Where should a Corvette’s engine be?
Historically, it has always been up front and usually under a rear-opening hood which made it easier to see the Corvette’s engine—a very American big V8 in all its insolently crude (pushrod, single cam, two-valve, and no turbo) glory.
This separated Corvette from European exotics, with their usually smaller, often-turbo’d and oh-so-sophisticated engines mounted behind the driver.
Chevy is about to reveal the 2020 Corvette.
The first mid-engined Corvette.
Will it still be a Corvette? In name certainly. But you can call something anything, and it isn’t necessarily the same thing anymore.
Back in the ’90s, Ford almost called what became the Probe — a front-drive car with a small V6, which at the time Ford thought was The Future — the new Mustang, which up to that point had always been a rear-drive car with an available V8. Mustang people got wind of the proposed alteration and made it very clear that anything front-wheel-drive and without an available V8 can’t be a Mustang, whatever you decide to call it.
Which is why Ford did a quick rethink and decided to call what they were putting together Probe and kept on building the Mustang, as before.
In name as well as fact.
Of course, the 2020 Corvette will be the fastest Corvette ever. Everything is very fast in the Corvette’s class. But until what’s coming, Corvette went fast very differently.
It no longer will.
Certainly, it will handle better though this has become more of a press kit talking point than anything with real-world relevance because, however higher the new car’s grip, there are very few drivers with the skill to make use of it. On the race track — and test track—with professional drivers behind the wheel—and without AGWs on hand to wood shampoo the drivers, the new Corvette will surely post slightly quicker times vs. the previous car and vs. other cars in its class.
These differences will be measured in fractions of seconds.
On the street, the difference will be a matter of feel.
The mid-engined layout gives more neutral feel. The tail is less waggy because the weight of the drivetrain is closer now, helping both to equalize the center of gravity and to plant the driven (rear) wheels.
But this will feel different. More controllable up to very high speeds. But less like a Corvette — and more like the European (and Japanese) exotics, it is emulating.
In looks also.
A Corvette has always had a very long hood in part to accommodate the very big V8 underneath but also because it just looked great. Most of the previous Corvettes were ahead of the windshield.
The mid-engined 2020 Corvette will still have an American V8 (as its base engine), but it will be mounted much farther back in the chassis, so no more need for that suggestively long and very American hood.
Instead, a Euro-looking stub nose, with most of the rest of the car in the middle.
It is no longer “long and lean, every young man’s dream,” as George Jones put it back in 1985.
It is very much something else.
In other ways as well.
It will be—it already is—an expensive car. Not quite exotically priced but getting closer with each redesign. The ’20 will reportedly start around $60k. Which, if accurate, is about $5k more than the current model and a great deal more than other Chevys.
It was once true that if you could afford a Z28 Camaro this year, save for a couple of years and you could afford a Corvette.
Now you’ll have to save a lot longer, as the new Corvette costs about twice as much as a new Z28. It won’t be a “halo” car as much as a forget-about-it car.
Well, for people who buy Chevys. And will people who buy Euro-exotics want to buy a Chevy-badged exotic?
Reports also have it that the new Corvette will not be available with a driver-controlled manual transmission. Instead, a “clutch by wire” automated manual.
The Euro-exotics have mostly eliminated the driver-controlled clutch because it removes the human variable from the performance equation. A computer-controlled transmission shifts much more precisely and much more consistently precisely than any human driver—even a race car driver. This gives slightly quicker 0-60, quarter mile, and lap times.
The car performs better but the driver is less involved in that performance.
Corvettes were involving cars.
Fundamentally, they were two-seater muscle cars. They were heavy in the nose, light in the tail.
It was easy to wag the Corvette’s tail.
Which was fun.
Older models didn’t handle all that well, even though they looked like they did. The best-handling American car of the ’70s wasn’t a Corvette. It was the Pontiac Trans-Am of Smokey & the Bandit fame.
Corvette’s cornering ability only caught up with its acceleration ability in the mid-1980s. That marked the moment when it began the shift away from being America’s Sports Car into becoming something else.
An exotic that happens to be made in America.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, either if what it’s all about is building a Ferrari or McLaren in a Chevrolet plant.
Corvette used to be about something else. Not necessarily something better although previous front-engined/manual-manual Corvettes were capable of beating Euro-exotics on the race track and the test track.
But something different. Something that was uniquely American.
It’s not anymore — and that’s arguably a shame.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos