The 1968 Chevrolet Astro II Experimental was a collaboration between GM Design and GM research as a prototype for possible production mid-engine Corvette vehicles of the 1970s. Check out our exclusive shots of the Astro II at an outdoor auto show.
The Astro I’s Turbo-Air 6 boxer engine was replaced with a Chevy big block 427 cubic-inch/7.0L MARK IV V8 engine for the Astro II, which was mated to a two-speed transaxle from a Pontiac Tempest and cooled by a radiator mounted in the rear.
The Astro II also featured four-wheel disc brakes, lightweight aluminum wheels, and a welded steel backbone frame supporting a low vehicle body height of only 43.7 inches.
The presence of the V8, along with the Corvette crossed flags logo on the nose and rear end, pointed to the Astro II being a potential mid-engine Corvette. And the Astro II was more production-ready than the wildly styled Astro I, thanks to traditional doors and comparatively tame styling – leaning toward the Corvette design language, but with mid-engine proportions.
However, GM eventually decided against moving the Corvette to a mid-engine platform, concluding that the substantial investment required would not help generate more sales for the already popular nameplate, nor make it more profitable.
That would eventually come in the form the Chevy Corvette Stingray C8, which debuted in 2019 for the 2020 model year as the first-ever production mid-engine version of America’s sports car.
That marks the Astro II as a direct descendent of it, being the earliest true mid-engine Corvette prototype. GM’s mid-engine development program was bolstered by earlier vehicles like the CERV I, CERV II and Corvair-based mid-engine concepts. The Astro II was also followed up by other mid-engine Corvette prototypes including the 1970 Corvette Experimental XP-882, 1972 Reynolds Corvette Experimental XP-895, 1973 Corvette Aerovette Experimental, and 1986 Corvette Indy.
The Aerovette was actually green-lighted for production before ultimately being cancelled.
The 1968 Chevrolet Astro II Experimental resides today in the GM Heritage Center. Let’s take a close-up look at this mid-engine Corvette concept and see how it compares to Vettes of the time and the current C8 Corvette.
The front of the Astro II gives a nod to the later years of the C3 Corvette that was in production at the same time, with a long nose that is slightly V-shaped and fenders that rise above the hood. Yet, there are no popup headlights, but it does have a large hood even though this is mid-engine car. Below the front reveals a small square at either edge that may pop out as a low headlight.
The side of the Astro II really shows the low height of the vehicle. Unlike some other concepts, it features regular doors and handles, and a slim quarter glass. The side of the car is smooth and uninterrupted, with no vents of any kind, front or back.
The side profile has inklings of the Ferrari 250 GTO and its racing cars of the early ‘60s.
It also has lightweight aluminum rims with a unique wired wheel type of design – unlike other Corvettes – that are shod with special blue-lettered Goodyear tires featuring a thin blue line at the edge of the tire to match the metallic, iridescent blue paint of the car.
The rear of the Astro II also gives a nod to the C3 Corvette, but this time to the earlier years as seen in the B-pillar treatment that sweeps back on the “trunk” area with a vertical rear window. The engine compartment is simply covered in the back without showcasing the powerplant like other concepts and the current C8 Corvette. Two square vent screens halfway across the back allow engine heat to escape. These follow two smaller vents just behind the glass and on either side of an engine hump.
The aft body section of the Astro II begins vertically at the same line of the door and rear quarter glass and horizontally across the lower rear quarter panel of the car. The whole thing lifts up directly behind the passenger compartment to reveal the engine and rear storage areas.
And, again unlike other concepts, the Astro II actually features the telltale four taillights of every other Corvette. Below and in between those is a diffuser that is screened, matching the square engine vents.
The Astro II has hints of Corvette in it and offered the first glimpse of a potential mid-engine Vette, which of course was finally realized in the mid-engine C8 Corvette Stingray.