Commentary: Finally! The Long-Awaited Mid-Engine Corvette

The noise has died down a bit. Perhaps to a point where I can think clearly about Thursday’s big reveal inside of an old blimp hangar at the Marine Corps Air Base in Tustin, California.

Granted, I was not there. General Motors did a huge push for the rest of us to watch the moment live when they revealed the eighth generation of America’s remaining true sports car – the Chevrolet Corvette.

It was very newsworthy. It was also one of those things that made you wonder "what took GM so long to finally pull off a mid-engine Corvette?"

First. some backstory. When I was a kid, Motor Trend published several huge speculative articles on the future of the Corvette. By November 1973, we were convinced that GM would not only produce a mid-engine Corvette, but it would be powered by a four-rotor Wankel engine. In fact, we have been teased about a mid-engine Corvette since 1969.

All of those speculative articles have now become reality. The C8 Corvette is now engineered in a format that matches sports cars and supercars priced well over the base price of the Stingray model.

Keep in mind that GM produced mid-engine cars before. Remember the Pontiac Fiero? Perhaps the engineers at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan recalled this to apply what they learned from the Fiero into the Corvette. Maybe not the space frame construction, but at least the notion of moving the Corvette’s V8 to behind the seats.

The 6.2-liter Small Block V8 did get a power increase to 495 horsepower. It may not be the largest midships-mounted engine in the world, but it was too iconic to re-engineer for the new format. The biggest evolution is the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that will come with the naturally aspirated V8. I heard the chorus cry over the loss of a manual transmission for America's sports car. GM spun this as having the best of both worlds – manual and automatic – in a transmission that offers quick shifts and access to the gears through the paddles on the back of the race-inspired steering wheel.

GM also claims that this new Corvette was engineered for improved weight distribution with a bias towards the rear, improved vehicle responsiveness with the driver positioned closer to the front axle, and quicker acceleration times because of change in vehicle format – a potential sub-three second time in the 0-60 MPH sprint with proper performance content.

The nuts-and-bolts of the Corvette sound impressive, but not everyone gets to see all of this at first glance. They have to gaze at a design that is both evolutionary and completely different than ever before. It does look like a Corvette, but the proportions look odd. Did they marry a Ferrari 488 GTB with a C7 Corvette to achieve this look? Of course, not being at the reveal to see it in the flesh may skew my reactions, as I am basing this on GM’s and my colleague's photography and video. Seeing it live and up close may help in understanding where GM went with the design of this first production version of the oft-speculated mid-engine Corvette.

My biggest fear would be the interior and access inside of it. Mid-engine sports cars are truly hit-an-miss when it comes to just opening the door, getting inside, getting the right driving position, and getting out of the car. I have not seen any images whether it was designed as a monocoque tub, similar to the Alfa Romeo 4C and any McLaren out on the road. Or, that they retained the ease of access in the C7, as well as the Lamborghini Huracan, Audi R8, and Ferrari 488 GTB. Then again, that would require some touch-and-feel of the car to demonstrate and perhaps ease these concerns.

I could go on about every detail inside and out on the C8 Corvette, but there was one little surprise that was dropped during the reveal event. GM is pricing the Stingray model starting at "below $60,000."

Um, wait, huh?

We know that the price of the basic C7 Corvette Stingray has been creeping up into the mid-$50,000 mark. You would think that to offset the change in engineering to a mid-engine model would catapult that price well into Porsche 911 territory. However, this Corvette is still being built at the Bowling Green, Kentucky plant with the basic construction and the engine mostly left alone. Considering the new transmission, engineering for the mid-engine format, and a new design all around, one has to wonder how they arrived at a lower-than-expected base price for this car.

The fact that the base price of the first mid-engine Corvette will be around Porsche’s mid-engine 718 series is an astounding piece of news. Though, one would wonder how many customers will simply take home a base equipped C8 Corvette. A typical Corvette is usually delivered with a package selection ordered along with several options. It is not unusual to deliver a Corvette Stingray with a sticker price in the $70,000-80,000 range. That is still in the range of a (much less powerful) Porsche 718 Cayman with its customer raiding the Tepquipment and Exclusive Manufaktur order menus.

I should be excited about the C8 Corvette. I should be cheering up-and-down like the rest of social media. But, I am taking a very neutral position regarding this car. Unlike the few that were on hand at the live unveiling of the mid-engine Corvette, I believe that a physical and tactile observation of the car would possibly help ease some of the doubts I have about it.

As GM's halo vehicle, one must expect absolute excellence from it. The C7 was great – it became the first and only Corvette I have ever driven to date. I liked how it was executed as it retained a lot of what made the car iconic from the start. I also liked the leap it made in terms of driving manners and engagement. However, that puts a benchmark – unfair, possibly – on the C8 to exceed for those of us who think we know how a Corvette should drive.

As the kid who thought GM would have changed the Corvette from the C3 to a mid-engine, Wankel-powered sports car by 1974, maybe this C8 came a bit too late for the fantasy to be fulfilled. Perhaps it arrived at the right time? Expectations are indeed high for this new chapter in the Corvette's long history. I better not be disappointed. Neither should its potential customers and current owners.

This better be worth the wait.

All Photos courtesy of General Motors

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