachuks

    That CERV III oddly reminds me of a McLaren Speedtail.

  • That 1990 CERV III is actually very nice.

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