Having a mid-engine layout was always part of Corvette’s destiny.
The all-new 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray unveiled recently is the culmination of 60 years of mid-engine experimentation. While the eighth generation of the iconic sportscar marks a radical leap forward in terms of capability from the seventh generation, it also incorporates lessons learned from past engineering exercises such as the Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicles (CERVs) I-III, the Aerovette and others.
Zora Arkus-Duntov, considered the ‘father of the Corvette’, first encountered early mid-engine vehicles in his youth, including the Auto Union Types C and D Grand Prix racing vehicles. Duntov had a wealth of propulsion knowledge and thrived as an auto racer and engineering consultant in automotive and aeronautics. He was attracted to GM by the original Corvette concept, which he saw at the 1953 Motorama in New York City.
Pursuit of mid-engine from the start
Duntov started working at GM in May 1953 and helped Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole turn his proposed Small Block V8 into a viable technology for Corvette later that decade. He became Corvette’s first true chief engineer and pursued the mid-engine layout through various concepts, including the CERV I, which debuted in 1960.
CERV I was outfitted with seven different engine combinations in its working lifespan, but its original engine, a Chevrolet Small Block V8, and its lightweight aluminium core are both modernized on the latest Corvette Stingray. Duntov described it as ‘a design without limit’ and an ‘admirable tool’ to instruct Chevy on ‘what to put in Corvette’.
In 1964, Duntov’s team debuted CERV II, which was envisioned as a challenger at Sebring, Le Mans and other races. With torque converters in the front and rear, CERV II employed the first-ever mid-engine 4WD system, for which Duntov held the patent.
The most recent attempt at a mid-engine vehicle was the 1990 CERV III concept, built in conjunction with Lotus Engineering to explore future levels of performance. CERV III, more of a road car than a track performer, was intended as a development vehicle to evaluate mid-engine structures. CERV III was powered by a 5.7-litre, 32-valve dual overhead cam Small Block V8 with twin turbochargers. It produced 650 bhp and 888 Nm of torque.
Drawbacks of a mid-engine layout
Duntov, who retired from GM in 1975, saw the mid-engine layout with the engine located ahead of the rear axle as the optimal configuration for weight distribution, excellent handling and forward visibility. Despite the layout’s innate performance benefits, its implementation in the scheme of mass manufacturing proved problematic.
The previous mid-engine Corvettes were relegated to concept status by issues including engine cooling difficulties, limited passenger and luggage space, loudness and the inability to produce a convertible variant.
Advances in development, aided by computer-assisted engineering and virtual reality, helped the current Corvette team carefully plot out the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray’s architecture. The engineers worked closely with designers to ensure that the vehicle’s form met all of the necessary performance benchmarks, while preserving the Corvette legacy. Having a mid-engine layout was always part of Corvette’s destiny.
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