Science & Technology

By moving the engine behind the driver, Corvette has finally become the car it was meant to be

The mid-engine Corvette is blowing people's hair back and drawing comparisons with European supercars, at a fraction of the price.

It’s been spotted numerous times in public before its release, all the way from snow covered racetracks, to McDonalds parking lots, and many think its a Ferrari, but what’s underneath the car cover and camouflage wrap is a mid-engined Corvette — with the engine placed behind the driver — a feature of many supercars but never seen in a Corvette.

The Chevrolet Corvette has been in production for over 66 years. It started with a bit of confusion over what it was meant to be. The very first Corvette (or “C1”) looked like a sports car and was marketed like one, but they used an inline 6-cylinder engine from a town car. The car was underpowered and didn’t handle well. It was as a failure.

To fix this Chevrolet decided to put in a more powerful V8 under the hood. This finally made the car perform as well as Chevrolet hoped and once they started racing it, sales began to go up as well. 

Since then, it’s always been an affordable yet powerful sports car that was built to compete with its Italian rivals. It has used the same layout for the rest of its life span which includes that large displacement V8, front engine layout, and rear wheel drive. 

However, when the second generation Corvette was being designed by Zora Arkus-Duntov, a Belgian engineer working for Chevrolet, he thought that a mid-engine layout would be more beneficial. He pushed for this design for many generations to follow even though there was steep resistance to the idea. 

The problem was that the Corvette chassis simply didn’t have room for their massive V8 engine behind the driver. In order to make that layout work, they would have to use the smaller V6. But going with a less powerful engine to make a power-focused layout work simply didn’t make sense. And re-designing the chassis from scratch would be too costly. 

Some people say Duntov is the reason the Corvette became what it is, even though it was never what he truly wanted it to be.

Once the second generation “C2” Corvette came out, people started to realise how good this car was. The C1 only had 195 horsepower, but the C2 had a much more powerful engine that was able to make up to 500 horsepower with modifications, which was unheard of at the time. 

In 1990, Chevrolet made one of the best Corvettes ever made: the ZR1. This was the top of the line Corvette available, with 375 horsepower stock, and a top speed of 174 MPH. The ZR1 name would be discontinued until 2009. 

The Corvette kept getting better and better throughout the years, with the C6 having a base model version with 400 horsepower, and in 2009, Chevy brought the ZR1 name back with a 6.2 litre supercharged V8 to power this supercar which brought the car to 638 horsepower from the factory. Then in 2014, the top of the line C7 Corvette came with a supercharged V8 with 650 horsepower.

All these generations of the Corvette have dramatically changed the way people think of American sports cars, proving that they can do more then go in a straight line. They continue to give European supercars a run for their money, which is something they had been attempting to do since the very beginning of the Corvette. 

But without the mid-engine layout, it was like they were being held back, as they didn’t have the advantage of a lower center of gravity and a more balanced car which is what the European competition did have.

So when the prototypes of the mid-engined Corvette started showing up, partially camouflaged, on American streets last year, it became a big story. 

This generation of the Corvette was designed to beat the European supercar competition, at a fraction of the price, which is something that will definitely help Chevy sell more cars. The head engineer Tadge Juechter, said that he wanted to make a Corvette for everyone at every price point. This means we will definitely get a performance version of the C8 that will have higher power than the base model, which will have a 6.2-litre V8 that pushes the car to 495 horsepower, as the base model car. It is available for $58,000, which is much cheaper than its competition, such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis with similar power numbers. 

But of course, one of the biggest changes to the new Corvette is the engine placement. The unibody construction that is now common in car manufacturing saves a lot of weight and space. The engineers must have realized that the old problems with the mid-engine layout were no longer as much of a barrier, so they plunged ahead with the biggest redesign in Corvette history. 

The way the car was built, as well as the looks of it, make many think that Chevrolet copied the Ferrari 458. The 458 uses a similar engine with similar power numbers, as well as the mid-engined layout. The only large difference is the price, the base model 458 starts at $230,000, which makes the Corvette seem like a great option.

The Corvette has changed so much over the years, but the switch to a mid-engined layout risks the criticism that its “not a Corvette anymore.” But that would be a false. Although the Corvette was designed as a front-engine vehicle, engineers have been pushing for this change since early in the car’s history. Now because of the new technology that was available to Chevrolet as well as the engineers behind the project like Tadge Juechter who were finally able to fit a large V8 behind the driver, meaning the Corvette has finally become what Zora Arkus-Duntov tried to make it so many years ago.

Image by ADMC from Pixabay

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