New Glory Chevrolet’s long-running Corvette is reinvented as a mid-engined junior supercar, and it’s coming to the UK in right-hand drive. By Don Sherman.
New car debrief
America’s sports car becomes a global challenger with the imminent arrival of the C8 version of the Corvette: still powered by a pushrod V8, still fibreglass bodied, but now mid-engined and ready to rival high-performance European two-seaters. And for the first time, Corvettes will be built at the Kentucky factory with right-hand drive. Born in 1953 as America’s MG TF, Corvette’s once tawdry reputation, based on poor build quality and boorish manners, is ancient history. Fending off import and domestic challengers – Ford’s Thunderbird, Dodge’s Viper, every Porsche – has been the Corvette’s cause for ages. But now it goes up a division, as the 2020 model will be the long-rumoured mid-engined edition.
Corvette patron saint Zora Arkus-Duntov – not the car’s creator, but its champion within GM for two decades – figured that the engine needed to be moved behind the driver when his Corvette SS racer parboiled driver John Fitch’s feet at the 1957 12 Hours of Sebring. Why did it take GM so long? Blame company politics, conservative shareholders and GM’s 2009 bankruptcy as the key roadblocks.
Peeling off the camouflage in July, GM president Mark Reuss said: ‘What necessitated this upheaval was the fact that the traditional front-engined Corvette had reached its performance limit. The new mid-engined car looks and feels like a Corvette but now drives better than any of its predecessors.’ In other words, adding power up front accelerated nothing but the conversion of rear tyre rubber to white smoke.
Mike Simcoe, vice president of design, called the 2020 model ‘a historic opportunity sought for over 60 years. Our new sports car is not only the best of America, it will stand tall against the best the world has to offer.’ Executive chief engineer Tadge Juechter, the main modern-day mid-engine proponent, described his mission as ‘blending traditional Corvette attributes with a supercar’s performance and driving experience.’
Key components carried over from the C7 include aluminium spaceframe chassis construction, now 10 per cent stiffer, fibreglass body panels, a pushrod V8 engine, Brembo brakes, and cast- or forged-aluminium suspension members. A choice of Michelin Pilot ALS (all season) or 4S (summer only) tyres will be offered in 19-inch front and 20-inch rear sizes.
With an optional performance exhaust system, it delivers an impressive 495bhp at 6450rpm and 470lb ft of torque at 5150rpm, the highest output ever offered in a base Corvette. That’s a notable achievement for a lowly 16-valve pushrod V8 whose lineage dates to 1955. This fifth-generation small-block engine has aluminium block and head construction, 11.5:1 compression, direct fuel injection with cylinder deactivation under low load, dry-sump lubrication, and variable valve timing.
The only transmission offered is an eight-speed paddleshift dual-clutch automatic supplied by Tremec. There’s no gearlever; instead, two toggles and three push buttons on the centre console select the direction of travel and the shift mode. The C8 is longer and wider, with wider tracks, but it’s fractionally lower. It’s also heavier than today’s 1496kg C7, but, Juechter claims this will be the best accelerating Corvette ever offered thanks to the extra weight over the rear tyres (the front/rear distribution has not been revealed). He adds that cars equipped with the optional Z51 performance package, which includes low-restriction exhaust and a higher axle ratio, will easily duck below three seconds in the rush from rest to 60mph.
According to Juechter, the toughest engineering challenge was keeping the Corvette cool in the hands of a professional test driver on 40ºC days. ‘We have three radiators – two in front, one fed by the left-side air scoop. Unfortunately, the cooling air that enters the rear of the car sweeps over hot exhaust headers before smacking into our huge trunk compartment. To aid the exit of that flow, we have electric fans in the rear corners of the car and an open slot at the bottom of the hatch glass. The new gearbox adds major cooling needs. We addressed that concern by incorporating a transmission-fluid- to-coolant heat exchanger mounted atop the transaxle.’
There will be no overlap between C7 and C8 generations; the last C7 machines will be built at the end of September. Thus far, GM has revealed no delivery details beyond stating that C8 production will start later this year. If the C8 drives well, it could follow the Ford Mustang in being an enduring US icon that goes truly global – helped by a price (£80k, we’re hoping/ guessing) that makes its performance accessible to those whose budgets won’t stretch to an Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren.
A CORVETTE FOR THE UK
Yes, you read that right. We asked GM Europe, and they told CAR: ‘We can confirm that the next generation Chevrolet Corvette will be built as a right-hand- drive variant and will officially be sold in the UK. This is a milestone for us, with the UK being one of the most important sports car markets in the world.’ But at the moment GM is not offering any details on UK price, timing, spec or distribution channels. The challenge there is that since GM sold Vauxhall/ Opel to PSA, GM in Europe has been little more than a maker of diesel engines, so there’s no established dealer network through which to sell the Corvette.
495bhp is a notable achievement for a pushrod V8 dating from 1955
Sticking with ancient pushrod technology might seem odd, but the engine was never the problem – the weakness was the location of the engine. An ohv engine can be lighter, torquier, with a lower centre of gravity than a dohc V8.
Back for good Corvette godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov tried to persuade GM to go mid-engined as long ago as 1957. A dozen concepts peaked with 2002’s Cadillac Cien, penned by Simon Cox.
One for the road Moving the cockpit forward, lowering the bonnet and keeping the A-pillars thin has improved forward visibility, while low door sills grant easy entry, and there’s more seat adjustment than the C7.