As you may have heard on our most recent podcast, as Andrew so gleefully pointed out, the new C8 Corvette is being revealed in July, and it is confirmed as a mid-engine model. To some, this may seem long overdue and a step in the right direction. To others, including myself, this is nothing short of blasphemy. I have an emotional reaction because Corvettes have been in my life since I was old enough to start remembering things. My father has had a Corvette in the garage since before I was born. He’s had a 1969 Stingray (C3), a 1963 split window coupe (C2), a 1986 C4, and a 1997 C5. As a retirement present for himself, he bought back the 1969 Stingray that he sold 25 years prior…not just the same model, the Exact. Same. Car. How great a story is that?
My initiation to car culture came from my dad, and so did my love for the Corvette. As the C6 and C7 models were revealed, I noticed that I was liking them less and less. It just seemed like they were continually losing their “Corvette-ness”, and I felt like the writing was on the wall. This C8 mid-engine announcement didn’t surprise me one bit, but I’m still seething about it. I meant what I said on the air, that as of July 18, 2019, I will no longer be a fan of the Corvette. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the old ones, but I refuse to support any mid-engine GM vehicle with a Corvette badge. Besides all the emotional reason listed above, from a practical standpoint there was absolutely zero reason to change the layout of the Corvette, despite what my co-hosts may tell you. To help you understand why the car should have stayed the same, let’s first take a look at what being a “brand” means. The Webster definition is a little basic, so I found a good one from businessdictionary.com for you to read below. Pay attention to the 2nd and 3rd sentences in particular. Emphasis mine:
Unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer's mind. Thus brands help harried consumers in crowded and complex marketplace, by standing for certain benefits and value.
To sum it up, besides being a name and icon, a brand is how companies become ingrained in the mind of the consumer. A brand is the messages you send as a company. It’s the images you conjure, it’s the feelings you evoke; your brand equity. A brand is supposed to stand for something. You see, there are certain competitive markets that are heavily saturated with a lot of choices for the consumer. One of the markets that most exemplifies saturation is the automotive space. With so many manufacturers releasing so many models and trying to catch a whiff of consumer attention, it becomes difficult to establish brand equity. General Motors had it with the Corvette: A legendary American sports car with (mostly) manual transmissions, high horsepower V8’s and a front engine, rear wheel drive layout. It’s been that way since 1953 when the car was first introduced. It’s what car fans everywhere have come to know and love. It conquered the racing world with that layout, with 170+ race wins, 8 titles in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 12 manufacturer championships, and over 50 1-2 finishes. And GM is throwing this away for…what, exactly?
Yes, there are very many successful and popular vehicles on the road and racetrack with mid or rear engine layouts. All the credit in the world to Porsche for the 911. The #1 and 1a cars on my dream list right now are Ferraris: The 458 for nostalgic reasons, and the F8 Tributo because HOLY SHIT have you seen it?! The mid-engine layout is prized in the racing world (and therefore on the streets), because putting the engine towards the back of the car puts more weight on the driving rear wheels for traction, and it also helps the suspension absorb rough roads. But the front-rear layout shouldn’t simply be dismissed. Why not? Well, see the race record above for starters. Racing comes down to a lot of different factors, not just vehicle layout. Corvette has beaten a lot of Porsches, Ferraris and mid-engine Fords in its day. And General Motors is not the only ones with front-rear performance/muscle/sports cars. Mercedes competes with multiple cars in this layout. BMW, does the same. Hell, the M3 is one of the most revered front-rear sports saloons of all time! Aston Martin launches almost all of its models with front-rear, like the Vanquish and the DB11, and they race them too. Jaguar has always gone with this layout for its lineups, which currently include the venerable F Type and the XE/XF sports sedans. Let’s not forget all the other American muscle cars out there like the Challenger, Mustang and the Camaro. The ZL1-trimmed Camaro is a proper track beast, all with an engine up front and the drive wheels out back. And who can forget the awesome Dodge Viper? Even the aforementioned Ferrari has released an F-R car to go along with all of their mid-engine examples: ever hear of the 812 Superfast? If this vehicle layout is so subpar when it comes to performance, why do all of these manufacturers continue to produce cars in this way?
One thing that Tristan and Andrew were absolutely right about is this: GM has a massive opportunity to produce a mid-engine sports car with a price that can undercut its competitors. The Corvette as it is today is already a value for the performance a buyer can enjoy. Its base price (roughly $53,000) is $40k less than the Nissan GT-R, $60k less than a 911 and $100k less than the NSX. Only when someone chooses to invest in the mighty ZR1 package do they need to pay prices anywhere near that much. Even if the base price goes up by $20,000 for a mid-engine package, I’m sure a $75k GM sports car with an engine behind the seats will most definitely turn some heads. Just don’t call it a Corvette. How cool would it be to resurrect the Firebird, literally another name for a bird that rises from the ashes, as this new mid-engine contender from GM? It wouldn’t do much good to badge it a Chevrolet, with the Camaro already there. Although Vettes are technically Chevys, I think we can all agree that it is a brand unto itself that can stand on its own. That leaves Cadillac if they really want to go that route, but I honestly don’t care what make General Motors designates it as, so long as they leave the Corvette as it is.
I’m not completely against change, but there are plenty of ways to advance technology and modernize without moving the engine. Throughout its history the Corvette actually served as General Motors’ incubator for many tech advancements that would eventually be passed on to other cars in their portfolio: things like disc brakes, fuel injection, independent rear suspension, traction control, antilock brakes, stability control and lightweight materials all made their GM debut on the Corvette. Today, the magnetic ride suspension on the C7 is widely considered to be one of, if not the best in the game today, and the Aerogel material GM fits it with to insulate the cabin from any transmission tunnel heat was developed specifically for NASA to use on its Mars rovers. Its precise 50/50 weight distribution led to the car receiving top handling and braking marks against rivals such as the Porsche 911 and McLaren 570GT. That doesn’t sound like a “dopey” front engine car to me, Tristan.
Think of how many automotive nameplates out there truly stand the test of time. Corvette, Mustang, Beetle, F-150, Jeep, the DB designation from Aston Martin…bottom line is, it’s near impossible to do, and if a car maker is fortunate enough to achieve that status, they should hold onto it with a death grip. The Corvette is a legendary name that is hardwired in the psyche of car fanatics the world over. This car has come to truly stand for something in the minds of the consumers. It’s the American sports car that conquered the world, with an engine in the front. It isn’t broke. There wasn't any reason to fix it.