It’s been our contention that as the Corvette team continues to test and refine the C8 mid-engine prototypes, Chevrolet has ramped up its efforts for showcasing the previous mid-engine concepts built by Zora Arkus-Duntov, Dave McLellan, and others over the years. We believe that these historical concepts and prototypes are helping to educate the casual Corvette/Chevrolet enthusiast to not be afraid of the change that is coming in 2020 with the C8 Corvette.
Back in May during the Belle Isle Grand Prix, we noted that Chevrolet elected to show off several mid-engine Corvette prototypes in its display at the race. Positioned around the great white fountain were three mid-engine Corvette prototypes, the Aerovette, the Reynolds concept and the Corvette Indy concept. Also on display was the ultra cool 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer.
Last weekend those efforts continued at the 40th Annual Concours D’elegance of America, held at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, MI. The event is one of the top Concours show in the country and Chevrolet always brings some of its great concepts and prototypes for its display.
For this year’s display at the Concours D’elegance of America, Chevrolet held a mini-reunion of sorts by showing the three CERV engineering vehicles together in public for the first time. CERV stands for “Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle” and Chevrolet has built four of them over the years starting in 1960 with CERV 1 and ending in 1993 with CERV IV. The first three CERVs all had their engines behind the driver while the fourth was a front-engine car that was mostly used for testing the early new GEN III V8 engines.
We call this display a mini-reunion as Chevrolet had let CERV 1 go back in the 1960s where it eventually ended up in the hands of collectors. Mike Yager owned the car until January of this year where it was sold at Barrett-Jackson for $1.32 Million. GM confirmed the purchase of CERV 1 just a couple of days later calling it an opportunity to bring an important historic vehicle back to the Heritage Center.
CERV 1 was Zora’s personal Corvette engineering test bed and it was used to develop the 1963 Sting Ray’s independent suspension and a host of other features. The transverse leaf-spring is the predecessor of the same design still being used on Corvettes today. With its 377 cubic inch OHV aluminum V8 engine, Zora drove the car to 206 mph at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds.
CERV II was also built by Zora and his engineering team during 1963-64 and would incorporate the ability to switch between two-wheel and four-wheel drive while aiming for a target weight of just 1,400 pounds. Outfitted with the same 377-ci aluminum small blocks found in the Grand Sport, CERV II was capable of 212 mph with high-speed gearing and could run a 2.8 second 0-60 mph quarter-mile when geared for a sprint. CERV II also was let go from GM back in and today it resides in a collection based in Florida.
Several decades after CERV I and CERV II were built, tested and then let go, Chevrolet engineers produced the third CERV in the series in 1990, this time utilizing the design of the Corvette Indy Show Car. As this would be a real-life working R&D version of the Corvette Indy, engineers and designers utilized carbon fiber and other lightweight materials for the vehicle. CERV III was powered by a transverse-mounted LT5 DOHC V8 engine with twin turbochargers that upped the horsepower to 650 and 655 lb-ft of torque and a unique brake system with fixed calipers and dual rotors were utilized for stopping power. It was calculated that CERV III had a top speed of 225 mph and 1.1g of lateral acceleration, on-par with the performance of today’s ZR1.
Also on display at the Concours D’elegance of America was the 1968 Astro II mid-engine concept which was first revealed at the 1968 New York Auto Show. Also known as XP-880, the car was mostly a design exercise and was never seriously considered for production despite the fact that it utilized Chevrolet’s parts-bin which helped significantly lower the cost of the design. Built as an answer for the Ford GT40s, the car was assembled in under a year and it would weigh in a 3300-lbs – 300 pounds less than the 1968 production Corvette. One of the unique features of the Astro II was the clamshell hood that covered the entire rear of the car.
Corvette’s first chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov always wanted to build a production mid-engine Corvette since the 1950s and these historic Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicles showed the performance gains possible. Car and Driver’s Don Sherman reported back in May 2016 that Corvette engineers had code-named the latest mid-engine program as ZERV, which may have been chosen as a homage to Zoras mid-engine CERV concepts.
Photos by Steve Burns
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