Tag: Corvette

The next unaffordable Corvette

This blog has reported from time to time the progress of the next supposedly mid-engine Corvette:

The Corvette world has a mixed opinion about this, as Brett Foote notes:

Historically, the Corvette has always been about two things, namely performance and value. For significantly less than the cost of an exotic supercar, you can go out, buy a Corvette, and run right with them. However, a funny thing seems to be happening ever since we found out Chevy was working on building a mid-engine C8 model. Suddenly, people started comparing this exciting new ride to cars far beyond its price range. Which is fair, really. But Corvette Forum member ColoradoGS hit the nail on the head with his assessment in this thread.

“In so many of these C8 threads people are like ‘Ferarri this’ and ‘hypercar that.’ Suggestions of ‘well if the C8 isn’t XYZ, I’m gonna buy a McLaren!’ Story time.

I went to the supermarket today at lunch in my grocery getter–a 2017 Grand Sport. I parked in the back of the parking lot (as one does) and when I came out there was a guy crouched down behind my car taking pictures with his phone. As I walked towards my car he stood up and asked ‘Is this your Vette?’ I can say with confidence that being able to say ‘Yeah, that’s my Vette’ after years of dreaming never gets old no matter how many times someone has asked.”

C8 Corvette

This particular conversion, it turned out, sparked an interesting point. One that we seem to have lost sight of in recent months.

“His favorite thing about Vettes? The performance you get for the dollar. We talked about how I’ve wanted one my whole life and finally was able to pull the trigger. He was like “one day, dude, one day”. And that’s the thing. A Ferrari could never make him feel like that. Sure, it’d be cool to see one and he’d probably take a picture of it too. But he could never ever imagine actually owning one. He can realistically dream of owning a Corvette one day. That’s the difference.”

And that’s one heck of a reminder of why so many people love the Corvette in the first place. Not because it’s the fastest car on the planet, the best handling, or the one built with the most exotic materials. It’s because this is a cool car that your average Joe can save up and buy. And that’s perfectly fine with folks like smithers.

“It does seem like people have suddenly forgotten that Corvettes have always been priced in a way that made them realistically affordable to common people. There seems to be an expectation that GM has suddenly said ‘to hell with that’ and decided to abandon their current market and make it a car most people won’t be able to afford (that $100k+ range).

Chances are high that this car will basically be a Corvette with the engine in the middle. And that’s fine. But most people seem to have this idea in their heads that going mid engine means it is has to look like a LaFerrari and cost $150k+. Or, even worse, the hope that it’s a halo car like the Ford GT. But there have been plenty of cars over the years that were both ME and affordable. There is no reason the C8 can’t do the same.”

C8 Corvette

It’s an interesting point, for sure. And also a nice reminder that the Corvette has, and hopefully always will be the quintessential American dream car. After all, Chevy has done a heck of a job offering up exotic-level performance at an affordable price for decades. Why stop now?

The answer to that question, I suppose, is determined by asking why GM felt the need to build a mid-engine Corvette — in order to build something to compete with Porsche, Ferrari and others. The problem in GM’s eyes is that a Corvette is not seen to be as exotic as whatever Porsche and Ferrari are building (in much smaller numbers) despite the current Corvette’s being probably the best performance bargain on the planet. Building a mid-engine Corvette puts GM in the corner of either selling something so expensive that its current and potential future buyers can’t afford it, or building something not exclusive enough to those who would consider buying a Porsche or a Ferrari.

That’s assuming GM can even competently put this car together. GM’s past performance with non-front-engine cars is not promising. The Chevy Corvair was an unfairly maligned car due to its rear-engine handling, but notice that the Corvair didn’t survive the 1960s. The Pontiac Fiero, like too many GM cars, was technology (mid-engine rear-drive) sent into the marketplace before it was really ready, and by the time Pontiac put in an engine that could move the car, the Fiero was dead.

As far as the price goes, here is an interesting observation, though I don’t know if it’s accurate:

Average price of a new car in 1953 = $1,650.
Corvette price in 1953 = $3,498.
Average income in 1953 = $3,139

Average price of a new car in 1962 = $3,125
Corvette price in 1962 = $4,038
Average income in 1962 = $4,291

Average price of a new car in 1970 = $3,542
Corvette price in 1970 = $6,773
Average income in 1970 = $6,186

Average price of a new car in 1980 = $7,000
Corvette price in 1980 = $14,694
Average income in 1980 = $12,513

Average price of a new car in 1990 = $9,437
Corvette price in 1990 = $31,979
Corvette ZR-1 price in 1990 = $58,995
Average income in 1990 = $21,027

Average price of a new car in 2000 = $24,750
Corvette price in 2000 = $39,280
Average income in 2000 = $32,154

Average car price in 2010 = $27,950
Corvette price in 2010 = $54,770
Average income in 2010 = $49,445

Corvettes have always been well above the average car price. The 1980s saw some of the highest Corvette sales years, and yet the price to income ratio was the most disproportionate. Also, in 1990 despite the car’s price being triple the average income and six times the price of the average car, Chevrolet managed to sell more than 3,000 ZR-1s. Corvette has never been for the average man.

This is not “average income,” it’s median household income, meaning that 50 percent of U.S. households make more, and 50 percent of U.S. households make less. Based on this comparison, if it’s otherwise accurate, the Corvette has always been priced approximately around the median U.S. household income and about twice the average price of a car.

The median household income in 2017 was $61,372, according to the U.S. Census. (Which reports that it may not be directly comparable to previous years because different questions were asked to determine that amount, but for our purposes let’s use this number.) The base price for a 2019 Corvette is $55,495. The base price for this Corvette, which besides being mid-engine is likely to have a new V-8 engine and all-wheel drive, will certainly not be $56,000. Reports indicate a six-digit base price is more likely.

A comment on Foote’s post posited:

The Ferrari could certainly out do the Corvette in “wow” factor (especially if driven but even if just standing still). But it wouldn’t give the guy the same rush because he knows he will never, ever own one. It’s the attainable part of the Corvette that makes it special to so many people.
I am skeptical a GM-built mid-engine Corvette can be made “attainable.”

Sharks with wheels

Apparently this is Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. (No, I’m not watching.)

Andy Bolig writes about different kinds of sharks:

It’s easy to look at something and say whether or not you like it and why, but to create something from nothing that will have lasting, world-wide appeal is a gift given to a rare few. When speaking about Corvettes, there are several names that constantly rise to the surface as undoubtedly having that gift.

In the late-50s and early 60s, designing a car was laid squarely on the shoulders of those who wielded a pen and paper. Their thoughts and souls flowed upon the canvas, and without any assistance from computers or electronics, they fostered designs that inspired generations. Gentlemen such as Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda came together to bear prototypes that would lead Corvette for generations and capture the hearts and minds of enthusiasts to this day.

Bill Mitchell took over the styling department when Harley Earl retired. At the time, styling made the rules, which put Bill high atop the food chain at GM.

Two cars that exemplify this are the “Mako Sharks”, a duo of forward-looking vehicles that used technologies of the day to inspire and captivate enthusiasts with their futuristic design and styling. The basis for these cars, of which they both were dutifully named, has its roots in Bill Mitchell’s love for deep sea fishing, and the shark that he reportedly caught while on one such endeavor.

Bill enjoyed deep-sea fishing and cars he designed had a definite connection to the sport.

In The Beginning

Larry Shinoda reported in an interview on more than one occasion how Mr. Mitchell caught a shark and was so enthralled in the color and shape of the animal that he used it as the design basis for the cars. He wanted to create a car that had the same appearance of speed and agility, as well as the ability. Of course, no other platform provided such a solid starting point as Corvette.

Larry Shinoda worked under Bill Mitchell and was responsible for many of the designs that rolled out of the styling department at GM. He recalls that when the paint team couldn’t match the colors of the shark that Mr. Mitchell had above his desk, they simply “borrowed” the shark and re-painted it to match the car!

In an interview with Wayne Ellwood, Corvette Designer Larry Shinoda once explained how the Mako Shark came about. The design work for the new-for-1963 Corvette was completed by 1962, and Chevrolet wanted something to help promote the new car. Larry was ordered to do some sketches that would build excitement for the new offering using cues from the new car, as well as taking some styling license with the design. After several designs, the final result was XP-755, the Mako Shark as we know it.

The first Mako Shark was as much a styling car as it was a driver. Reportedly, Bill Mitchell had as many as 50 cars specially built for his use during his tenure as design chief.

Even if anyone had seen the new 1963 Sting Ray Corvettes, they hadn’t seen anything like the Mako Shark! It’s pointy nose, flowing lines and a paint scheme that flowed from shark-skin blue to silver underneath were undeniable cues to the feared predator that shared its name.

Mako Shark II

Just three years later, Chevrolet churned out the next chapter in their Mako-based Corvettes. There is some confusion surrounding this car, partly due to its transformation as it would adjust to responses that it garnered while travelling the show circuit. In fact, there are three iterations of this stylized icon; the first being a non-powered styling exercise, then a drivable version carrying the same name. Lastly, the car was updated with a revised roof line that featured a mail-slot opening as a rear window and the movable rear louvers were removed. The car was also upgraded with the new ZL-1, all-aluminum 427 engine and was now known as the Manta Ray.

In its original configuration, the Mako Shark II was a “pusher”, wearing stylized side pipes and unable to move under its own power. It DID make for a great photo though!

The Mako Shark II was first introduced to the public in 1965, at the New York International Auto Show of that year. As such, it was unmistakably all Bill Mitchell. The “coke-bottle” shape was the brain-child of Mr. Mitchell and reportedly, vexed Corvette’s Chief Engineer, Zora Duntov greatly. That is, until Zora was testing the pre-production 1968 Stingray on GM’s high-speed test track and had a tire failure. Resting the car against the wall at speed until it stopped, the concrete barrier ground the wider wheel housings down until they were even with the narrow waistline of the rest of the car’s body. Reportedly, Zora exited the car and said, “Ah, bulges SAVE Zora!”

More than simply a styling car, the Mako Shark II encompassed features that wouldn’t be seen on production cars for decades, and some that have yet to be realized. The hidden wipers made it into production quickly on the ’68 Corvette, but items like the adjustable pedals are just making it onto production lines. Other items like the motorized rear louvers never really took hold, and the pop up taillights (in Manta Ray trim), and rear spoiler may have missed their moment, or we just haven’t realized how much we need them – yet. Time will tell.

In it’s first iteration, the Mako Shark II was not intended to be driven as much as it was a styling exercise to gauge public opinion on various ideas. In this form, the car can be seen with side-pipes akin to those used on several earlier styling cars, such as the World’s Fair ’64 Corvette. As Chevrolet designers gained insight into what the public wanted to see, the car changed to a rear-exiting exhaust, albeit in stylized form.

Other changes to the car throughout the year included a more standardized round steering wheel that replace the squared-off version it originally had, and the car, originally equipped with a Mark IV (396ci) engine later received the all-aluminum ZL-1. By the time the Mako Shark II made its appearance at the Paris Auto Show in October of ’65, it was a runner.

Even with the various changes, the Mako Shark cars have proven the lasting, timeless virtue of good design. We would have to look long and hard to find another example of styling cars of that era that have made such an impact or have withstood the test of time.

Most Corvette fans acknowledge that the C2, inspired by the Mako Shark, was a better car than the C1. Corvette fans have been split on the C3, inspired by Mako Shark II, given that it was bigger outside but smaller inside than the C2 it replaced, and had rather useless storage space. (Not that the C2’s was better, since it was not a hatchback either.)

I’ve never mentioned this before now, but I once owned a Mako Shark.

It went as fast as I could push it.

For those wondering about a birthday present for me …

How can one story combine two of my favorite things, the Packers (of which I am an owner) and Corvettes (of which I am not)?

The answer comes from Motor Authority:

On January 15, 1967, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception as the Packers rolled over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first AFL-NFL World Championship game (which would later become known as Super Bowl I). For his efforts, Starr was named the game’s MVP and was awarded a shiny new 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray convertible. That Corvette is now going up for auction.

The car is documented with a tank sticker that says “Courtesy Delivery – B. Starr.” It presents with its original and patinated Goodwood Green paint, which was chosen to match the Packers’ home jerseys and is only slightly touched up. Just 48,000 miles show on the odometer and the listing says they are believed to be original.

According to the listing, Starr owned the car until the 1980s, and eventually it came into the hands of a woman in Wausau, Wisconsin, in a divorce settlement. In 1994, she sold it to Michael Anderson, owner of Thunder Valley Classic Cars of St. Joseph, Minnesota, which specializes in Corvettes. Anderson has several Bloomington Gold restorations under his belt, but instead of restoring the car, which had been in storage for years, he decided to take the body off the frame and clean and recondition the underside.

Anderson replaced the body mounts, rubber suspension components, U-joints, seals, and bearings. He also installed a new Dewitts radiator, though the original is also included with the auction, overhauled the brake system, and upgraded the calipers with stainless-steel piston sleeves.

The rest he left as time had treated it.

Under the hood sits a 300-horsepower, 327-cubic-inch V-8 hooked to a Muncie 4-speed manual transmission. Anderson says the car runs and drives well, and the numbers-matching engine has never been out of the car and retains its original gaskets and paint.

The Corvette rides on bias-ply Redline tires mounted on Rally wheels, and those tires should be able to lay down two black stripes on the pavement thanks to a 3.36:1 positraction differential.

The car also features the original black interior, black soft top, and Soft Ray-tinted windshield. Inside, it has a telescoping steering column and an AM/FM radio.

Head to Indianapolis for the Mecum Auction May 15-20 for your chance to buy this piece of automotive and NFL history.

This is like the Holy Grail for the Packer/Corvette fan. Starr was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, the last two of his five NFL titles as the Packers’ quarterback. That places him in Joe Montana/Tom Brady territory in the conversation about the best NFL quarterbacks of all time, because of the only metric that actually counts in the NFL — winning.

This Corvette isn’t that powerful, with the base V-8, but it has the correct transmission for any Corvette. I like green Corvettes, and it’s the right color anyway for a Packer player or fan. This doesn’t say whether it has power steering or brakes. I’ve driven both a Corvette and a similar car without power brakes, and I can live with that. I’ve also driven a Corvette without power steering and other vehicles that were supposed to have power steering but didn’t. (They’re easier to drive when moving; turns from a stop or slow speed are the hardest.) Driving this is likely to be easier than driving, say, a Corvette with a big block but without power steering.

In those days the late Sport magazine awarded cars to the Super Bowl MVP. SI.com reports that Starr donated his second MVP Corvette …

… to be auctioned off for funds to start Rawhide Boys Ranch near New London.

I was not aware that Starr actually owned a Corvette, which puts him the company of other famous Corvette owners. The story was that Starr had requested a station wagon instead of the Corvette, but that is evidently incorrect. (The wagon substitution request came from Roger Staubach, and the wagon replaced a Dodge Charger, because, he said, “We had three kids. What was I going to do with a Dodge Charger?” The Charger had seating for four, but on the other hand the Corvette had seating for two, two fewer than the number of kids in the Starr household.)

Starr tends to get a bit underrated for his contribution to the Glory Days Packers perhaps because he didn’t throw for a bazillion yards in the days where the game was considerably different from now. But remember that Starr called all the plays in those days, including the improvised quarterback sneak that won the Ice Bowl. Starr was the 1966 NFL MVP. Starr was 9–1 as a starting quarterback in the postseason and had the best postseason passer rating in NFL history. Not even Montana or Brady can say that.

(Aaron Rodgers, by the way, got a Chevy Camaro for being the Super Bowl XLV MVP.)

The Packers’ two Super Bowl teams were the last two Glory Days champions, and the Packers were not as run-dominated as they did in the early Glory Days, because by the Super Bowls running backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung were at the end of their careers. No Starr, no Super Bowls.

Starr was also the general manager/coach of the Packers. That didn’t go so well, although he did get them into as many playoff berths as his predecessor, Dan “Lawrence Welk Trade” Devine, and more than his successors, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante (zero each). I’ve written before here about the mess he inherited and how he really shouldn’t have been GM/coach because no one should be GM/coach anymore. Packer fans clearly look at Starr more as the great quarterback he was than as the coach he became.

If I somehow got this car, I would do three things with it — (1) replace the bias-ply tires with radials (and find someone who manufactures red-stripe radials), (2) get it to wherever Starr now lives to meet him (I was 2 years old when the Packers won Super Bowl II, so by the time I knew the Packers they were quite bad, which made the Glory Days seem unlikely to have occurred) and show off the car, and then (3) drive it.

Let’s see. Mega Millions is $45 million tonight, and Powerball is $257 million Saturday night …

The first famous film* Corvette

As you know, I am a connoisseur of both Corvettes and movies where cars play prominent roles.

One of the downsides of the latter is the dearth of quality movies with Corvettes in them. No, “Corvette Summer” does not count, nor, probably, “Last Stand”:

For whatever reason, a New York Times book excerpt popped up about probably the first Corvette made famous in entertainment, from the TV series “Route 66”:

Actor Martin Milner was one of those celebrities at whom Chevrolet aimed the 1953 Corvette. Herbert B. “Bert” Leonard was an even bigger target. Leonard had risen through television’s ranks to become an executive producer, the man who developed and ran successful and popular series shows. In late 1953 he introduced a drama starring a German shepherd and a young boy, called The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. Milner had appeared in television’s Dragnet, and other series and films through the early and mid-1950s. Neither of them, however, was impressed enough to pay much attention to the car until they had to.

In writing schools, instructors teach young talents to “write what you know.” A slice of Leonard’s life, of what he knew from his youth, grew into a very popular series. In a 1982 interview in Emmy magazine with film writer Richard Maynard, Bert recalled a lunch with his friend, Naked City writer Stirling Silliphant in 1959 while that show was in production. As a child in New York, Leonard had a much wealthier friend who was a prep school student. Over lunch he and Silliphant imagined what it might have been like to hit the roads in his friend’s sports car. An idea gelled immediately and by the time lunch was over, they had their show name, The Searchers, and a pilot story roughed out. Leonard and Silliphant had created an idea that took another popular TV series of the mid-1950s Wagon Train into the next decade. In their proposal, they wrote:

The theme – search, unrest, uncertainty, seeking answers, looking for a way of life.

The people – are young enough to appeal to the youthful audience, old enough to be involved in adult situations.

The stories – will be about something, [Italics were Silliphant’s] will be honest, and will face up to life, look for and suggest meanings, things people can identify with, and yet there will be the romance and escape of young people with wanderlust.

The locales – the whole width and breadth of the U.S., with stories shot in the actual locations, a la Naked City. What we did for one city, we now propose to do for a country and for many of its industries and businesses.

In late 1959, Leonard and Silliphant pitched this idea to Columbia-Screen Gems. They were an acknowledged success; Naked City had established new standards for storytelling and cinematography in television. This idea, however, was different. As Screen Gems executives explained when they rejected the series initially, this was “about two bums on the road.”

The Searchers verged on late 1950s European Existentialism, a philosophy that questioned why humans exist. Because he suspected this was a bit too deep for television executives at the time, Silliphant brought it back to more comfortable territory. He concluded their pitch by promising that each episode would be “packed with at least two or three top-staged brawls (built into the character of Buz).” To demonstrate his faith in the idea, Leonard funded the pilot himself. In exchange, if Columbia bought the show, he would own 80 percent of the series.

Screen Gems execs reminded Leonard and Silliphant that New York’s Broadway had recently staged a play titled The Searchers, so the pair adopted the name of America’s emotionally-laden “mother road,” Route 66.

Regular viewers know that the 115 episodes over four years rarely found stories along U.S. Highway 66. That mattered only to those obsessed with detail. Leonard’s crew shot the pilot, called “The Wolf Tree,” in Concord, Kentucky, calling it the fictional Garth, Alabama, in February 1960. The show debuted on a Friday night, October 7, 1960, with the episode renamed “Black November.” By then the production crew was leapfrogging across the country. Leonard, Silliphant, and a production assistant scouted areas that gave them several nearby towns around which to craft two or three episodes. Four weeks later, the production caravan arrived and began filming. Silliphant sometimes wrote from hotel rooms near the locations, delivering script pages that day to the waiting cast, each story faithfully adhering to his promise to show America, its industries and its businesses, and a fist fight or two thrown in for good measure.

The premise of the show was that Tod Stiles, played by Martin Milner, had just lost his father, a New York City shipping company owner. Stiles, a junior at Yale, educated and thoughtful, well-bred and polite, came home for the funeral to discover a bankrupt business and a legacy that included nothing more than a new 1960 Corvette convertible.

“I’ve been seriously wrong about a lot of things in my life,” Milner admitted in an interview in 1998. “And I said to Bert Leonard, ‘A Corvette isn’t that exciting a car. Why don’t we do this in a Ferrari?’” Milner laughed.

“‘Well,’ Bert said to me, ‘we’ve got a pretty good chance of getting sponsorship from Chevrolet. And there’s a pretty good chance of not getting anything from Ferrari.’”

Milner related this story to documentary producer John Paget while they were completing a retrospective two-hour show tracing the actual route of Route 66. For that production Milner drove a 1960 Roman Red convertible (with white coves), which gave rise to yet another of the countless myths about the television series.

An actor Leonard had used and liked on Naked City, George Maharis, was hired even before Milner to play a dockside employee named Buz Murdoch. Maharis’ character Buz was a native of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, streetwise and cynical, equally quick to react or to joke. Now Buz was jobless. Suddenly uprooted in every sense, the two clean-cut handsome young men, friends from summers working on Stiles’ docks, took off to find themselves.

“Tod says,” Maharis announced in that first episode, written by Silliphant, “if we keep moving we’ll find a place to plant roots . . .. But with me, it’s fine just moving.”

Screen Gems and CBS picked up the series, and listings in publications such as TV Guide identified Milner and Maharis as the principal players. But there were four stars apparent to those who watched the show carefully: Maharis, Milner, the Corvette (often written in to Silliphant’s scripts as a character itself), and The Road Across America. As television historian Mark Alvey wrote in The Road Movie Book, “Route 66 is a tale both of search and flight, and as a serial narrative characteristic of American commercial television, its central meaning lies not in some finite goal at the end of the road, but in the discoveries made along the way.”

The show’s travels rooted much of America to their television sets every Friday for four seasons. The audience’s vicarious restlessness brought Chevrolet back year after year as principal sponsor. “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” was more than an advertising jingle for this show—it was close as existentialism was to being the show’s philosophical foundation.

Chevrolet’s advertising agency’s Los Angeles office provided Leonard a pair of Tasco Turquoise blue convertibles. As Leonard and Silliphant had promised, the show hit the road and travelled . . . and travelled. Maharis recalled recently that they covered 40,000 miles each year. Production manager Sam Manners ran a road train, as he explained to show historian James Rosin. A transporter carried the two Corvettes as well as a Chapman Crane, a truck with an arm capable of lifting the camera nearly 50 feet in the air. A station wagon supported the camera for moving front shots; a Corvair missing its front trunk lid served as camera car for rear views. Another dozen vehicles made up the convoy with portable dressing rooms, costumes, and the camera equipment, lenses, lighting gear, and generators cinematographer Jack Marta needed to get each episode on film.

For Chevrolet, it was the natural “vehicle” to promote their sports car. Similar motives attracted GM executives and viewers: There was no need to wait for a vacation to see the country in the family station wagon—hopefully a Chevy. Every week millions of individuals went on an adventure, imagining themselves as the third (or fourth or fifth) rider stuffed into the Corvette between Buz and Tod.

The show provided adventure, with Tod, Buz, and the Corvette as tour guides. Events, tumultuous and timely, befell the two young men just as they arrived in one locale or another. Silliphant, a writer profoundly in sync with America’s psyche, steered them to women’s rights, racial inequality, corporate malfeasance, land and water rights, international espionage, murder, theft, assault, marital and familial discord, war crimes, revolutionary terrorists, drug addiction and abuse, the role of the government in an individual’s rights, and the responsibilities of an individual to a town or nation. The episodes were self-contained, an anthology type of storytelling that introduced conflicts involving guest stars outside the Corvette. By the time the sleek luggage-encumbered convertible left town, all was right with the world and it was time to move on.

In an interview in Time magazine in August 1963, Silliphant said, “The meaning of Route 66 has to do with ‘a search for identity in contemporary America. It is a show about a statement of existence. If anything, it is closer to Sartre and Kafka than to anything else. We are terribly serious, and we feel that life contains a certain amount of pain.’”

The show caused some pain for cinematographer Marta, who worked hard to illuminate actors’ faces in bright sunlight against a pale blue car that reflected so much light. For the 1961–1962 season, the Campbell-Ewald agency provided the show with Fawn Beige convertibles. That darker color choice remained through 1964, when the series ended.

Some viewers picked up the difference between the tones of the cars, even filmed in black-and-white. They noticed that each year the seemingly penniless Stiles and Murdock (who often said they took jobs just for gas money) travelled in a current model Corvette. That question fit right in with, “How can they be in Maine if the show is called Route 66?”

As a title, The Searchers was not “catchy,” just as a Ferrari convertible would have been unbelievable—why wouldn’t Tod sell a car like that and go back to Yale? But Dad’s two-seat American-made Corvette enticed the two young men onto the road, letting Stiles search for roots and Murdock keep moving without taking much baggage or other passengers.

Chevrolet’s design studio began planning updates to the Corvette’s first-generation body even before introduction in 1953. Poor sales slipped the redesign back from the 1956 to 1958, when quad headlights appeared. Stylists Peter Brock, Chuck Pohlman, and others slaved away on the “next” Corvette, first called the “Q” and then nicknamed just “the next one.” In 1961 the car received a new rear end that hinted at The Next One. Quad headlights stayed through 1962 season and subsequent generations. The Sting Ray showed up for the 1962–1963 season and a new one carried on for the 1963–1964 programs.

About every 3,000 miles, Campbell-Ewald replaced the show’s cars, reconditioning them and sending them off to friendly dealers to sell as “executive” vehicles. Sam Manners remembered running though three or four cars per season. With each season’s renewal, new models arrived in time for the caravan to leave L.A. By 1963, that road show had grown to fifty vehicles on the road covering 40,000 miles each year. By then Chevrolet provided Corvettes to Milner and Maharis, Manners, and others for personal use as well.

The car shown here is not a vehicle from the show. Its white coves betray it, as does its unrestored survivor status. Pennsylvania owner Mike Nardo and his father know the history of the car and it did not include television stardom. But Nardo’s car is a survivor with 37,000 miles, a four-speed transmission, and the same factory steel wheels and wheel covers that Tod ended up with after Episode 22. In that show, “Eleven, The Hard Way,” the two men helped a small town confront the risks of gambling in order to save itself. To stake a loan to the town’s auditor in a make-or-break game of dice, Tod sold the wire wheels that drove the car through two-thirds of the premiere season.

The show itself was a gamble. There are reports that CBS didn’t care for it. Network president Jim Aubrey complained to Leonard that the show was “too downbeat,” and that he wanted more “broads, bosoms, and fun.” But, as Leonard told Mark Alvey, Chevrolet “liked the hard hitting show they bought . . . They wanted the reality, the drama, and the movement; not the sexy women and cliché characters.” GM’s marketing studies revealed that the show attracted huge audiences of young people between the age of 10 and 14, a prime target then and now. The show ran for four seasons, surviving the disappearance of co-star Maharis who was suffering with hepatitis brought on by the exhausting pace of travel and six-day shooting weeks. Milner drove on, searching for roots and meaning. The show finally slowed to a halt months after Glenn Corbett, playing Lincoln Case, replaced a still-ailing Maharis. “Linc” was more like Tod than Buz and the interplay and counterpoint that worked so well with Maharis and Milner never reappeared.

Critics have analyzed the show’s writing, its acting, and its stories. Some have compared it to beatnik author Jack Kerouac’s seminal travel story On the Road. Kerouac sued Silliphant and Leonard, accusing them of plagiarism. But as Paul Goodman explained in his book Growing up Absurd, “The entire action of On the Road is the avoidance of interpersonal conflict.” Route 66 was precisely the opposite, and viewer surveys commissioned in 1961 by Chevrolet and other sponsors learned that the audience understood the role of the stars as knights in shining armor, riding in week after week to save damsels—or entire towns—in distress. It is their co-star in this noble pursuit, their trusty steed, their white charger—well, first blue and then beige—that is the subject of this chapter.

The book is …

Legendary Corvettes: ’Vettes Made Famous On Track And Screen, which I have not read, and apparently is not available through the local library system. It appears from the Amazon preview that there is only one other movie/TV Corvette in the book …

… this abomination.

Nerdy things recently found on social media

First: How does one combine love of Corvettes, Star Trek and dogs?

With the Meme Generator, of course:

OK, some people prefer Spock to Kirk, so …

Meanwhile, a Facebook group revealed a drag racing video …

… which proves that the great Dick Enberg could announce anything, just like …

… the great Vin Scully.

Meanwhile, if you want to see what professional Steve is up to, click here. (Hint: It involves guns.)

 

On National Corvette Day and Drive Your Corvette to Work Day …

click here to read everything I have ever written about America’s sports car …

… which, because life is unfair, is not my sports car.

Today is the 64th anniversary of the completion of the first Corvette. Two days before that

The Corvette of SUVs

The Detroit News decided to do a thought exercise:

What if Chevrolet made a Corvette SUV?

Maybe that’s not so far-fetched. Corvette is a singular car within Chevrolet, and in many ways is a performance brand unto itself. Almost every performance brand now has its own crossover; the most prominent of which is Porsche’s money-machine, the Cayenne.

If Corvette did make an SUV, what would it look like? Detroit News presentation editor Jamie Hollar drew his own concept car, shown here. And The Detroit News talked to ex-GM big wigs, auto analysts and car enthusiasts for their ideas on what the high-performance SUV should be.

Since the first Jeep sport utility appeared in 1984, the automotive landscape has been transformed by high-riding, five-door SUVs with visibility and utility to spare. Even legendary performance brands that once built only ground-hugging sports cars have jumped in. Beginning with Porsche in 2003, SUVs have become a performance-maker’s goldmine. Nearly every performance badge wants a piece of the lucrative ute market.

Notably absent is the Corvette, America’s V-8-powered workingman’s superhero.

Though technically a Chevrolet product, the Corvette long ago became an iconic nameplate that’s equal to Europe’s elite sports car names. It’s faster than the Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type, Alfa Romeo 4C and Lamborghini Huracan. And while those brands have all exploited their athletic images to expand into sport utilities — the Jaguar F-Pace, Alfa Stelvio and Lamborghini Urus — the Corvette remains a one-off.

“There’s certainly precedent for non-traditional SUV makers to jump into the market,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Every time one of them has jumped in, it has worked.”

With nearly two-thirds of Porsche buyers opting for SUVs, Porsche makes up a whopping one-third of Volkswagen Group’s profits while generating only 2.3 percent of its sales, according to MotleyFool.com. “The idea of a Porsche SUV still rubs sports-car purists the wrong way, but it has been a spectacularly profitable product for the brand,” says John Rosevear, senior auto specialist for the website.

GM executives won’t talk about future vehicles — and even if they did, there’s no evidence a sport utility is in the works. But everywhere we went, car fans loved the idea. The consensus was if Corvette were to build it, it would be a home run.

The News story posits the Corvette XC7 or X06 as a five-door (four doors plus tailgate) all-wheel-drive SUV with one of the real Corvette’s 6.2-liter V-8s, the supercharged one going in the X06, and either an eight- or 10-speed automatic.

Right away you should be able to see the problems in that paragraph. The traditional truck engine was designed less for horsepower than for torque. (Of course, if your standard V-8 has 460 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, with the upgrade adding 190 horsepower and 195 pound-feet, maybe that’s not an issue after all.) Corvettes have two doors, two seats and front-engine V-8s that power the rear wheels, along with a choice between manual and automatic transmissions.

Other details?

“XC7 and X06 (mirroring the high-performance version’s Z06 name) are great starters for naming,” says Tom Wallace, the retired GM engineer who ran Chevrolet’s Corvette program from 2006-08. “Stingray is off limits.”

It would be essential that any Corvette crossover share the sports car’s DNA.

“Front engine, rear drive, with AWD option. Lots of aluminum in the structure,” muses Wallace. “Aluminum is mandatory to support the theme that Corvette embraces to be the lightest vehicle in its class. The two V-8s from the Corvette stable are also a must.”

That means the 460-horse V-8 shared with the base C7 sports car — or for the Z06 version, the supercharged 650-horsepower V-8 for what might be the fastest SUV ever built. Considering the rear-wheel drive Z06 sports car is slightly slower from 0-60 than its all-wheel drive 540-horsepower Porsche Turbo rival, an all-wheel drive X06 crossover should be competitive with the all-wheel drive Cayenne Turbo’s 3.8-second, 0-60 romp.

“Maximum Bob” Lutz, the ex-vice president of GM product design who is revered for bringing back The General’s design mojo, agrees with Wallace’s assessment: “Like the Cayenne, the appeal of the ’Vette SUV would be RWD proportions. It should, in fact, have a silhouette not too different from a Cayenne.”

Start with the C7’s dramatic, sculpted lines created by Tom Peters and widely recognized as one of the best designs in Corvette’s 54 years. All performance SUVs are essentially vertically stretched, five-door versions of familiar sports coupes, giving them an inherently heavy look compared to low-slung two-seaters.

But angular designs like our mock XC7 or Lamborghini’s Urus show that it’s possible to break with the soap-bar shapes of the Porsche Cayenne and Maserati Levante. With Corvette’s trademark shark nose, scooped hood and quad exhaust pipes, it would drip with menace.

Inside, the XC7 would share the C7’s acclaimed interior: comfortable seats, stitched dash and quality trim materials. Naturally, the signature “oh, crap” passenger grab-handles from the sports car would carry over (for those times when dad is seized by the need for speed).

Other parts like transmissions and all-wheel drive systems could come from common GM parts bins, which has been key in keeping Corvette costs down over the years. “To engineer the vehicle, I would have to combine some of the Corvette team with some of the SUV team,” says Wallace.

Price? “More than the $40,000 Cadillac XT5, but about 10 grand below” a $60,000 base V-6 Cayenne, suggests Lutz.

But the chassis might be a deal breaker. “To be successful, this vehicle would require an all-new RWD/AWD architecture, which currently does not exist,” says Lutz. “That’s high investment for relatively low volume.”

Porsche was able to “lunch off” the VW Touareg chassis, which enabled Porsche to package its V-8 engine longitudinally. GM’s new C1XX platform is the backbone for the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia utilities; it has been lauded for its stiffness and light weight. But its front-wheel drive, transverse engine layout appears ill-suited for our ambitious XC7.

“The Corvette ute probably would be a stand-alone architecture (or a major modification of an existing architecture), so volume would be critical to call it a business success,” Wallace believes.

Cost aside, Lutz says there is another obstacle to an XC7: “The reason a Corvette SUV won’t happen is the business case would be tough. Besides cannibalizing ‘normal’ Corvettes, it can also be expected to damage GMC and certainly the Cadillac XT5.”

And yet, Lutz acknowledges the unique draw of the Corvette: “Corvette is a powerful brand that should be developed. Go upmarket with a mid-engine sedan using big Cadillac CT6 architecture, and maybe eventually something like Cayenne. They would split it off from Chevrolet — nobody makes that connection anyway.”

Kelley Blue Book’s Brauer says financial analysts would grill GM on creating another brand so soon after it axed Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn in bankruptcy. “But history would suggest there is no downside to a performance brand expanding into SUVs,” he says. “Non-Corvette owners who couldn’t justify a two-seat sports car could finally put a Corvette badge in their garage.”

There are SUVs with similar performance numbers; besides the aforementioned Porsche Cayenne and its 570 horsepower in Turbo S guise for $161,600, Land Rover makes the Range Rover Sport SVR with 550 horsepower, for the bargain price of $111,350.

One of the problems with a Corvette SUV might be the price, weirdly. The real Corvette supposedly loses sales to Ferrari and Porsche because it’s not exclusive enough. (What kind of fool thinks a car is too inexpensive compared with its competition, particularly when its performance numbers are comparable?) That’s despite the fact the Corvette is one of the great performance bargains of all time. At $79,450, the Z06 costs $122.23 per horsepower. The standard Stingray costs $120.54 per horsepower. The top-of-the-line Porsche, the 911R, costs $369.80 per horsepower. The new Bugatti Chiron produces 1,500 horsepower (really) for a list price of $2.998 million (really), or $1,998.67 per horsepower.

The bigger issue, of course, is brand dilution. That’s what happened when Nissan added two back seats to the 260Z. (But when the Z was reintroduced in 2002, it lost the back seat.) That’s what happened when Porsche, the maker of 2+2 cars, added the Cayenne SUV and the Panamera sedan. Of course, buyers have sucked up Cayennes, and you’d think GM would have noticed that.

Corvette Online adds:

For some reason, the C7 has polarized more than a few folks on its looks. It seems that while a good majority of us love the latest generation Corvette, there are some who are steadfast in their disapproval. That said, we are doubtful that these images will do much to win them over.

Adding a shooting-brake style hatch to the lineup of Corvettes has been an on-and-off discussion for ages. The shooting brake style would seem to be pretty easy to pull off, given the expanse would cover the space already occupied by the large, curved-glass fastback hatch already in place. Just switch it out. The concept seems easy enough that we could see some developments on this in the near future.

Adding an extra pair of doors is a little bit more controversial. Ultra-luxury sedans are all the rage, but to us, it seems like a boxing ring more suited towards Cadillac, than Corvette. After all, the CTS-V is already there fighting. But four-door Corvettes aren’t entirely new, either. Concepts have been made in the past. Their downfall comes from trying to stretch the Corvette lines over a longer wheelbase. It’s close, but it never seems quite right.

Well, if GM would seriously consider an SUV, why wouldn’t GM consider a sedan too?

There is another major problem with this. The next Corvette reportedly will be rear/mid-engine — the engine will be ahead of the rear axle instead of in front — which, unless you’re talking about old Volkswagens …

… is incompatible with a sedan or a wagon. (As it is I have serious doubts about GM’s ability to pull off a mid-engine drivetrain given GM’s record of sending new technology into the world before it’s ready. Also, why GM, which makes money on every front-engine/rear-drive Corvette it has built for decades, wants to mess with success is a mystery to me.)

If a Corvette is going to happen (and there are numerous reasons already stated that it won’t), it might seem logical for GM to split off the Corvette brand into its own line. It’s one thing for a Chevrolet dealer to sell the current Corvette; it’s another thing entirely for a Chevy dealer to sell two-seat, 2+2, four-door and SUV Corvettes. That would also result in Corvettes being less geographically available, because the number of Corvette dealerships would surely be fewer than the number of Chevy dealerships. And given that GM is a decade removed from culling several of its historic brands — Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn plus Saab and Hummer, which GM purchased — adding a brand seems less likely.

The News adds this:

What do you think a Corvette SUV should look like?

Create your own design and enter The Detroit News design contest. Our team of judges — ex-Corvette chief engineer Tom Wallace, Detroit News auto columnist Henry Payne and Detroit News presentation editor Jamie Hollar — will pick a winner. Top entries will be published in The Detroit News and at detroitnews.com.

Entries can be done in any medium: computer rendering, pencil sketch, watercolor, whatever you prefer. Send a high-resolution copy by email to Henry Payne at hpayne@detroitnews.com.

Deadline for entries is April 17.

If I only had drawing skills.

The next Chevy, or Cadillac, Corvette?

Automotive News reports:

There’s another round of midengine Chevrolet Corvette spy photos, and they’re perhaps the best look at the long-rumored sports car yet.

Spy photographers spotted what appears to be a midengine Corvette at one of General Motors’ winter-testing facilities.

The photos indicate that the vehicle will have a lower hood line, a longer rear deck and a much shorter dash-to-axle ratio.

The midengine mule was spotted, at times, next to a pair of other Corvette prototypes that are likely next-gen ZR1 mules.

Despite being heavily camouflaged, some key design features such as taillights and the vehicle’s exhaust layout were visible.

The latest photos illustrate just how much of a departure, in terms of design and engineering, a midengine Corvette would be for GM.

It remains unclear where a midengine Corvette would stand in the Chevrolet performance lineup and whether it will replace the C7 Corvette outright or coexist with the current generation.

In August, The Detroit News, citing multiple sources, reported that GM plans to begin selling a midengine Corvette in early 2019.

The Corvette, one of GM’s oldest nameplates, continues to attract mostly older buyers, and the automaker is eager to switch to a midengine layout to attract younger consumers, the paper said.

There have been several reports in Car and Driver and other media outlets over the past three years speculating about revived plans for a midengine Corvette.

While the Corvette has been GM’s premier performance vehicle for decades, a switch to a midengine layout would entail a major overhaul of the current car, the C7.

Almost no parts could be carried over because nearly all of the major components on a midengine car would be in different locations.

Switching from a front to midengine layout would entail engineering a new chassis, creating a new transaxle — the transmission and axle — to drive the rear wheels, developing new cooling, air-conditioning and suspension systems, and designing an all-new body.

A midengine Corvette would give GM a true competitor to Ford’s GT supercar, which is midengined, as well as supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche.

In June 2016, GM disclosed plans to spend $290 million to retool the Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant where the Corvette is assembled.

The factory’s assembly operations are set to be upgraded and modified for “technology upgrades and manufacturing process improvements.”

In 2015, GM said it would spend $439 million on a new paint shop at the Corvette-only plant. Work on the paint shop began in 2015 that year and will run until mid-2017.

Motor1 suggests that the mid-engine car will be in addition to, not in place of, the current Corvette:

Two of the most anticipated American sports cars are under development side by side.

The engineers in charge of the Chevrolet Corvette are keeping very busy this winter by developing several versions of the sports car at once, and these spy photos offer a fantastic look of the mid-engine model and future ZR1 testing together. This is our first opportunity to compare them next to each other.

With its short, sloping nose and long rear section, Chevy is taking a familiar supercar design approach for its mid-engine Corvette. The undulating camouflage on the bulging hood suggests there might be an intake there or the designers are going for a highly sculpted shape. Two bubbles in the roof give the driver and passenger more headroom while keeping the center section low.

Openings in the concealment along the rear fenders hint that there might be intakes there for feeding air to the engine. The camouflage at the tail hides the lights but keeps the taillights relatively unhidden. The quad exhausts and exposed muffler look good, but it’s surprising not to see a big diffuser or wing back there. These aerodynamic devices are largely the norm at the rear of many super cars today.

When not on the test track, these spy shots show that Chevy is keeping the mid-engine Corvette highly camouflaged. Not only does a massive covering completely hide the shape of the body, but the company also has a pair of pickups flanking the much-anticipated vehicle.

In comparison, the ZR1 appears to sit slightly higher than the mid-engine ‘Vette but still looks mean. These shots show it with two separate wings – an incredibly tall one with large end plates and a smaller example. The ZR1s here feature bulging hoods and aggressive front fascia designs.

We expect the ZR1 to arrive late in 2017 as a 2018 model year vehicle, and it might use Chevy’s new LT5 6.2-liter dual-overhead cam V8. The different wings hint that there might be an even hotter performance package.

The first question that comes to mind is: Is this actually a Corvette, or is this perhaps the next Cadillac XLR, which was based on the Corvette but with the NorthStar V-8 engine and more luxury accouterments.

There remains a certain illogic in replacing the rear-wheel-drive Corvette, of which Chevrolet sells every one it makes, with a mid-engine replacement using unproven technology (of which GM has a bad habit of sending into the marketplace before it’s really ready) and a list price likely to be far beyond $100,000.

CarGurus presents GM’s supposed rationale:

The average ‘Vette buyer is a 59-year-old male, but Chevrolet would love to start sending Corvettes home with guys and gals a decade or two younger. Certainly the C7 appeals to a younger crowd, but the Corvette brand has become associated with being a mid-life crisis purchase. When was the last time you saw someone driving a Corvette who didn’t have white hair?

Younger folks tend to buy the Camaro or Mustang.

Part of the reason is because older buyers are usually better-equipped to buy such an expensive car than their younger counterparts. In fact, more than 40 percent of Corvettes are purchased with cash.

There’s a new Corvette on the horizon, though, that might be enough to persuade younger folks with extra cash to jump on the Corvette train. …

It would also, GM hopes, make the car appeal to a younger crowd. Ferrari’s average buyer is 47, and Lamborghini’s is 48, while the average Porsche 911 buyer is 52.

The biggest problem, in my humble opinion, is that the Corvette was coolest when older people were young. The other brands require a deeper appreciation for quality cars, while the Corvette is a feel-good purchase that makes people reminiscent of when they were younger.

Happily, even at my advanced age I am younger than the average Corvette buyer. Does that explain why I don’t own one, or is it the manifest unfairness of life>

That rationale lacks logic. Comments on the Car Gurus post point out that you can spend $90,000 on the current Corvette. A mid-engined Corvette would be far more expensive than that. If younger buyers don’t buy Corvettes due to their price now, a more expensive Corvette won’t change that. And if you’re, say, 35 to 45 and rich, you seem more likely to buy a Ferrari or Porsche.

The current Corvette is a performance bargain for the price. I’m not certain why Chevy wants to screw that up, but it is GM we’re talking about.

 

Corvettes I have driven

The first Corvette I remember was the down-the-street neighbor’s 1970 dark-green coupe with the base 350 V-8 and automatic.

NOTE: Not the actual first Corvette I remember seeing.
NOTE: Not the actual first Corvette I remember seeing.

The first Corvette I drove looked a lot like it, except it was a 1969, and it had a tan interior instead of a green interior. Oh, and it had a 427 V-8 with three carburetors, running on racing gas, and M-22 “rock-crusher” four-speed. It did not have power steering or brakes.

NOTE: Not the actual Corvette I drove. I think.
NOTE: Not the actual Corvette I drove. I think.

It was a cloudy, not very warm summer day, which was a good time to notice how much heat the V-8 produced. I noticed that after I noticed how much noise the V-8 produced. To paraphrase Robert Duvall’s cavalry colonel from “Apocalypse Now,” the smell of unburned hydrocarbons from gasoline-powered V-8s is the smell of … victory.

The 427 three-carb V-8 was rated at 435 gross horsepower. “Gross” means horsepower before engine-driven accessories; since 1971 engines have been measured in “net” horsepower, after the drag from such accessories as the fan, alternator, power steering, etc. Of course, it didn’t have power steering, so that was one major drag missing. I think the engine wasn’t originally rated for only racing gas, so someone may have tweaked it to exceed the rating, which may have been underreprted anyway because insurance companies were starting to hyperventilate about horsepower.

The owner drove it around for a few minutes, and then punched the loud pedal, and the world moved by at increasing speeds. Things don’t go by in a blur at such speeds; they just go by really, really fast. Based on what the owner told me the speedometer said (even if the speedometer was 10 mph off at those speeds) … put it this way: It was the second fastest I’ve been in a motor vehicle, the first being in a NASCAR racing truck on a Road America straightaway.

Then I got to drive. Of course, I killed it the first two (or so) times I tried to take off, not having familiarity with the ballet of clutch pedal and accelerator pedal. (Brakes weren’t even an issue yet.) Generally the first manual-transmission car one drives is probably not one whose transmission is known as the “rock-crusher.” As someone whose arm strength has never been confused for Popeye’s, driving a car without power steering but with most of its weight atop the front wheels (thanks to the iron-block iron-head big-block V-8). You discover that steering isn’t so bad at speed, but low-speed turns are brutal, at least when the most strenuous thing you do with your arms is type or pick up a trumpet. The brakes weren’t really an issue given all the marching I had done and the fact I didn’t drive it very fast.

I managed to neither wreck nor, I think, harm the Vette in my few minutes of driving on city streets. (If a car is built for drag racing, it should be able to stand a few minutes at the hands of a ham-handed novice driver, right?)

For as small a car as the Corvette is, that was a beast to drive. As with all cars of the era, it had little in the way of safety features beyond collapsible steering column (as if hitting something at three-digit speeds wouldn’t kill you anyway) and seat belts. It had an AM/FM radio, and that was about it. The seats didn’t adjust other than sliding up and back. Compared with today’s Corvettes (or even cars with much less performance), it didn’t have much in tires — bias-ply 60-series tires with 15-inch eight-inch-wide wheels. Those Corvettes didn’t even have rack-and-pinion steering, a feature that wasn’t added until the C4 was designed.

(Side note: A few months later I was in Las Vegas with the UW Band. The first night we were there I walked up to a slot machine whose jackpot, five 7s, was a new Ferrari. I put in some money, and on my third attempt I saw four 7s and … not a 7. The interesting question to ponder is what a 21-year-old college student living in the Snowbelt would have done with a Ferrari. Maybe trade it for the Corvette?)

Several years later, I test-drove a 1976 coupe — red, of course — with the L-82 V-8 and four-speed. That V-8, in the depths of the Smog Era, generated all of 220 horsepower. The Vette was less than $10,000, but it wasn’t affordable at that time, in part because adding another car payment seemed a bad idea.

NOTE: Not necessarily the Corvette I test-drove.
NOTE: Not necessarily the Corvette I test-drove.

The funny thing about driving that Corvette was that it gave more of a feel of driving a luge, nearly lying down with my feet way out in front, than the previous Corvette I drove. The other funny thing is that performance-wise there are few worse Corvettes, but they sold very well, perhaps because there was little else for high-speed vehicle choice in those days — basically only the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, with its larger but weaker 400 V-8.

A few years after that I drove a coworker’s 1973 Corvette before he sold it. This too had a four-speed, and it was augmented further by fantastic red-over-gold paint.

NOTE: Not the same Corvette I drove.
NOTE: Not necessarily the same Corvette I drove.

Again, I didn’t drive it very fast, though I was about to before, as I steered onto a straight road, I saw a police car in front of me. (This was the same road where I had previously test-driven a 1994 BMW 540i with a V-8 and six-speed. It was so smooth that I didn’t realize I was driving 73 mph until I passed a 35-mph speed limit sign.) The owner may have done a little engine work, but like the ’76 it didn’t offer that much compared to earlier Vettes — 190 or 250 horsepower from the 350 V-8s.

For a variety of reasons, then, it has been almost 20 years since I’ve driven any Corvette. That personal losing streak of mine ended Sunday.

14566438_1119303324827410_2926711073440063255_o
NOTE: Yes, this is the Corvette I drove.

This is a 2014 Corvette convertible with the LT-1 V-8, which sends 450 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque through a proper seven-speed manual transmission. CorvSport adds:

The LT1 engine combines advanced technologies, including direct fuel injection, Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing, and an advanced combustion system that delivers more power while using less fuel. In fact, during normal driving conditions, it is estimated that the new Corvette gets an approximate 26 miles per gallon (highway), thanks in part to the LT1’s ability to run in a fuel-saving V-4 mode while driving at cruising speeds.
The LT1 engine is backed by a choice of active exhaust systems that are less restrictive than the previous generation. This reduction in exhaust restriction was achieved by increasing the diameter of the pipes from 2.5 inches to 2.75 inches, which resulted in a 13-percent improvement in airflow through the standard system. Additionally, there is also an optional dual-mode active exhaust system which offers a 27-percent improvement in airflow. It features two additional valves that open to a lower-restriction path through the mufflers. When opened, these valves increase engine performance and produce a more powerful exhaust note.

The LT1 engine is paired to an industry-exclusive TREMEC TR 6070 seven-speed manual transmission (standard) with Active Rev Matching for more precise upshifts and downshifts.  This driver-selectable feature can be easily engaged or disengaged via paddles on the steering wheel. …
In addition, shift feel and shift points can be adjusted through the Driver Mode Selector – a five-position dial that tailors 12 vehicle attributes to fit the driver’s environment and produce one of several unique driving experiences.
The cockpit mounted Driver Mode Selector utilizes a rotary knob near the shifter that allows drivers to select between one of five drive settings: Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport, and Track.  The Tour Mode is the default setting for everyday driving.  The Weather Mode was designed primarily for added confidence while driving in rain and snow.  The Eco Mode was developed for achieving optimal fuel economy.  The Sport Mode was developed for drivers looking for a more adventurous, or “spirited” driving experience.  The Track Mode was developed for a single reason – as it’s name implies – for running the car at a racetrack. …
For C7 Corvettes equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, it will be set up with 45-mm piston Bilstein dampers for more aggressive body control and track capability.  The Z51 is available with the third-generation Magnetic Ride Control, which features a new twin-wire/dual-coil damper system that react 40 percent more efficiently, enabling improved ride comfort and body control.
The Corvette Stingray now rides on new 18x 8.5-inch front and 19 x 10-inch rear wheels.  New Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires, which were developed specifically for the seventh-generation Corvette. These tires deliver comparable levels of grip with the previous generation of Corvette, despite having a narrow profile than their predecessors.  Given the reduced “footprint”, the track-oriented Corvette Stingray, when equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, is capable of 1g in cornering acceleration – which is comparable to the performance of the 2013 Corvette Grand Sport.

The Driver Mode Selector was in Sport, I believe. I didn’t drive it at, well, very much faster than legal speeds, though I did drive it the wrong way down a one-way street, smiling all the way. I didn’t drive that fast because it’s not my car, I wasn’t familiar with the area, and I didn’t want to do something stupid, like, say, hit the rear end of a manure spreader in a brand new Mustang convertible (really) or hit two houses and land on top of a parked car (really). Nevertheless, driving that Corvette made my week.

The owner is about my size, so the car fit me just fine. (Which is good, since Corvettes I’ve fit in have been tight fits, though perhaps at car shows the dealers don’t have the cars set up to have people screw around with seat adjustments.) And, yes, the driving experience was unparalleled, even though not very fast. The engine sounds as it should. The transmission is a little tall in first, and it’s easy to go from second to fifth because the gears are close together.

The nice thing about the Vette from the late C3 onward is that it’s now a usable car beyond just driving it. The convertibles have small trunks, but the coupes have hatchbacks suitable for overnight bags or golf bags, or a few groceries. Some Vette fans don’t like that, but how many people do nothing but drive a car without using it for something else? The owner claimed he got in the low 30s in highway mileage. You could not get low 30s in highway mileage if you disconneccted seven cylinders.

I have been a bit of a naysayer about the C7 and the C6 before it in part because of the end of the hidden headlights. (Europe’s fault, apparently. Brexit!) It’s also seemed to me that the car has gotten too complex for its audience. (The owner said the tires are not designed for weather colder than 40 degrees.) It is still an affordable supercar when compared with much more expensive European cars. And the driving experience is incomparable to any I’ve had, including the original Vettebeast. I may have to rethink my opinion of the C7.

Powerball is worth $122 million ($81.9 million cash value) Saturday night.

News on Take Your Corvette to Work Day

The question was asked of Bob Lutz, former GM vice chairman and now the answer man of Road & Track’s “Go Lutz Yourself”:

Dear Bob,
Does Chevy need a mid-engine Corvette and Cadillac a mid-engine sports car? You can’t have Ford selling a $450,000 GT while GM has only a Z06, right?

Well, neither Chevrolet nor Cadillac “needs” a mid-engine car. A mid-engine Corvette would likely coexist with the regular model but be priced at least $30,000 to $40,000 higher, my guess, about $130,000 to $150,000. A logical assumption would be 700 to 750 hp, massive torque, and decent fuel economy. GM won’t do it unless it’s a world-beater, so we should expect it to suck the doors off all the Europeans (Veyron excluded) and the Ford GT, which, while a nice car, would soon seem poor value. A possible Cadillac execution would have to exceed the Corvette and would be priced higher. I’m all for it, and I definitely “need” at least the Corvette.

Well, Lutz may get his wish, because, Motor Trend reports:

It’s time to clear those eyes and lean into the screen because these grainy spy photos reveal what is likely the mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette that’s coming sooner rather than later. These photos, along with recent rumors, further solidify that General Motors is serious about producing the most balanced Corvette we’ve seen yet.

This mule was caught at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. It’s disguised in C7 Corvette body panels and heavy camouflage, but there are a few clues suggesting this isn’t a normal Stingray. The mule’s rear hatch appears to be missing its glass cover, likely to provide enough cool air to the engine sitting behind the seats. The prototype is lapping the track alongside a C7 Corvette and a few Caddies like the CT6, which the photographer says should provide some perspective on the test mule’s stance and size.

A number of recent events have given hope to ‘Vette fans clamoring for a mid-engine version. Early last year, GM was caught testing a strange prototype that was essentially a mashup of a C7 Corvette and a Holden Commodore SSV, which the rumor mill suggested was housing its engine behind the front seats. In 2014, GM trademarked the name “Zora,” which could hint at a future Corvette moniker. The name is a reference to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette who made numerous attempts to produce a mid-engine version.

Many GM engineers and executives have also tried to make a mid-engine Corvette a reality and it appears it could happen by the end of the decade. The 650-hp Corvette Z06is already pushing the limits of the current front-engine, rear-drive platform, which means a mid-engine layout is perhaps the only option GM has to take the ‘Vette to the next level.

The supposed mid-engine Vette is following a Cadillac and the current Vette.

If your mind reels at the prospect of a $150,000 Chevrolet, well, assuming the spy photographers are correct, there it is. Readers know I have a number of questions, beginning with why there’s a need for this car when GM sells every Corvette it builds now, and at a profit. The nitpickers about the current Corvette, over its brand and the subpar interiors, seem to me unlikely to choose a Chevy over a Ferrari or a Porsche because it’s a Chevy.

Unless it isn’t a Chevy. Michael Austin is properly skeptical:

Call me crazy, but I’m not convinced the mid-engine Corvette is the next Corvette. The rumor is strong, yes. And, contrary to some of the comments on our site, Car and Driver – leader of the mid-engine Corvette speculation brigade – has a pretty good record predicting future models. But it’s another comment that got me thinking: or maybe it’s a Cadillac.

There is clearly something mid-engine going on at GM, and I think it makes sense for the car to be a Cadillac. First off, check out how sweet the 2002 Cadillac Cien concept car still looks in the photo …

Second, there are too many holes in the mid-engine Corvette theory.

The C7 is relatively young in Corvette years, starting production almost three years ago as a 2014 model. Showing a 2019 model at the 2018 North American International Auto Show would kill sales of a strong-selling car before its time. Not to mention it would only mean a short run for the Grand Sport, which was the best-selling version of the previous generation.

More stuff doesn’t add up. Mid-engine cars are, in general, more expensive. Moving the Vette upmarket leaves a void that the Camaro does not fill. There’s not much overlap between Camaro and Corvette customers. Corvette owners are older and enjoy features like a big trunk that holds golf clubs. Mid-engine means less trunk space and alienating a happy, loyal buyer. Also, more than 60 years of history. The Corvette is an icon along the likes of the Porsche 911 and Ford Mustang. I’m not sure the car-buying public wants a Corvette that abandons all previous conventions. And big changes bring uncertainty – I don’t think GM would make such a risky bet.

Chevrolet could build a mid-engine ZR1, you might say, and keep the other Corvettes front-engine. Yes they could, and it would cost a ton of money. And they still need to fund development of that front-engine car. I highly doubt the corporate accountants would go for that.

But a Cadillac? Totally. Cadillac is in the middle of a brand repositioning. GM is throwing money at this effort. A mid-engine halo car is the just the splash the brand needs to shake off the ghosts of Fleetwoods past. And it’s already in Cadillac President Johan De Nysschen’s playbook. He was in charge of Audi’s North America arm when the R8 came out. A Caddy sports car priced above $100,000 isn’t that unreasonable when you can already price a CTS-V in that range.

Switch the NAIAS debut rumor to Cadillac, maybe even make it for 2017. Remove the conflict of abandoning Corvette history or running two costly model developments for one car. Heck, a mid-engine Cadillac could even act as a Trojan horse if the rumored demise of the current small-block engine is true. Launch a high-powered overhead-cam V8 in the Caddy and after a few years Corvette fans will be begging for an engine swap instead of grabbing their pitchforks and demanding more pushrods.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Corvette engineers, or former Corvette engineers, are working on a mid-engine car. There’s a lot of talent working on GM’s performance vehicles, and people move between teams on a regular basis. And the Corvette’s Bowling Green, Kentucky plant is a great place to make a low-volume sports car with advanced materials. But it’s not clear that GM plus mid-engine equals Corvette. While we’re still making random guesses, my money is on Cadillac.

Whether this is the next Corvette or the next Cadillac XLR-V: I  understand bulletproof reliability is not common with supercars, but I would be extremely hesitant to purchase a mid-engine vehicle from a company famous for sending new technology into the marketplace before it’s ready. (Remember the Vega and its melting engine? The Oldsmobile diesel? The Chevy Citation and the other X-body cars? Computer Command Control? The Cadillac V-8-6-4? The Pontiac Fiero?) And it seems strange to combine a mid-engine design and probably all-wheel drive (also commonplace in supercars) with the usual pushrod V-8. And yet the usual pushrod V-8 has powered every Corvette since 1955 except the C4 King of the Hill, powered by the Mercury Marine-built 32-valve double overhead cam V-8, which was eventually superseded by the pushrods, which obviously work quite well, old tech or not. (Which might confirm Austin’s suspicions about an engine GM currently doesn’t offer in this Caddivette. One hopes that Cadillac wouldn’t emulate Ford’s mistake of throwing the Ecoboost V6 into the Ford GT by using the ATS-V’s 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V6.)

At least for those of us who have enough money to consider a Corvette (which once again doesn’t include me), the rear-drive Vette will remain available if Lutz is correct.