C8 Corvette, Corvette ZR1, Zora. The internet’s rumormill has been in full force as of late over the realization of a mid-engined Corvette. If you’re willing to take a break from it all, read on about the rear-engined Corvette that exists, the XP-819.
Zora Arkus-Duntov, known as the godfather of the Corvette, and Frank Winchell, an engineer on the Corvair program, once had a disagreement. The two disagreed over the viability of a rear-engined sports car design with a proper V8 engine. Porsche had already proven the layout was workable, but that was with a measly flat-four. Some interesting research came about.
Winchell proclaimed a balanced rear-engined sports car was possible with the use of an aluminum engine and larger tires to compensate for the rear weight distribution. Duntov plainly felt it was preposterous. A basic design sketch was worked up from what Winchell was thinking, but was received poorly. Winchell then approached Larry Shinoda (designer of the iconic Stingray Corvette) with his idea and requested he make something beautiful. Shinoda worked his magic, and when presented to Duntov, a working prototype was ordered.
Winchell’s brainchild had managed to come to life, and ’68 ‘Vette influences are certainly seen in the front, where an elongated tail finishes out the rear. It used an aluminum V8, and larger tires were outfitted to keep the weight bias in check, just as Winchell imagined.
But did it drive? A better question, did it drive well? The answer is an unfortunate no. Winchell’s brainchild of a Corvette was accidentally outfitted with regular street tires, and not the oversized ones the vehicle was designed with. When the XP-819 was undergoing a high speed lane change test in wet conditions, the test driver lost control of the vehicle and bounced off of more than a few walls, ultimately destroying the prototype. Sigh.
The Corvette was ultimately seen as a piece of history, and the XP-819 was rebuilt. It resides in the National Corvette Museum where spectators are able to relive Winchell’s dream, and take in some of the fascinating engineering this one of a kind Vette came to be.