With news that Chevrolet is playing with the idea of a mid-engine Corvette, we are reminded of several that date back more than 40 years ago. That was the same time when major automobile manufacturers were expressing interest in the Wankel rotary motor. Chevrolet came close to producing a production car with this clever motor, even signing a contract with American Motors to have them installed in the Pacer, but issues with emissions and fuel economy killed the project. But it wasn’t just a compact car that was slated to receive the Wankel − Chevrolet had experimented with a Wankel Corvette.
The first car with the Wankel was NSU, with Mazda later adopting it for its Cosmo sports coupe. Plenty of other companies were licensed to develop the Wankel including General Motors. According to the GM Heritage Center’s web site, GM President Ed Cole had his interest piqued by the Wankel for its size and the smooth delivery of its power. GM ended up buying a license to develop this engine from aircraft manufacturer Curtiss-Wright, who was the U.S. license holder. Chevrolet developed both 2- and 4-Rotor motors and put them in special Corvette show cars for 1973, even though the company had already planned to cancel its rotary program.
The 4-Rotor in particular was built on the chassis of the previous Corvette show car, the Corvette XP-882, which was powered by a small-block 400. A pair of RC2-195 GM Research Engineering 2-rotor engines producing producing 350 horsepower were bolted together and dropped in the V8’s place. Design head Bill Mitchell commissioned his staff to pen a new body, resulting in a fantastic gull-wing coupe. After the cancellation of the program and the gas crisis that developed at that time, the 4-Rotor show car was put away but later would be reborn as the Aerovette in 1976.