The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is about as new as Corvettes get. From its polarizing styling to its aluminum chassis, the Stingray (also known as C7) is a big leap forward from the old C6. It’s not as big a leap as it seems, though.
For something truly radical, witness the XP-819, a Corvette prototype from 1964 that is undergoing restoration. Unlike every production ‘Vette, this one is rear-engined and, while the styling may seem familiar with hindsight, it looks completely different from Corvettes that were on the road in ’64.
According to Mid America Motorworks, Corvette patron Zora Arkus-Duntov thought the rear-engined XP-819 was too unstable, opting for a mid-engined layout for future prototype ‘Vettes. The car was cut up in 1969, but apparently the pieces were large enough for it to be reassembled.
Chevy’s only rear-engined production car would remain the Corvair. Given General Motors’ clash with Ralph Nader over that car, and the decades it took Porsche to tame the equally rear-engined 911, that’s probably for the better.
One part of the XP-819 that did carry over was its styling. The prototype bears a familial resemblance to the C3 Corvette, which debuted in 1968.
Mid America hopes to have the XP-819 in “drivable chassis” form in time for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, which takes place March 8-10 at Amelia Island, Florida.
If it makes it to Florida, the XP-819 will be a reminder of a time when imagination outweighed tradition in the design of Chevy’s sports car.
While the XP-819 was being developed, Arkus-Duntov was working on the CERV II, a mid-engined sports car with four-wheel drive. Other mid-engined Corvette prototypes include the 1970 XP-882, and the 1972 XP-895. There were also a couple of Wankel rotary engine-powered prototypes.
Granted, most of this experimentation occurred during the 1960s and 1970s, before the Corvette had really crystallized. After 60 years, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a two-seat sports car with a small-block V8 in front calling itself a Corvette. Within those parameters, the 2014 Stingray is pretty radical, but at least its engine is in the right place.