It’s Corvettepalooza!

Since I have entered a Quaker State contest to win a 1972 Corvette, I am motivated to put together a few separate items about America’s sports car.

We begin with Jalopnik, which found this:

The voiceover and constant musical refrain reminding us that we have never, ever, forever, ever never never ever seen a car this advanced before is just downright laughable. Remember, this is a 1984 Corvette. Yes, I suppose the world hadn’t seen the next generation of Corvette, but the most advanced car on the planet? This was years after the Group B-dominating Audi Quattro came out, while the first year of the C4 ‘Vette was stuck with a 5.7L V8 pumping out 205 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque through the rear wheels. …

Then there’s the claim that it’s “A new Chevrolet Corvette like never before.” Well, yeah, I suppose it was a clean-sheet re-design over the old C3 Corvette, but it was still recognizable as what it was. Maybe if they’d actually put one of those mid-engined concepts into production, I’d be more willing to believe this one.

The ad goes on to say that there was a never-before-seen computer-activated manual transmission (think more like an overdrive than a flappy-paddle setup), COOL WHEELS, and even tires. All of that is very advanced.

Oh wait – is that an LCD dash? Now that, my friends, is very neat indeed. Like those Casio watches that also had a calculator on them.

To be honest, seeing ads like this makes me miss that illustrious decade. It reminds me of a simpler time, when Reagan was President, we all feared instant atomic fiery death, our Corvettes had similar outputs to a modern European diesel, and we could all believe in America and everything its factories churned out as long as we heard the news with enough screaming Stratocasters laid over it.

The commercial appears to have screaming synthesizers, not Stratocasters, laid over it, but never mind that. The music is overwrought by 2013 standards, but it’s also inappropriate for a car ad, even if you’ve never seen anything like this before.

Recall that the C4 came out 15 years after the C3 debuted, so the C4’s debut was, to quote Corvette owner Joe Biden, a big f—ing deal. However, the wheels look like wheel covers for a decade-old land yacht (which might not be a bad idea for someone resto-modding, say, a 1975 Chevy Caprice, although the Vette’s 255/50R-16 tires are 2 inches shorter than the Caprice’s original 225/70R-15 tires, so speedometer error would result). The 4+3 manual grew to be universally reviled, and either version of the C4’s digital dash is an abomination. The car handled well, but it took until year two, 1985, for a horsepower upgrade.

I noted before that Motor Trend magazine has been known for making the most spectacularly wrong predictions about the next Corvette. Autos of Interest chronicles one:

If you haven’t yet guessed what the subject car is, it’s a Corvette. Or, it’s supposed to be. Midway through 1975, Motor Trend’s Bob Hall wrote an article entitled, “The 1977 Corvette!” (Exclamation and all.) …

Keep in mind that the C3 (or, third-generation Corvette) had been introduced as a 1968 model year car. It had trudged on largely unchanged over those years and by 1975 enthusiasts were understandably anticipating a replacement at any time. After all, Chevy had been showing off some mid-engined concepts and the speculation was ripe.

However, amazingly Motor Trend kept their cool and was calling for this heir apparent C4 to be front-engined. In fact, they were predicting just a re-skinning. Well, a major re-skinning. They compared the “rejuvenation” to what the line had gone through from C2 to C3. Although, I’m not sure where the artist came up with the idea that Corvette’s taillights would be horizontal slats. Strange.

They did call one thing correctly, the rear glass would go from ‘sugar scoop’ to fastback-style glass. However, that didn’t occur until the year following their prediction, in 1978, when Corvette celebrated its 25th anniversary and enjoyed a mild refresh and new dash layout.

Motor Trend also forecast an engine that never saw the light of day in Corvette. A turbo V-8 engine. They did preface the prediction by saying it was merely being considered but was clear that it was more than a casual consideration. …

As we know, the 1977 model Corvette came and went without any noteworthy changes. No flashy new body. No turbo V-8 engine. As mentioned above, it was the 1978 model year that got the biggest changes inside and out until the 1984 C4 debuted.

For what it’s worth, the 10-year-old who saw this Motor Trend thought it was an excellent-looking car. In many ways it looks better than the car that actually replaced the C3 Corvette …

… although comparing drawings to actual cars is usually an apples-to-oranges comparison. (Until computers started drawing cars, drawn cars always looked lower and longer than the actual finished product.) The taillights are wrong, and the doors should have had thinner window frames. Many sports car fans have an irrational hatred of hatchbacks (which the C3 adopted in 1981, two years after the rear window returned), but the C2 and C3 had neither hatch nor trunk (other than C2 convertibles), which severely limited their utility. (Owners had to drop a seat and throw behind it the suitcase for themselves and their fabulous babes, then reverse the process.)

Motor Trend isn’t the only offender in this regard. Consider Car and Driver magazine from 1973:

Never mind that the Corvette 4-Rotor looks like the wildest imaginings of some ivory tower stylist. It happens to be a very real car. And [Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus] Duntov, known for his circumspection, is openly enthusiastic about it. “Looking back at my twenty-year association with styling, this is the best design ever produced. It is exceed­ingly beautiful.” That, coming from Dun­tov, is like hearing Barry Goldwater say that he has always admired Democrats. And if you know Duntov, that statement has a special meaning because, in the past, he has never shown more than a passing interest in the aesthetics of a fender. Apart from the normal considera­tions that must apply to production Cor­vettes—reliability and safety to name a couple of the major ones—he cares about one thing; capacity for speed. That boils down to aerodynamics and horsepower. And as the conversation progresses, you find that the Corvette 4-Rotor has both. …

What does that add up to on the road? Duntov smiles. There is a short test track at the GM Tech Center, less than a mile long. “Performance of this car? One-hundred forty-five mph . . . and that is leaving room for braking.

“The feeling of this car is a steady torque, no humps like a 454, no decline, and by virtue of its large displacement, you don’t feel that it’s sluggish from the line. Humans only know change of ac­celeration. But this car is like gravity . . . you don’t feel the acceleration. There is no high torque kick. But looking at the speedometer, it’s climbing, climbing, climbing. And looking outside, you know you’re going fast. This Wankel car is faster 0-100 mph than 454.”

That’s not a surprising statement, because the four-rotor was rated at 420 horsepower, while the 454 V-8 available in the 1973 Corvette was rated at just 275 horsepower, thanks to smog controls. However, the rotary engine concept never got to the starting line, because of the rotary’s poor fuel consumption. As you know, Chevrolet replaced the rotary with a 400 V-8, and thus was born Aerovette.

The reason Aerovette didn’t happen either is explained by Autos of Interest:

There is one very interesting part to the story that, if true, sheds some light on some of the internal resistance to the seemingly perpetual idea of a mid-engined Corvette. Apparently a Motor Trend staff member was told by a Chevrolet engineer, “Suppose you own a company that makes one-dollar bills. The cost to print the bills is 50¢ including paper, ink, and labor. One day, one of your product planners comes to you with the idea of printing two-dollar notes. Think of it… instead of a 50 cents profit, you’d be making an easy $1.50 profit. After consulting with the accountants you see another view. It seems that after you take into account the cost of the new printing plates, and the conversion of the presses, it would cost you $1.50 to print the new two-dollar bills. That’s still only a 50 cents profit, and since there is still a great demand for the one-dollar bill, you fire the product planner, and keep on printing the ones. If you’re not an accountant, you can’t win. You can at best draw.”

Autos of Interest (which I just found; it’s a great site) has additional details about the C4’s design process:

Framed by a seeming inability to recognize the value in Corvette’s iconic image for the brand, let alone increasing popularity, the so-called experts (otherwise referred to as “bean counters”) were hounding Chevrolet’s general manager, Mr. Bob Lund, to make a change. The most drastic of those proposed changes called for an end to the Corvette model.

It’s reported that, at a meeting, Mr. Lund had just finished stating how ending low-volume Corvette production would allow for greater high-volume Monte Carlo production when Chevrolet’s Director of Public Relations, Jim Williams, stood and said to Mr. Lund, “I don’t know about you, Bob, but I don’t want to be known as the PR chief who worked at Chevy when they dumped the Corvette.” …

This is a full-sized clay model from December of 1976 that, at first glance, looks just like the Aerovette. But, upon comparison, you’ll see several changes.

That’s because this clay model was the “productionized” version of the Aerovette that accounts for things necessary if it were to be built.

At this time, the mid-engine program was getting the majority of the attention. So much so that a mid-engined mule (built on a Porsche 914 platform!) had been constructed for testing. That’s where the mid-engine program lost its steam. Why?

Two problems were exposed by the mule. First was handling and Chevy recognized that Corvette customers had specific expectations about how their car should feel. The engineers ceded they didn’t feel they could meet those expectations with the new configuration in time for the debut.

The second problem had to do with power. In what seems a colossal oversight, the mid-engine proposal was planned from the start to be powered by the same engine/transmission combo as the upcoming X-cars (Citation/Phoenix/Skylark/Omega). That meant a 2.8-liter V6 pumping out a wheezing 110 HP. Boosting the engine’s output with a turbocharger was naturally considered but excessive costs (due to the unique design) and added component stress (which raised serious durability questions) were mortal blows to the doomed plan. …

The head of Chevy 3 design group, Mr. Jerry Palmer, had set five requirements for the epic model being redesigned under his watch: more passenger room, increase cargo space, reduce the drag coefficient, reduce the car’s height, and modernize the firewall-to-axle proportion. Some of those requirements would seem to conflict with another.

For example, in considering reducing the car’s overall height, they determined the ride height (the space between the body and the ground) couldn’t be reduced much compared the outgoing model.

To resolve the dilemma, Mr. Palmer and his team devised an interesting approach. By relocating the lowest components in the old design, the exhaust, including the catalytic converter, out from under the occupants’ seats and into a center tunnel, designers could lower the roof–and occupants–without affecting the car’s ride height.

This is the reason the C4 has what some consider to be an awkward ingress/egress design; others, myself included, feel it adds to the exotic appeal.

The interior design, with the hated digital instruments, combines two interior design concepts:

I believe the second steering wheel ended up in the mid-’80s Camaro. They should have stuck to the analog gauges.

Finally, here’s something you hardly see anymore, but used to see often in car magazines. This is remarkable to see for those of us who remember publications put together before desktop publishing, digital cameras and color availability on every page:

car craft c2 cutaway

The Corvette C2 Registry passed on this story from the November 1962 Car Craft magazine. Cool detail.

One thought on “It’s Corvettepalooza!

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