TUSTIN, CA – 66 years ago a concept car shown at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York created so much buzz, it was entered into production a mere 6 months later. That car was the first-generation C1 Corvette. Only 300 were built that year. All were white with a red interior and all were convertible. The body was crafted from lightweight fiberglass instead of steel and the only powerplant initially offered was a 150-hp straight-6.
The design caught the eye of a young Belgian engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, who shortly thereafter obtained a position within GM that would allow him to work directly on the C1. He would eventually become the director of high-performance vehicles for Chevrolet.
Arkus-Duntov also an accomplished racecar driver had higher aspirations for the Corvette. His mission was to turn it into a true sports car that could hang with the best from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz.
His main obsession would come after a failed racing effort with the Corvette SS XP-64, a tube-framed, magnesium-bodied racecar that showed enormous potential but ultimately succumbed to a hodge-podge of mechanical and electrical issues after just 23 laps at the 1957 12 hours of Sebring.
Arkus-Duntov realized that in order to be more competitive, a racer with the engine mounted behind the driver was necessary. In 1960 he commissioned the first of the Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicles (CERV). There would be three over the years, two made during his tenure at GM, all of them with mid-mounted engines.
Each had the potential for production but none would make it to an assembly line. Whether that was due to company politics, or financial troubles Arkus-Duntov’s dream of a mid-engine Corvette wouldn’t be realized during his lifetime.
But he left behind a legacy, one that was picked up by a young assistant engineer by the name of Tadge Juechter. Juechter shared Arkus-Duntov’s passion for a mid-engine ‘Vette, working behind the scenes to bring his vision to life once again.
Now, 66 years after that show car wowed the public in New York City the C8 is finally here. And while some might say that a mid-engine Corvette isn’t a true Corvette at all, history will argue that this is the way it was always meant to be.
No more camo-wrapped test mules, no more speculation. The Corvette has gone exotic. And here’s what you need to know about it.
Unveiled to a large group of dealers, owners, and media in an enormous hangar in Orange County, the torch red 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray strutted on stage introduced by GM boss Mark Reuss.
Engine placement is one of the biggest influences on car design and shifting it behind the driver has automatically given the C8 supercar proportions. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the Ferrari 488, especially in that red hue.
The designers have still managed to keep the essence of the Corvette. The car appears wide, wider than it was before and the lack of an engine up front brings a distinctive wedge shape that makes the C8 look like its moving even when sitting still.
Sharp side creases, a double-bubble roof and tight muscular proportions make the bodywork appear as if it has been shrink-wrapped over the mechanicals.
Prominent side intakes offer another clue to engine placement and the new design allows for a surprising amount of practicality that is an uncommon feature in this class of car. The new Corvette doesn’t just have a trunk in the front, but it has one in the back as well that can not only hold the requisite golf bags but also store the removable roof panel.
The main structure is crafted from six die-cast aluminium parts. The body is made from a fibreglass and resin combo and a super-strong central tunnel forms the backbone of the Corvette. Unlike some other mid-engine supercars that utilize a tub chassis, the C8 has remarkably low side sills making ingress and egress for the driver and passenger a cinch.
Once inside the cockpit that has been moved forward 16.5 inches, drivers will find an environment that is focused on one thing—driving. The lack of a motor upfront means a hood that appears to fall away, greatly improving outward visibility. The cowl and 12-inch customizable digital instrument panel are all set low, further improving vision and the driving experience.
The long strip of buttons on the centre console that house the climate control stack seems a bit odd, but an engineer explained that in order to maintain the excellent view out the front they had to get creative with the button placement. Still, you can’t help but wonder how it would work ergonomically in the real world.
For the first time, I can honestly say that material choice, build quality, and execution is the best I’ve ever seen on a Corvette. Seemingly few corners have been cut here, and even the headliner was covered in beautifully stitched leather. In fact, most every surface is covered in leather and if it looks like a part is made out of metal, it is.
This same attention to detail can be found throughout, especially in the engine bay where special attention was paid to every surface, every wire, every tube, and every connector.
Now for the bit that everyone wants to know about: the engine. Apart from the displacement which remains at 6.2 litres, almost every other component has been revised and renewed. An engine mounted dry-sump system with three scavenge pumps ensures consistent oiling of the critical bits even when cornering (on track, of course) at over 1 G.
Dubbed LT2, the new V8 delivers 495 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via a brand new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. A first for Chevrolet. A super-short first gear ensures preternatural acceleration. Gears 2-6 are also short to keep the ‘Vette in the powerband for spirited driving and track days. Tall 7th and 8th gears allow effortless cruising and excellent fuel economy.
Equipped with the Z51 performance pack the new Corvette Stingray can rocket to 100 km/h in under 3 seconds putting it in the same territory as some of the fastest supercars on the planet.
Engineers knew that the last-gen C7 ZR1 with its monstrous 755 hp was pushing the limits of front-engine design and that to move forward and make the Corvette a true world-beater a mid-engine placement would have to be employed and doing this has distinct advantages, not just for performance but driving feel as well. Equally important in high-performance vehicles.
An engine behind the driver means that a shorter, stronger, and stiffer steering rack can be utilized allowing for gnat-like responses to steering inputs. Moving the heavy engine into the middle also centralizes the mass, making for a car that is much more stable at high speeds. It also allows more agility and a feeling of rotating around the driver’s hips when cornering, in turn giving better seat-of-the-pants feel and more control. And the increased weight on the rear wheels means that you can use more of the available power more of the time. Rocketing out of a corner becomes a much more visceral experience.
The signature transverse leaf springs, a Corvette trademark, are no more. Replaced by a coil-over system front and rear. Engineers spent a considerable amount of time getting the geometry perfect making this not just the best handling Corvette but also the best riding one, aided by a revised and improved magnetic ride control system.
Also new is a front suspension lift system that can raise the nose by 40mm to facilitate making it over tall speed bumps, steep driveways, or other obstacles that can pose a hazard to the low front splitter. What’s cool about this system is that it is GPS enabled allowing up to 1000 different locations to be mapped by the driver. When the car approaches one of the mapped locations the C8 will automatically raise itself without any input from the driver.
But the Corvette just wouldn’t be a Corvette if it wasn’t an attainable car. The price of going mid-engine was the cause of much speculation and rumour. It was the one thing that could make or break the C8, no matter how good it turned out to be. And the biggest shock of the reveal came when Mr. Reuss announced that the 2020 Corvette Stingray would start at a price under $60,000 US. And while that hasn’t been finalized it is a remarkable number, one which had me poking, feeling, and prodding the car to try and see where the corners had been cut. But I really didn’t notice anything obvious.
The C8 can be ordered in one of 12 different colours, with 6 colour choices for the interior, and another 6 for the seatbelts. You can even choose the colour of the stitching ensuring that your new ‘Vette will not look like your neighbour’s.
I think Zora would be proud.