Mid-Engine Corvette: The 1976 Aerovette1
Recent rumors that the C8 generation Chevrolet Corvette may have a mid-engine layout have inspired us to take a trip down memory lane and look at the other times the Corvette team was thinking on sticking the iconic sportscar’s engine behind the driver. Today were going to look at the 1969 XP-882, which was eventually renamed ‘Aerovette’, another one of former Corvette engineer Zora Arkus Duntov’s mid-engined brainchildren.
Two examples of the XP-882 were built in 1969. Soon after beginning the building process, the Corvette team realized producing a car with a mid-engine layout was going to be more difficult they had initially thought. They needed a transaxle for the rear of the car and in 1969, those were hard to come by. The bean counters at GM wouldn’t let them spend the money to develop one either, so they instead used the automatic transaxle from the front-wheel-drive Oldmobile Toronado. This was the first part of many on the car to be pulled from other GM vehicles.
The engineers working on the car also could have used the transmission from the Tornado, since that also had a longitudinally-mounted engine despite its front-wheel drive layout, but that would have made the car more rear-engined than mid-engine. They instead used the entire Toronado drivetrain and a Chevrolet 454 mounted transversely, putting the transmission in front of the engine.
Duntov and his team’s hard work would soon seem like it was all for nothing after then Chevrolet president John DeLorean killed the XP-882 project. He would soon revive the project once laying eyes on the Ford-powered De Tomaso Pantera and brought the XP-882 out to the 1970 New York Auto Show. He then green-lighted further work on the car and had it heavily redesigned and renamed the XP-895.
At the same time, GM was conducting work on its own version of the Wankel rotary engine. In order to raise awareness and promote the new Rotary engine, which was to be used in the upcoming Chevrolet Vega, Corvette engineers put it in the XP-882. Duntov then had another new body designed for the car, which is the surviving model known today as the ‘Aerovette’.
The ‘Aerovette’, also known as the Four Rotor Car, was put to rest once oil prices began to rise, as Wankel engines are not known for being clean nor efficient. It then sat in a GM warehouse for three years until Bill Mitchell had it dusted off and replaced the rotary engine with a Chevy 400 V8. The car made the rounds on the auto show circuit and was given the green light for production for the 1980 model year. However with Duntov, Mitchell and Ed Cole now retired, the car’s three biggest supporters, no one was left to bug the accountants at GM to let them make the car. Other mid-engine sportscars were also now available in the US, such as the Porsche 914, and did not sell well. So rather unsurprisingly, the Aerovette was put to rest.
Today, the Aerovette sits at GM’s Heritage center alongside other historic concept cars from the automaker. We were lucky enough to see it once during our visit to the center and just like Duntov, it might have given us a case of mid-engine Corvette fever. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a new mid-engine Corvette in the somewhat near future.
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Damn! I wish my ’73 Vega would have had a Wankle! Couldn’t have been worse than that crappy 4 cylinder. Also GM didn’t learn a thing from using poorly suited parts from other vehicles to save engineering costs – see “Fiero”.