For the first time in the model's 65-year history, the Chevrolet Corvette will switch to a mid-engined layout.
Recent photographs of a test mule confirm years of rumours that the eighth generation of the sportscar, due to go on sale in the US in late 2019, will undergo this radical change.
In a further break with tradition, the new Corvette, known by its C8 model code, will be sold alongside a version of the current car. Sources inside General Motors, which owns the Chevrolet brand, indicate that it could be a slightly revised version of the existing C7 as an entry-level alternative. Although the C8 will carry a price premium over its front-engined sibling, it will be sold at a price that significantly undercuts the junior supercars offered by other manufacturers.
There will be no surprise in the choice of launch powerplant, with the C8 set to use a developed version of General Motor’s current LT-spec 6.2-litre V8 engine. Although this engine still uses pushrods and will be unable to match the low-down torque of turbocharged alternatives, the all-alloy unit has many virtues: it is light, responsive, relatively cheap to build and able to generate around 507hp with little work.
It also gives a clear connection between the radical new car and the front-engined Corvette that will continue in production. This could be an advantage given the existing car has an older and more conservative buying profile than other sportscars in the US.
Punchier powerplants are a certainty, however, especially considering GM’s history of offering faster variants soon after the launch of a base car.
Media in the US have reported that these will include a newly developed overhead camshaft V8, set to be sold in both naturally aspirated and twin-turbo forms, the latter sure to produce at least as much as the 755hp of the current supercharged Corvette ZR1. Beyond that, a hybrid version will add an electrically powered front axle to the mix, potentially giving a total system output close to 1015hp.
Another big change will be a new twin-clutch transaxle gearbox, developed by transmission supplier Tremec and effectively removing the option of a conventional manual version – a significant shift given the relatively high percentage of current Corvettes that are still sold with a clutch pedal.
Like its rivals from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren, the new Corvette will display its mid-mounted engine through a glass cover.
Other parts of the design remain a closely guarded secret for now; the test mule gives little away beyond the need for significant cooling at the front of the car. Despite GM’s sale of its European operations to the PSA Group last year, the new car is being developed with significant use of the Nürburgring Nordschleife and we can expect the sort of aggressive aerodynamics necessary for good high-speed performance there, possibly including active elements.
But while the C8 will no doubt be extremely fast, the need to keep costs down means that the use of expensive materials will be limited. The chassis is believed to be an aluminium spaceframe, and it will have the glassfibre bodywork that has been used by every previous generation. Carbon brakes are certain, but the new Corvette is likely to stick to a base specification of cast-iron discs. While the C7 Corvette has a ‘targa’ roof with removable panels, the C8 is likely to shift to a more conventional split between coupé and a convertible, with the latter to follow at a later date.
The finished car will be shown in the US early next year, although it is understood that it won’t be at the Detroit motor show. When launched, its base price will be under $100,000 (around Rs 68.62 lakh).
There is no confirmation of right-hand-drive production, which would seem like a long shot despite the success the Ford Mustang has enjoyed in the UK and Australia.
A US source said that the loss of Vauxhall and Opel has not made a significant difference in the case for European sales, with the C6 and C7 Corvettes both sold on this side of the Atlantic through non-GM channels, albeit in tiny volumes.