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On the heels of the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, Ford is honoring World War II triple ace pilot Colonel Bud Anderson by introducing the 2019 “Old Crow” Mustang GT. Named after the P-51 Mustang fighter plane he flew in combat, this special Mustang is the latest in a line of custom ponies to be auctioned off for charity at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The Old Crow Ford Mustang GT features the same badging and paint scheme as Anderson’s plane, with an authentic Eighth Air Force badge on the decklid panel. “Old Crow” lettering is spread across the hood, and the blue rainbow tinted exhaust tips mimic the exhaust from P-51 Mustangs. Inside the cabin, look for military-themed green leather and canvas, a red shifter, red door handles, Sparco four-point harness, and P-51 badging on the dashboard.
Thanks to a Roush Performance supercharger, this Stang makes 710 horsepower and 610 lb-ft of torque from its 5.0-liter V-8. That’s well ahead of the 460 horse and 420 lb-ft offered on the regular Mustang GT. The pony car packs other updates from Roush, too, including a cold-air induction system, an X pipe, rear fascia aero bits, and custom 20-inch wheels wrapped in 275/35R Continental ExtremeContact sport tires. A custom active exhaust comes from Ford Performance, as does the front splitter. At the rear, you’ll find the spoiler from the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.
Ninety-seven years old as of January, Colonel Anderson of the U.S. Army Air Force racked up more than 16 flying victories in Europe during World War II, and he was never struck by enemy fire from an aerial engagement. He flew 116 combat missions, including a six-hour mission on D-Day, and earned more than 25 distinctions including the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Distinguished Flying Cross.
The EAA AirVenture show attracts more than 600,000 people every year. It has been a tradition to offer custom-designed vehicles to charity, with proceeds benefiting the EAA’s youth and adult aviation programs. Ford has built and donated 11 vehicles to help raise more than $3.5 million.
Something tells us this special Mustang will sell for a lot of money when it hits the block on July 25. At last year’s event, the Ford Eagle Squadron Mustang GT sold for a whopping $420,000. The year before that, the Ford F-22 Raptor commanded $300,000 at auction.
Lincoln recently (and finally) redesigned its Navigator a few years ago, giving it an improved ride, a bold exterior, and an opulent, excellently designed interior. As it stands now, the older Escalade just isn’t as refined as the Navigator, but Cadillac will have the chance to catch up when it introduces the next-generation SUV next year.
So what should we expect? The Escalade will likely share front-end design cues with other new Cadillacs such as the CT5, CT6, XT4, and XT6. That should mean slender headlights and a similar shield-like grille shape, although the grille will be much larger than it is on other Cadillacs. Also, don’t expect the three-row SUV to give up its boxy profile. That said, the rear end should look more sculpted than the old model’s, and it will likely continue to have vertical taillights. Check out these exclusive renderings for a better idea of how we think Cadillac’s next-gen flagship SUV will look.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade will stay true to its body-on-frame heritage, so expect it to share hardware and other components with the forthcoming Tahoe and Yukon. It will benefit from improvements in refinement, performance, and quality being injected into GM’s next-gen pickup and full-size SUV architecture. The Escalade will receive an independent rear suspension and air springs for improved ride quality. And by ditching the live axle, GM can lower the floor at the rear, allowing for more space behind the second row for seating and cargo. A long-wheelbase ESV is surely in the works, too.
Stricter fuel regulations may have automakers worried around the world, but the V-8 lives on. Cadillac is likely to stick with the 6.2-liter V-8 that currently makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. We also believe the Escalade will add a V-badged variant—remember, there are two tiers of V models now—packing a supercharged V-8 that delivers north of 600 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque. Both engines will be paired with the 10-speed automatic co-developed by GM and Ford.
Of course, expect major interior improvements to keep the SUV in the baller-UV game. If it wants to compete with Navigator, it should get a bigger touchscreen than the current 8.0-inch unit and receive massively upgraded interior materials. The Escalade won’t have Super Cruise next year at launch, but it should come eventually. Super Cruise begins to roll out to future vehicles in 2020, and in most cases, it will be added in the second or third model year.
What the heck is GM up to with this third-generation Camaro test car? Our spy caught this bright yellow beast exiting the General’s Milford, Michigan, proving grounds recently—manufacturer plate and all—and decided to tail it.
“We followed the Camaro closely for some time, counted the shift pattern and noticed it was using a six-speed manual transmission,” our eagle-eyed sleuth reports. The original versions only had five-speed manuals, while we’re also told the engine note sounded like a modern small-block, not a period unit.
Upon closer inspection, we note that the Camaro sports a bulged hood, GM Performance Parts badges, a roll cage, quad exhaust tips, and what appears to be a totally worn-out cassette single of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again ’87” on the dash. (Okay, maybe not the cassette.)
The third-gen Camaro made its debut in 1982 during the nadir of the pony-car era in terms of power, and it lasted until 1992. While it might not be the most fondly remembered F-Body Camaro, models like the IROC-Z, Z28, and 1LE have gained in status of late—and they certainly left plenty of rubber all around the country when they were new.
This isn’t the first time GM has used an ’80s Camaro for testing. In 2014, a third-generation Camaro was caught alongside a prototype for the sixth-generation car before it debuted. Does this mean we can expect to see an engine update soon? Let’s hope so. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go listen to some Master of Puppets.
BUCHLOE, Germany—Given all the model variations BMW introduces at any given European auto show, it’s easy to overlook Alpina’s wares, however impressive they may be. BMW always has had the M high-performance models as part of the company, and in the last few years has been proliferating that sub-brand’s high-profile letter onto pretty much anything above the most basic versions of its vehicles. (BMW X7 M50i, anyone?) Consider this an apology for this author’s habit of ignoring Alpina.
So what, exactly, does the firm do? “We fill niches that BMW doesn’t fill,” says Andy Bovensiepen, company principal and son of Alpina’s founder. One of those rare niches in the lineup is a hot BMW 7 Series to compete with the likes of the Mercedes-AMG S-Class and Audi S8. BMW doesn’t do an M7 (even if it offers an M Sport variant), Bovensiepen says, so Alpina does the B7.
But this is a different sort of filled niche from the one I was expecting. Alpina customers don’t track their modified BMWs, Bovensiepen says. The relationship between BMW and Alpina long has been very close, its closest analog being AMG before Mercedes-Benz purchased that company outright. As with its predecessor, the B7 will have full BMW factory warranty and backing, and the 400 or so examples of the new car coming to the U.S. and Canada will be sold through BMW’s North American dealer network.
Hand-built in a sort of Geppetto’s workshop of small, A/C-less buildings outside of Munich where the company also buys and distributes wine—from a cellar that was a great place to be as Western Europe reached record-high summer temperatures—and which is located less than 50 miles from the Austrian border, the B7 uses the N63 4.4-liter V-8 with revised throttle response for improved low-end torque in the B7. The engine, as in the 7 Series, is strapped with two twin-scroll turbochargers, although here their impellers have been increased from 50 mm (2 inches) to 54 mm (2.13 inches) in size.
Alpina’s high-performance cooling system for the B7 is designed for better efficiency and maximum effectiveness, with high-volume coolers connected by large-diameter piping for maximum throughput. The intercoolers consist of an indirect air-to-water-to-air system, making for short air-intake paths, and combined with additional external water coolers, ensure the twin-turbo V-8’s thermodynamic stability even under the highest loads and ambient air temperatures. The result is a 77-hp, 37-lb-ft bump in the twin-turbo’s output, to 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque.
The additional upgrades and onboard tech is extensive, as well. A list:
• Reworked sport software for the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, which also gets reinforced components to cope with the engine’s higher torque output, avoiding torque reduction during upshifts, as well as closer gear ratios with a total spread of 7.81:1. Alpina says shift times have improved over the previous B7, and “are now considerably quicker.”
• A stainless-steel Alpina sport exhaust that reduces back pressure and weight, with its own distinct active exhaust sounds for Comfort and Sport modes. The twin, dual-outlet tailpipes are integrated into the rear bumper.
• Standard two-axle air suspension with BMW’s Dynamic Damper Control, Active Drive Comfort, Active Roll Stabilization, and Road Preview for combining high ride quality with minimal body roll. A standard Integral Active Steering system gives rear-axle steering that can turn the back wheels by up to three degrees. The suspension can also adjust the ride height within a 1.4-inch span. The B7 automatically lowers by 0.6 inch at speeds above 140 mph and can be raised by 0.8 inch when traveling up to 20 mph, to increase ground clearance over speed bumps and the like.
• A revised brake system with brake-by-wire technology that actuates four-piston front calipers to squeeze 15.6 x 1.4-inch discs. At the back, a set of floating calipers pinch 15.7 x 1.1-inch rotors.
• A RWD-biased, performance-oriented version of the BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
• Standard Michelin 255/40 performance tires that can be wrapped around gorgeous standard 20-inch or optional 21-inch Alpina Classic wheels.
Alpina claims a 3.5-second zero-to-60-mph time and a 205-mph top speed. It’s all yours for $142,800.
Interior tweaks include illuminated door sills, high-quality Lavalina leather with the Alpina-traditional blue and green stitching on a sport steering wheel, and piano lacquer or classic Myrtle luxury wood trim, plus requisite Alpina B7 model badges and an individual production plaque. The laminated glass is 0.2 inch thicker than stock, and upholstery options include Nappa leather with quilting or full Merino leather. There’s also an interior design package, a luxury rear seating package with ventilated rear comfort massaging seats, and a 7.0-inch tablet for controlling various functions. A rear executive lounge-seating package with electric reclining seat and footrest, special rear console, and upgraded rear-seat entertainment can be spec’d, too.
Prima facie, this might seem a bit subtle, save for the illuminated door sills and wheels, but based on our fairly extensive drive on tabletop Bavarian alpine roads, the car is quite remarkable. In its Comfort setting, there is none of the Electra 225–like wallow that afflicts the front suspension of the standard 7 Series. Sport tightens things up, especially the steering, but as Bovensiepen says, this is not a track-day car. And all that Rolls-Royce-esque rear-seat plushness indicates that Alpina has brewed the perfect combination of what Bimmer prestige buyers want and the well-balanced dynamics craved by enthusiasts who lament the luxe-focused company BMW has become.
The twin-turbo 4.4, boosted mostly at the lower end, works so well with the well-balanced chassis that it will remind you of what BMW once could achieve on its own. The tires claw at the smooth Bavarian tarmac with a lack of drama that permeates the entire car. The B7 launches quickly but without that in-your-face, in-your-backside kick of, say, and AMG S-class, which can make an unsuspecting occupant feel like they’re the unwitting engineer of a runaway diesel locomotive.
As advertised, shifts are quick and smooth when done manually. The combo of smooth and quiet and quick and fast is best manifest on a rare surviving unlimited portion of the autobahn, where 165 mph feels serene and safe. With the B7, Alpina achieves what BMW once did so brilliantly, before overuse of electronic controls added a layer of isolation to all its sedans from the 3 Series up. Alpina’s seemingly subtle chassis and engine tweaks truly deliver the near-perfect ride-and-handling balance that made BMWs enthusiast darlings. “The M cars are more track-focused,” Bovensiepen says. “Alpinas are more refined daily drivers.”
This is what most BMWs once were, even the more basic models. And this is the sort of car all BMWs should be.
The mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is finally here—and it’s been a long time in the making. With mid-engine dynamics and performance a personal obsession of Corvette legend (and the car’s first chief engineer) Zora Arkus-Duntov since the 1950s, a Vette with its engine behind the driver always seemed to be just around the corner, with GM launching several dream cars over the ensuing decades that teased the layout. To wit: this list of nine prototypes, show cars, and engineering testbeds that paved the way for the production 2020 C8. The corner has officially been turned.
If a mid-engine Corvette seems a revolutionary idea in 2019, imagine how the car that would become the CERV II prototype must have seemed in the early 1960s. By then, it had become abundantly clear to Belgian-born General Motors engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov that the future of serious performance sports and racing cars was rooted in mid-engine chassis architecture. Arkus-Duntov, a man known now as the “Father of the Corvette,” had been hired at GM in 1953 just after Chevrolet had launched its new Corvette sports car, and by 1955 he was the brand’s high-performance director, bringing V-8 power to the two-seat roadster for the first time. A handful of years later, in 1960, he had developed CERV I, the first Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle that, like a growing number of contemporary race cars, had its engine mounted behind the driver but ahead of the rear wheels. [Full Story HERE]
XP-880 Astro II
For a period starting in the late 1960s, it looked like everyone was going mid-engine. After Lamborghini turned the world on its head with the excruciatingly beautiful Miura in 1966, mid-mounted drivetrain layouts became de rigueur in 1970s supercars. Ferrari followed suit with the 206 Dino and later 365 GT4 BB, Lancia with the Stratos, and even Maserati joined the fray in 1971 with the mid-engined Bora. It wasn’t just the Italians, either—Mercedes-Benz tested the handsome C111 platform, and later BMW launched the M1. If there was a high-performance, high-dollar car in the 1970s, you can be sure the automaker at least tested a mid-engine platform. [Full Story HERE]
XP-882 Mid-Engine Corvette Prototype
April 2, 1970 was a notable day for Corvette fans, as the XP-882 mid-engine Corvette concept made a surprise appearance, wowing the crowds at the New York auto show. Even this early in the mid-engine Corvette story, such a model had already taken on mythical status among the faithful, and the XP-882’s drop-dead looks gave Corvette lovers everything they didn’t even know they wanted. And then some. [Full Story HERE]
XP-987 GT (Two-Rotor Corvette)
Felix Wankel’s rotary engine, a version of which would power the car that would become the Two-Rotor Corvette, was billed as the next big thing for a time. Germany’s NSU and Japan’s Mazda were the first to build Wankel rotary-powered production cars beginning in 1967. Mercedes-Benz experimented with a rotary in its C111 supercar testbed of 1970, the same year Mazda entered the North American market and quickly made a splash among enthusiasts with its Cosmo sport coupe. Mazda also used versions of the engine to power the RX-2, RX-3, RX-4, and Rotary Pickup truck. [Full Story HERE]
XP-895 Reynolds Aluminum Corvette Prototype
During his tenure as the general manager of Chevrolet, John Z. DeLorean always seemed to have his eye fixed on something over the horizon. After the Corvette XP-882 mid-engine prototype chassis improvements were approved (the 882 would morph into the XP-895), DeLorean authorized the design team headed by Bill Mitchell to create a new body for the updated prototype. Something rounder, with big wheel flares, a sugar scoop rear roof treatment, and NACA ducts on the hood. [Full Story HERE]
Four-Rotor Corvette Prototype
Famed Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov absolutely did not want to do the Wankel-rotary-engine-powered Four-Rotor Corvette project, which itself was an evolution of the mid-engine XP-882 prototype. With his retirement looming, the window of opportunity for a mid-engine Corvette was narrowing. Familiar with the Wankel engine since 1955, Duntov knew that the basic design was inefficient because of the surface-to-volume ratio in the combustion chamber. Additionally, the Chevy Vega was scheduled to be the first Wankel-powered car produced by General Motors and Duntov didn’t want the Corvette to be powered by a Vega engine. But GM president at the time Ed Cole was hot on the Wankel and tactically said, “yes” to the mid-engine Corvette, but only with a Wankel in the middle. Duntov had no choice. [Full Story HERE]
By 1976, the Chevrolet Corvette, once “America’s Sports Car,” had been well and truly neutered. The C3 Corvette launched in 1968 had started off well enough, with svelte chrome bumpers, curvaceous styling borrowed from 1965’s Mako Shark II concept, and a standard 300-hp, 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine. GM’s engineers had even developed a “for racing only” L88 engine: a 430-hp, 427-cubic-inch V-8 that many say was closer to a 500-hp, 500-lb-ft monster in reality. [Full Story HERE]
Imagine having the confidence of 1980s General Motors. The kind of confidence that bolsters you to design a svelte, tapered, mid-engined hypercar thing loaded to the gills with (then) ultra-advanced tech and a small-displacement V-8 designed primarily to race at the Indy 500, and then proudly proclaim that, yes, this may well be what the fifth-generation Corvette could look like. [Full Story HERE]
Of all the mid-engine Corvette prototypes, the 1990 CERV III was arguably the closest one to reaching production reality. The third Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle was an evolution of the 1986 Corvette Indy, and while it was intended as GM’s showpiece for the 1990 Detroit auto show, many of its elements indicated the possibility of a production-ready car. [Full Story HERE]
Of all the mid-engine Corvette prototypes, the 1990 CERV III was arguably the closest one to reaching production reality. The third Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle was an evolution of the 1986 Corvette Indy, and while it was intended as GM’s showpiece for the 1990 Detroit auto show, many of its elements indicated the possibility of a production-ready car.
Much of the CERV III’s technology is relatively commonplace today, but in 1990, it was dreamy stuff: All-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, and a computer-controlled active suspension. The transmission was a six-speed automatic, built from the existing Hydramatic three-speed, and the brakes used dual discs at each wheel.
The body was made from an exotic mix of carbon fiber, Kevlar, and Nomex and reinforced by aluminum, and the suspension components were made from titanium. In an era where many young men had Lamborghini posters on their walls, it comes as no surprise that the CERV III sported scissor-style doors. Inside, the CERV III sported a gamepad-like controller and a small CRT display. Contemporary videos show a moving-map navigation system, though this was five years before GPS became fully operational.
This all sounds like dreamy stuff, but view the CERV III with an engineer’s eye, and you can see why we say it was close to reality. Compared to the Indy, the CERV III’s nose was shorter and higher off the ground, allowing the car to meet federal bumper-height standards. The side glass was shaped so that it could roll down into the doors. Rather than hugging the wheels, as is common in concept cars even today, the CERV III’s wheel arches provided clearance for a reasonable amount of suspension travel.
Power came from a Lotus-engineered 32-valve DOHC version of the venerable 5.7 liter small-block V-8—an engine that would be offered to the public in that year’s Corvette ZR-1. The CERV III version added a pair of Garret T3 turbochargers, which boosted its output to 650 horsepower and 655 lb-ft—incredible numbers when a 210-hp Lumina Z34 was considered pretty hot stuff. The CERV III was timed to 60 in 3.9 seconds and could pull 1.10 g on the skidpad, giving it true supercar status.
Had the CERV III gone into production, it likely would have required a supercar price. GM’s bean counters reportedly calculated that the car would require a price tag in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $400,000, this at a time when base Corvettes sold for around $32,000 and the exotic ZR-1 was just a shade less than $59K. Times were tough for General Motors, which was getting its butt thoroughly kicked by the Japanese, and Corvette sales were slowing. GM had never seriously considered putting the CERV III into production—it really was intended to be a research vehicle—but the economic realities dictated that the Corvette would retain its front-engine layout for the foreseeable future.
That said, members of the public would get a chance to drive a CERV III of their own—virtually, at least. The CERV III (by now the initialism stood for Corporate Experimental Research Vehicle) was included in Accolade’s 1990 video game Test Drive III: The Passion. One need only look at a screen shot of that long-ago game to realize just how far ahead of its time the CERV III was.
Still, one could argue that CERV III wasn’t a complete dead end. GM was getting serious about Corvette performance, as witnessed not only by the CERV III but by the ZR-1. The C5, under development at the time and repeatedly delayed due to GM’s business woes, would embrace more exotic construction methods, including a hydroformed frame and a rear-mounted transaxle, and would emphasize handling rather than just straight-line speed. The sixth- and seventh-generation Corvettes further helped the Corvette to shake its reputation as the Plastic Pachyderm and instead join the ranks of the world’s great sports cars—and always at a bargain price.
And now, nearly 30 years after the CERV III’s appearance, GM is finally introducing the long-awaited mid-engine Corvette. If you squint, maybe you’ll be able to see a little CERV III influence in the new car.
Imagine having the confidence of 1980s General Motors. The kind of confidence that bolsters you to design a svelte, tapered, mid-engined hypercar thing loaded to the gills with (then) ultra-advanced tech and a small-displacement V-8 designed primarily to race at the Indy 500, and then proudly proclaim that, yes, this may well be what the fifth-generation Corvette could look like.
This is exactly what happened back in 1986 with the mega-cool Corvette Indy concept. Of all the mid-engined Vette concepts, design studies, and engineering prototypes, the Indy and subsequent CERV III perhaps sting the sharpest as the ones that really should have been built. Instead, this pie-in-the-sky concept ended up primarily showcasing the engineering might of General Motors without the company having to bring all the resulting tech to market.
Aesthetically, the Indy remains one of the most striking Corvette concepts ever created. It’s a very long and lean supercar shape, like someone took a paring knife to a widened Jaguar XJ220. It’s the brainchild of former GM Design Vice President Chuck Jordan and staff GM designer Tom Peters, who saw it as a dramatic shell to house cutting-edge hardware without having to worry about ergonomics, windows that go up or down, or cockpit space.
The Indy’s party piece was the 2.65-liter twin-turbo Indy V-8, rumored to put down more than 600 horsepower. The engine was just one of the Corvette Indy’s many mind-boggling features. That aeronautical body shape was composed of Kevlar and carbon fiber, hiding a bespoke composite monocoque underneath. GM tapped Lotus for its active suspension, and added four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, traction control, and drive-by-wire steering,
Inside was just as future forward. Displays mounted on the door handled climate and entertainment info, while a rearview camera made sure that long rear end didn’t bump into anything. There’s even a center-mounted CRT cluster that displayed navigation, though during the mid-1980s GPS was limited to military use only. At Turin, Italy-based Cecomp, a full-scale clay model was mocked-up.
Allegedly, the Corvette Indy only took six weeks to go from clay to show car, and was ready for its debut at the 1986 Detroit auto show. Public reaction was strong, inspiring the team to create an additional two examples—one in fiberglass, and one used for testing and engineering. The fiberglass Indy was used mostly for publicity purposes, utilizing a more reliable 5.7-liter V-8. It’s not quite the same race-bred 600-hp stunner from the original concept car, but the Lotus-sourced 32-valve DOHC 5.7-liter still put down 380 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque, an engine that later wormed its way to production in the C4 ZR-1. The roadworthy Indy’s performance was strong, with zero to 60 mph allegedly taking less than five seconds and its top speed cracking 180 mph.
Apparently, the Corvette Indy greatly impressed the higher-ups in GM. So much so that the project continued, eventually evolving into the CERV III, a concept that almost made it to the factory floor. For now, the original mock-up Indy concept remains in the hallowed halls of the National Corvette Museum, and at least one of the running prototypes appears to be in the bowels of the GM Heritage Center, no doubt to be trotted out as the 2020 mid-engine Corvette takes its star turn.
By 1976, the Chevrolet Corvette, once “America’s Sports Car,” had been well and truly neutered. The C3 Corvette launched in 1968 had started off well enough, with svelte chrome bumpers, curvaceous styling borrowed from 1965’s Mako Shark II concept, and a standard 300-hp, 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine. GM’s engineers had even developed a “for racing only” L88 engine: a 430-hp, 427-cubic-inch V-8 that many say was closer to a 500-hp, 500-lb-ft monster in reality.
Alas, the times were changing and as the U.S. rolled into the 1970s, the performance car seemed to suddenly be under threat. Emissions regulations began to become more strenuous, causing automakers to detune their fire-breathing performance motors with weak compression ratios and milder cams and carburetors. Oil shortages were leading to high gas prices at the pump and Corvette buyers themselves were aging, resulting in increased demands for comfort and, for the first time ever, more automatic-transmission Corvettes being sold than manual-equipped versions. Safety standards saw chrome bumpers replaced with plastic and by 1975, the standard Corvette engine was wheezing out just 165 horses from its 350 cubic inches.
Meanwhile, over a decade of mid-engine development work by “Father of the Corvette,” Zora Arkus-Duntov had still not resulted in a production Vette with its engine mounted between the rear axle and the driver. Concepts and development mules had come and gone. From the CERV projects I through III, through the XP variants, and on to the rotary-powered projects, Arkus-Duntov simply wasn’t able to make enough headway with GM’s tough accounting-driven management team. Frustrated, he retired in 1975.
Then, in 1976, a year before his own retirement, GM’s styling boss Bill Mitchell decided that maybe a mid-engine Corvette was the way forward after all. Despite having helped to shut down several of Arkus-Duntov’s previous mid-engine projects, Mitchell pulled the then three-year-old XP-895 mid-engine prototype out of storage. Originally designed for GM’s licensed 420-hp, four-rotor experimental engine, Mitchell ordered the rotary removed and replaced with a 400-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) Chevy V-8.
Mitchell was a fan of Italian car design and perhaps it was the plethora of mid-engine sports cars being developed in Italy in this period—think Lamborghini Countach; Fiat X/19; DeTomaso Pantera; Ferrari Dino, 308, and Berlinetta Boxer—that convinced him that GM needed a mid-engine performance car. He rechristened the gullwing-door concept the Aerovette and sent it off to the auto-show circuit, where the media and Corvette enthusiasts alike once again wondered if a mid-engine Corvette would become reality.
Despite being greenlit for 1980 production as the upcoming C4 Corvette, Arkus-Duntov’s replacement Dave McLellan decided for a number of reasons (cost and tradition among them) to stick with the Corvette’s tried and true front-engine configuration. Thus, the C4 Corvette we’re all familiar with came to be and while it wasn’t as innovative as many would have liked, it did return the Corvette to a performance-oriented car, dominating SCCA racing in the mid-1980s and culminating in the development of the 375-hp 1990 ZR-1. The Aerovette, meanwhile, would remain in the GM Heritage Collection where it is still kept today, an important part of mid-engine Corvette history and development as the concept finally reaches production with the 2020 C8.
Famed Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov absolutely did not want to do the Wankel-rotary-engine-powered Four-Rotor Corvette project, which itself was an evolution of the mid-engine XP-882 prototype. With his retirement looming, the window of opportunity for a mid-engine Corvette was narrowing. Familiar with the Wankel engine since 1955, Duntov knew that the basic design was inefficient because of the surface-to-volume ratio in the combustion chamber. Additionally, the Chevy Vega was scheduled to be the first Wankel-powered car produced by General Motors and Duntov didn’t want the Corvette to be powered by a Vega engine. But GM president at the time Ed Cole was hot on the Wankel and tactically said, “yes” to the mid-engine Corvette, but only with a Wankel in the middle. Duntov had no choice.
Duntov made the best of it and told his engine man, Gib Hufstader, “Make me a fast car!” Hufstader’s solution later won a U.S. patent. The layout consisted of two separate Wankel engines, one on each side of a shaft that ran back to the bevels at the transmission output. Each engine was 90 degrees out of phase to smooth out the performance. A toothed and grooved cog belt ran the ignition, alternator, and fuel pump, while a V-belt controlled the air conditioning, power steering, and water pump. The combined size of the two engines was 585 cubic inches and was rated at 350 to 370 horsepower. Hufstader said with some development the setup could make as much as 480 horsepower. He pulled it all together in just two months. In July of 1972, Cole, with Duntov, took the completed, body-less car out on the GM Tech Center check road. Legend has it that the car hit 148 mph and was still accelerating when they had to slow down. The sound was described as an “incredible shriek!”
As development continued, Duntov eventually cornered GM vice president of design Bill Mitchell and said, “Let’s put a deadline on this. The Paris show.” Mitchell agreed and assigned the project to Hank Haga and Jerry Palmer. Mitchell wanted to see a break from the Kammback design, something pointed and streamlined, similar in flavor to the Mercedes-Benz record-breakers of the 1930s. Palmer recalled: “It was a very hard car to design. After my second shot Mitchell said, ‘Hey, look, this is like baseball, kid—three strikes and you’re out.’ ”
“Mitchell wanted a teardrop shape,” Haga explained. “The design problem was to put together a piece of equipment that didn’t have a tail 40 feet long. It started with a long nose and tail … it looked like a record car rather than a Corvette. So we did several overlays and got a fair balance between the nose and tail. We kept shortening it and that’s how it evolved.”
With the basic shape set, everyone in the design group fell in love with the car. With a 72-degree windshield slope, wheel flares, and vents behind the rear glass, the coefficient of drag was 0.325—astonishing for its day. Other details included side cooling intakes for the engine; bifold gullwing doors; and a deep, V-angled front windshield. Chevrolet Interiors created the cabin with plush leather and suede seats, a digital smoked-black instrument display that pivoted along with the telescopic and tilt steering wheel. The center console had more digital gauges, plus the warning lights, radio, climate controls, transmission selector, and handbrake.
Both the Two-Rotor (a.k.a. the XP-987 GT) and Four-Rotor Corvettes started making the rounds of the auto-show circuit beginning with 1973 Paris show, to mixed reviews. Automotive magazines went crazy with speculation, but the project stalled when Cole decided to scrap GM’s Wankel project altogether. As a result, the Fur-Rotor was never properly developed and didn’t run well. Flat out it was a monster; at any other speed, not so good. Designers tried to take the body design and make it a producible car, but every production issue solved detracted from the beauty of the original. “Death by a thousand cuts,” said Palmer.
Eventually, Bill Mitchell had the Four-Rotor sent to the Design Center to be retrofitted with the all-aluminum XP-895’s drivetrain and a 400-cubic-inch small-block. The new Aerovette was relegated to show-car duty. Chief Engineer Dave McLellan said, “Showing the Aerovette was a sign of what wouldn’t be produced.” If not for the Wankel distraction, this might have been the first production mid-engine Corvette. Duntov later said that the car was equal with the 1957 Corvette SS as his favorite one-off Corvette. When Zora retired, he was given a detailed model of the Four-Rotor, while former head of GM design Ed Welburn said that he and his coworkers used to look at the car on their lunch breaks. “I knew every inch of it, and I didn’t even work on it.” Now that’s inspiration!
During his tenure as the general manager of Chevrolet, John Z. DeLorean always seemed to have his eye fixed on something over the horizon. After the Corvette XP-882 mid-engine prototype chassis improvements were approved (the 882 would morph into the XP-895), DeLorean authorized the design team headed by Bill Mitchell to create a new body for the updated prototype. Something rounder, with big wheel flares, a sugar scoop rear roof treatment, and NACA ducts on the hood.
While the final design was nice, it strayed further away from the Corvette “look,” and was actually closer in style to the Two-Rotor (XP-987 GT) mid-engine Corvette prototype. Oddly, the body was mostly made of steel and the car weighed about 3,500 pounds all in—about 100 pounds more than that of a production ’73 Corvette. This would yield no performance improvement at all, so what was the point? It needed to be lighter. It needed to be a car like the Reynolds Aluminum Corvette Prototype.
Reynolds Metals (of aluminum-foil fame) had an agreement with GM since 1957 to supply GM the aluminum alloy for Corvair engines, as well as other specialty parts, many of which went into the Corvette: intake manifold, water pump, bellhousing, transmission case, etc. Reynolds also supplied the 390 alloy with 17 percent silicone that was used for the ZL1 block, L88 heads, and Vega engines.
Early in 1972, DeLorean contracted with Reynolds to build a replica of the XP-895 as that project was nearing completion to see how much weight could be saved if it were made completely of aluminum. Creative Engineering had already done the fabrication work on the XP-895 and still had the tools and jigs.
The 2036-T4 aluminum Reynolds used for the car was a special alloy designed to be spotweldable. Where needed, epoxy adhesive was used along with the spotwelding. By June of 1972, the completed aluminum XP-895 was delivered to Chevrolet’s engineering team for final assembly. Because the aluminum chassis was an exact copy of the steel version, everything went together perfectly. The completed steel and aluminum cars were both painted silver and looked totally identical. Except that the Reynolds aluminum car was 38.9 percent lighter, a whopping 450 pounds!
As incredible as that sounds, there were two major problems. First was that handbuilding a one-off car isn’t the same as designing a car to be mass-produced. However, aluminum-alloy forming and joining techniques were worked out, not unlike 20 years before when Chevrolet technicians worked out how to use fiberglass. The second major problem was the killer—cost. No matter how the numbers were crunched or if the car was built domestically or overseas, an aluminum Corvette would cost a LOT more than a steel-frame, fiberglass-body car. Not much more was disclosed, but essentially, the concept was dead and the XP-895 was put into storage.
After Zora Arkus-Duntov retired from GM, Dave McLellan became the second Corvette chief engineer in 1975. Several years later, McLellan was reviewing Chevrolet’s past mid-engine Corvette cars and learned that the Reynolds Aluminum XP-895 was drivable and had it rebuilt. The car is powered by a 400-cubic-inch small block V-8 mounted transversely mated to a Turbo Hydramatic transmission via a bevel gearbox. He reported that while the ride was surprisingly soft, it felt heavy and lumbering. The interior was cramped and the “trunk” had enough room for two gym bags (just like the Fiero). However, what no one dreamed back in the ’70s was that 40-plus years later, the base model, mass-produced C7 Corvette would ride on a super strong, all-aluminum chassis—or that a mid-engine Corvette would finally become production reality as the C8.