Amelia Island’s Concours d’Elegance is renowned for bringing unique and rare cars together and this year will be no exception as the rear-engined experimental Corvette XP-819 will be displayed on the grounds of the Ritz Carlton in Northeast Florida during the weekend of March 9-11, 2012.
The history of XP-819 is very interesting reading. Legend has it that Zora, a known proponent of mid-engined Corvettes, didn’t think a rear-engined concept would be viable and in fact there was a disagreement between the Corvette’s chief engineer and Chevrolet’s engineering chief and head of R&D Frank Winchell over such a design. Winchell’s experience with the Corvair led him to believe that a Corvette with an aluminum V8 mounted over the back wheels much like the Porsche 911 was in fact both conceptually and commercially sound.
Although Zora thought the vehicle would be too unwieldy with poor weight distribution, Winchell put Corvette designer Larry Shinoda on the project in 1964 and soon after a concept that met Zora’s liking was approved. Within a couple of months, XP-819 was built and equipped with a marine-spec reverse-rotation small-block V8 mated to a two-speed transaxle.
Just as Zora feared, the handling of the prototype was problematic. Although Shinoda said the Corvette should be able to achieve 1g on the skidpad, it required staggered wheel sizes. Unfortunately, an engineer was testing the prototype with standard Corvette tires and the car crashed during a high speed lane change test.
GM ordered the prototype to be destroyed and sold for scrap, but instead it went out the back door to the garage of racing legend Smokey Yunick where it was cut and stripped of its useable parts. What was left of the car was put into storage in an old paint booth in Smokey’s Daytona Beach shop until it was sold to a Chevrolet dealer in the late 1970’s. After a few more owners, the XP-819 prototype is now owned by Mid America Motorworks founder Mike Yager.
Normally, the Corvette prototype is on display in Mike’s personal museum, but this spring, it will be shipped to Florida for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
“So many valuable prototypes disappear or end up in the junk yard once their usefulness ends,” said Bill Warner, Amelia’s founder and chairman. “I’m glad this one made it back to tell its story. It’s a unique piece of GM heritage and a design that might have worked if it had more development and testing time; just look at the Porsche 911.”
The 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance runs from March 9-11, and will be held at The Golf Club of Amelia Island which is adjacent to Amelia Island’s Ritz Carlton. For more information, visit www.ameliaconcours.org or call 904-636-0027