GM Killed The Corvette Last Week, Did Anyone Notice?

The front-engined Corvette is dead. GM head honcho Mary Barra delivered the news last week the final production C7 would be auctioned off this summer.

While the press skimmed the surface of this historic automotive event, The C7’s demise has received little in-depth coverage. Not only is this a melancholy milestone for us ‘Vette fans, but a little bit of an automotive Groundhog’s Day as well.

GM CEO Mary Barra signals the end of a 66 year run of the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive Corvette, RIP. Look for a summer 2019 reveal of the Corvette of the future, the C8. Photo: GM

Case in point, take the introduction of the GM’s LS powerplant way back in 1996. It debuted in the 1997 C5 Corvette and then GM quietly phased out the Gen 1/Gen II small-block motors with little fanfare. By the time production halted, GM produced over 50 million old-school V8s, easily dwarfing the Model T, Corolla, and the VW Bug for all-time automotive sales goliath. Yet, it went out with a whimper and folks hardly noticed.

The LS motor took the world by storm in 1997. Illustration: Dave Kimble

Fast forward to last week’s announcement the C7 was dead, and GM seems to be taking a similar tack, quietly pulling the plug on the the last front-engined ‘Vette. Lasting just six model years, the C7 will match the C2 as one of the shortest running generations in Corvette  history.

It also quashes the conventional wisdom that the Corvette would be a two-platform lineup, at least for the time being. Let’s back up and review key events that led to the euthanization of the old-school Corvette.

GM Doubled The Square Footage Of Corvette Final Assembly And Added A Paint Booth. Now What?

Above Left: Old view of Bowling Green, Above Right: New Bowling Green. Photos: Corvette Action Center Below: New paint line at Bowling Green.

GM invested almost two-thirds of a BILLION dollars in the expansion of Bowling Green. We were certain it was to accommodate two Corvette models. Some thought it would be a Cadillac variant or at the very least, the C7 would live on to appease traditional Corvette buyers.

Now that the C7 is dead, what’s going on in Bowling Green that required doubling the size of the factory?  Is there a second model we don’t know about? In an SUV/CUV crazy market, it seems unlikely that GM would field a high-zoot sports car as the crown jewel of Cadillac. A more profitable Escalade would make sense, but a low volume sports car?  Seems far-fetched at this point.

Cadillac Blackwing V8. Look for high-horsepower versions in future C8 ‘Vette models. Photo: Hagerty

We know that high-performance engine assembly for Corvette (and now Cadillac’s Blackwing V8) has been brought in-house, and the paint shop is completely new, but what exactly will GM do to fully allocate a mega-expanded Bowling Green is up for debate. As we’ve all seen in the past few months, GM isn’t shy about shuttering plants if they aren’t running at darn near 100 percent capacity.

Especially risky for Bowling Green when you’re completely rewriting the rules of the brand and the jury is still deliberating if a mid-engine car will be warmly regarded by the Corvette faithful.

The Corvette Rules The Roost in Sports Car Sales, Let’s Change Everything!

We’ve all heard that Corvette sales are down with high inventory at dealer lots around the country, but Chevy’s two-seater isn’t the only sports car having a slow spell. Still, this data from GoodCarBadCar for March 2019, shows how strong the Corvette’s sales are compared to other entries.

We would have loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall when Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and gang pitched GM brass on the C8 Corvette. It was probably the hardest sales job ever in the annals of automotive history. Could you imagine the following scenario? Let’s cue up the wiggly lines on the TV and go back in time…

Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. Photo Mid America Motorworks

Picture Tadge at a round table with GM brass, “Hey, we are the undisputed king of sports cars in the North American market, selling between 25 to 40,000 units annually at a huge profit to the company. What we’re proposing is completely re-writing the template of the car, with a more exotic design. Even if it means alienating our fiercely loyal customers…”

As we know now, GM brass approved this strategy and we’ll have to see how it pans out at the end of the year when the C8 hits the market. If that weren’t enough change, there is most likely an electric or electric-assisted versions of the C8 waiting in the wings as well. Whether Chevrolet can maintain sales volume with a completely different car remains to be seen, which hints there could be more going on.

Is There An SUV Corvette In The Wings?

Will there be a Corvette Cayenne in the future? Photo: Detroit News.

So if the C7 is dead, could a Corvette branded SUV be in the wings? This would make the most sense. Before you dismiss this as heresy, one only needs to look to the Porsche line-up and note its 2.5 ton Cayenne SUV accounts for the majority of Porsche sales and probably helped it survive and remain a semi-autonomous car company.

Chevrolet critics have long lobbied for a spin-off of the Corvette because they think the Bow Tie image is damaged or not cool enough to attract younger, foreign-brand leaning customers. We say Corvette and Chevrolet are intrinsically linked forever and busting them up is a long-shot, but still believe the Corvette as a multiple-platform brand has not been ruled out.

The Camaro Is The New, Old-School Corvette

What you’re looking at here is the replacement for the C7. Camaro has matured into a viable ‘Vette clone.  Photo: GM

We speculated that the Camaro would replace the C7 as the front-engine, rear wheel drive “entry level” Corvette and we now feel vindicated.  For decades, “the pony can’t outrun the horse” was an unwritten rule at Chevrolet. Corvette was the performance king, period. That credo was obliterated in slow-motion starting almost 10 years ago with the introduction of the Fifth Gen Camaro.

Chevy’s pony has since matched Corvette tit-for-tat with shared engines, an equally sophisticated chassis and the best tuning and refinement (thanks Al Oppenheiser) GM can bring to life. Not only has the Camaro been groomed (right before our eyes) to take the Corvette’s crown, it is one of the best performance cars on the market at any price. A fitting successor to our “old-fashioned” C7 and good news that we can all rejoice in.

What Happens If the C8 Is A Dud?

Remember the New Coke? Photo: Coca-Cola

I can personally attest how mystical the idea of a mid-engine Corvette has been for the last zillion years. I can remember as a kid, I’d hit the drugstore at the end of the month to see new issues of the big car magazines. Staring back at me from the news stands were headlines that barked “Secret Mid Engine Corvette Coming!”

Time and space would stand still, and I would plop down, right there on the spot, and read the story, hanging on every word.  The pictures of Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell next to advanced Corvette prototypes at GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Center were exotic and beguiling.

4-Rotor Corvette concept “On the patio” in Warren, Michigan from early-70’s. Photo: General Motors

Bristling with the latest high technology, these future Corvettes not only captured my imagination, but an entire generation of car lovers as well. Entire forests were clearcut over the years to print the latest scuttlebutt on a car which until this coming July 18th, 2019, never materialized.

The Mid-Engine Corvette story is decades in the making. Photos: General Motors

You would think the announcement that the car is indeed slated for production would be heralded as the second automotive coming but sadly, that’s not reaction on the internet. Social media forums are the latrine walls of our generation and feedback on the new car has been brutal.

“Oh look, a new Fiero,” is a common, fairly kind response. Another reader posts, “If I wanted a Ferrari, I’d buy a Ferrari..”  Others are more blunt in their disdain for the new car, “It looks like sh*t…”

C8 busting up the Nürburgring in Germany

Fair enough, but the hardpoints of a mid-engine car design are fixed and unmovable, and lend itself to look-a-like styling. Cab-forward passenger compartment, short hood, the elimination of aft stowing, and a rear bulkhead in the cabin, are just a few of the aforementioned obstacles engineers face, not to mention stylists.

Which leads us to um, the styling. Chazcron over at MidEngineCorvetteForum always has the most up to date renders.

Michael Simcoe Has His Career Riding On This Intro 

Australian Michael Simcoe is the new big-wig of GM design and the new Corvette will either gain him worldwide acclaim or he’ll go down in history as the guy who mucked up the Corvette…

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “With the retirement of General Motors designer Ed Welburn after his 44 years with the company, Simcoe, 58, from Australia, took over duties as the global styling chief for General Motors. He’s only the seventh person and the first non-American in the history of the company to get the job.

New GM Styling guru Michael Simcoe. Photo: Richmond Times Dispatch

“Simcoe inherits the largest design organization in the automotive industry: 10 studios in seven countries and a staff of more than 2,500. His new job makes him the man in charge of designing and redesigning more than 100 car models from GM’s seven brands including Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and Holden.”

At first blush, we have to agree that the Simcoe-led styling seems a tad bland. We also haven’t seen it in person with all the details exposed.  It could be a killer.

If Simcoe can instill  meaningful Corvette DNA into this persnickety, mid-engine blueprint, (a daunting task) and pull it off, it will be a feather in his cap.

From left, Corvette Chief Engineers Dave Hill, Zora, and Dave McLellan with the Indy Corvette. Photo: GM

A Brand New Era Of Corvette Performance?

Here’s our take: We predict the new-age C8 Corvette will be a game changer. We speculate the performance will be such a quantum leap ahead of the C7 that it makes the old car obsolete. We think once people see and drive the new car, it’s risky approval by GM will seem like a no-brainer.

If it comes in at $75,000 (with the anticipated exponential leap in performance,) it will put the foreign exotics on the trailer – for a third of the price – and will change the global sport car market forever.

It would serve us well to remember Zora Arkus-Duntov at this time. He was convinced the mid-engine layout was the evolution the Corvette was destined to undergo. He tried in vain for years to get a mid-engine car approved and sadly, died without seeing the birth of such a Corvette. We know he’s watching from up above with a smile…

Zora Arkus-Duntov with experimental, mid-engine Corvette XP-882 from 1970 . Photo: GM

It’s high time we adjourn from the Instagram/Facebook court of public approval and wait to see the new car in the flesh. Remember, it will be a vessel for over 100 years of aggregated GM automotive expertise and it would be a mistake to dismiss it because say, we didn’t like the taillights…Remember how that went?

So, the Corvette is dead. Long live the Corvette.

Epilogue: A special note from guru and founding editor of CorvetteOnline and LSXMag, Paul Huizenga, with an interesting primer on the term “mid-engine configuration” and what that really means.

According to Huizenga, “The actual definition of “mid engine” is a chassis layout that places the engine’s center of gravity between the front and rear axle centerlines, so every Corvette since the 1963 model year has technically been “mid engine.”

“It’s an important engineering distinction from a vehicle that has the engine center of gravity ahead of the front axle, because it makes it a lot easier to avoid front weight bias (especially when paired with a transaxle RWD setup, as it has been for the Corvette since the C5 made its debut in the 1997 model year.)

C6 Corvette with transaxle. Illustration: David Kimble

“It also helps centralize the mass of the vehicle, which reduces moment of inertia, which is the force that resists rotation around the car’s center of gravity. All other things being equal, a car with a low moment of inertia will require less effort to turn, compared to one with the same front-to-rear weight balance but the mass out at the ends of the car. Think about the force required to spin a kettle-bell versus a regular dumbbell of the same weight, and you’ll get the picture.

Corvette Indy with transverse mounted, 32 valve, LT5 V8. Illustration: David Kimble

“So back to the C8. It’s consistently referred to as “mid engine,” but as we see, that’s not really a useful description. It’s actually a rear-mid design; “rear” tells us where the engine is in relation to the passenger compartment, while “mid” describes its position relative to the wheelbase.
“Compared to a front-mid layout, like the C2-C7 generations, it helps centralize all the really heavy parts of the car and reduce moment of inertia even further, but it may actually move the car away from the C7’s claimed 50/50 weight distribution. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as (within reason) more weight over the drive axle helps improve traction, and there are plenty of successful race cars that don’t have an “ideal” front to rear balance.

C8 cutaway showing longitudinally mounted V8 engine. Photo: CorvetteBlogger

“The important take-away here is that “mid” means something different than “it has the engine behind the seats,” and it’s an important distinction, regardless of whether the engine is ahead of or behind the occupants.
“The designers of the last six generations of Corvette picked a mid-engine configuration (that just happens to also be front-engine) on purpose, and it’s just as wrong to ignore that as it would be to say that the C8 shares the same powertrain layout as a 911 or an aircooled VW.”

Photo: Chazcron/MidEngineCorvetteForum

 

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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