Rumors of a mid-engine Corvette have been floating around for decades. In theory, putting the mass of the engine near the center of a car improves handling. Why? Because it allows the car to turn and change direction more quickly. Let’s try a little experiment to see if that’s true.
Take a 4 feet long stick and attach a one pound weight to the front of it. Hold the stick in the center with one hand and turn it left and right. Your wrist will tell you it takes some effort to get the stick moving. When you try to turn it back the other way, it takes more effort to get it to stop turning one way and start turning the other. You have just discovered what scientists call the polar moment of inertia.
Congratulations, you have simulated the handling characteristics of a 1954 Buick, the one that featured “Advanced Thrust” because engineers had moved the engine as far forward in the chassis as possible.
Now turn the stick around so the weight is in the back. One again, your wrist will tell you the weight makes it hard to start moving the stick in one direction and hard to get it to stop moving in that direction and turn back the other way. This time you have simulated the handling of early Porsches, which had the engine as far back as possible in the chassis.
Now put the weight in the center of the stick. Suddenly, you can twirl it one way and then the other with ease. The polar moment of inertia has been reduced almost to zero. A car built this way would be perfectly balanced, ready to eat up any curve that comes its way. It would be instantly responsive to the driver’s commands. That’s the theory, anyway.
In reality, things are much more complex. There are heavy items like the chassis, brakes, transmission, windows, doors, people, and luggage that keep any car from being perfectly balanced. But putting the engine — the heaviest component of all — in the middle of the car helps make the finished product as well balanced as possible.
Sources tell the Detroit News, “It’s happening. Mark Reuss wants it,” referring to the automaker’s global product development chief. “It’s the worst kept secret in town.” Bob Lutz, formerly the head honcho at GM, says the car was actually approved back in 2007 but the infamous corporate bankruptcy forced it onto the back burner. He thinks the mid-engine configuration could open up the possibility of adding electric motors to the front wheels of the car for limited all wheel drive capability and an overall fuel economy rating approaching 80 mpg city.
Such an electrified Corvette would be similar to the new Acura NSX and the Ferrari LaFerrari but cost much less. Corvette has always offered supercar performance at a relatively affordable price.
Corvette buyers are getting older. A plug-in hybrid electric car could appeal to younger customers or it could drive away the Corvette faithful. The car has remained basically the same since 1953 — a front engine, rear wheel drive, two seat sports car using a pushrod internal combustion engine. Jeep struck out when it dropped round headlights. Harley Davidson owners gave the cold shoulder to the technically brilliant V-Rod because it didn’t sound right. New Coke was the biggest disaster in marketing history.
Will Corvette buyers accept a mid-engine car? That remains to be seen. The design concept by Car and Driver — with its enormous flying buttresses — is quite unappealing, especially compared to the daringly swoopy seventh generation Corvette in showrooms today. It will be interesting to see what sort of package the designers come up with for the new mid-engine Corvette. Look for it to break cover in 2018, if the rumors are true.