With each new Chevrolet Corvette, America’s sports car of record, the enthusiast’s imagination is stirred afresh. But the latest iteration, the C8—that’s eight as in eighth generation, the first Corvette, the C1, having been released in 1953—is easily the most thought-provoking yet.
The headline news is that, last year, after spending the better part of six decades as an unabashed exemplar of the old school—genus front-engine brute-icus—the ’Vette finally saw its potent V-8 tucked behind its driver and ahead of its large rear wheels, making it, as they say in car world, mid-engine.
A newfangled idea for a high-powered sports car? Well, only if you’re unaware of that fact that Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, McLaren, Maserati, Fiat, Toyota, Lotus, Ford, Acura, Pontiac and others have done it already, some as early as the 1960s. In which case, you may also not know that concepts for mid-engine Corvettes have also been bruited about the halls of General Motors’ Chevrolet division for more than 60 years.
What’s Old Is New
Indeed, by the late 1950s, the fabled Zora Arkus-Duntov, a Belgian-born Corvette engineer of Russian extraction who led the model’s performance-engineering effort for 23 years, was overseeing the creation of a concept car known as CERV I, a mid-engine, open-wheeled single-seater. This curious-looking design coincided with the larger racing fraternity’s epiphany that the mid-engine chassis’s lower center of gravity, improved traction, and superior balance generally pointed the fast way forward for getting around racetracks and corners. Later concepts, which were better looking and more suitable for production, kept the idea alive.
G.M. is known for being a conservative outfit, alas. So, despite a few close calls, none came to fruition. Until now, when, after 60 years of internal wrangling, Duntov’s dream of endowing the General’s flagship two-seater with the more advanced mid-engine architecture has made it to the showroom floor. Some older purists may quibble. But through the years it’s fair to say that the Corvette had become something of a retirement accessory for geriatrics, despite increasingly mind-blowing acceleration and roadholding.
Such are the ravages of time. The Corvette got off to a slow start with an anemic six-cylinder engine, but by 1960, when the model began a four-season run as the automotive star of television’s Route 66—the uncharacteristically gritty tale of two handsome young men traveling around the country in a Corvette roadster—its primacy in the American psyche was cemented. Admittedly, by the time Prince dropped his hit single “Little Red Corvette” off his landmark 1999 album in 1982, some of the car’s V-8 luster had worn off. But hardly all.
Though, in fairness, the song isn’t about the car as much as the vicissitudes of casual sex with a polygamous woman. Some have declared, further, that the red Corvette metaphorically references the mighty power of the female sexual organ.
I don’t pretend to know. But knowledgeable driving enthusiasts of all ages will recognize the new model for what it is: an incredible bargain that runs circles around all Corvettes past, for sophistication, comfort, and value. Corvette’s unique selling proposition has long been that their cars offer exceptional performance for the money. The only difference with the C8—once again known as a Stingray, like its 60s and 70s predecessors—is that it has finally fallen in line with contemporary notions of sports-car tech. Having driven the new Stingray extensively, one can say with assurance that the car is inestimably better for it.
And with sticker prices for 2022 production coupes beginning at $62,195 ($69,695 for the convertible, with a retractable hard roof for drop-top motoring), it is surely one of the great performance bargains of our time, even if you find yourself running your out-the-door price to $90,000 and beyond. It’s not as hard as you might think, with a long options list and some less scrupulous vendors charging substantial dealer markups for what has unsurprisingly turned out to be an instant hit in the marketplace. Mid-engine Ferraris and Lamborghinis often cost four or five times as much, so it’s not hard to explain the brisk sales pace. The C8 Corvette is a true supercar, and if it lacks some of the Ferrari elegance and sumptuous finish or a McLaren’s bespoke feel, it’s still 90 percent the car at a fraction the price.
Knowledgeable driving enthusiasts of all ages will recognize the new model for what it is: an incredible bargain that runs circles around all Corvettes past.
Available currently as a rear-drive, gasoline-fired coupe or convertible, a hybrid all-wheel-drive E-Ray model is rumored for 2023, along with a more track-oriented, even faster Z06 model. An all-electric model is thought likely to break cover in 2024. In the meantime, the new ’Vette quite simply eclipses all that have come before. Not only does it steer and turn in more sharply than any G.M. product we’ve experienced, it’s faster than ever in stock form, reaching 60 from rest in 2.9 seconds, thanks to a 490-horsepower big block V-8, with more muscular and undoubtedly more rapid variants to come.
Also standing out are the quality of its ride and the new Corvette’s construction, most notably the fit and finish of its fiberglass body (still built in Bowling Green, Kentucky) and the materials that comprise its interior, which itself represents a clear further progression upward from the low to very low standard set by Corvettes past. The cabin is cheesy no longer; it’s both good to look at and pleasant to occupy. An unusual driver-focused interior whose secondary controls—a row of buttons on a center console tilted toward the driver—seem daunting at first soon enough become second nature. Unusual among mid-engine cars, it is neither cramped nor claustrophobic for human cargo, with good visibility out front and a rear trunk to store groceries or gear for a weekend away.
Naysayers have objected to the new Corvette’s styling, which breaks little new ground in the world of mid-engine sports cars. It is only fair to observe, however, that the world of mid-engine supercars has become a depressingly homogeneous place. Some have called the car ungainly, and while we readily concede that it is not at the head of its class in the good-looks department, we wouldn’t let that slow us down too much. For it is aerodynamically efficient at the speeds the model is capable of (194 m.p.h.), and it’s striking, with no chance of being mistaken for a Camry. Unsolicited huzzahs from the little people as we rumbled by were a near constant rebuke to the critics.
In recent years, Chevrolet has been killing car models right and left. Its once best-selling Caprice, Malibu, and Cruze are now history, somewhat ironically leaving the niche-model Corvette and a lowly subcompact Spark to make up the entirety of its car offerings, the rest of its fleet being pickup trucks and S.U.V.’s. In this it’s not unlike Ford, which has killed all its cars, save the highly amusing yet retrograde Mustang. Ford recently appropriated the pony car’s legendary name for its first serious move into the electric-car space with the Mustang Mach-E, a tall four-door with distinct S.U.V. overtones.
So is it any surprise to learn that Chevrolet has something similar in mind for Corvette, a sporty S.U.V. to take on the likes of Porsche Cayenne, Lamborghini Urus, and Ferrari’s upcoming Purosangue at a relative bargain price? Not really. If it comes to pass, G.M. decision-makers will have concluded in essence that the name of its lowest-volume model is stronger or more credible than that of the larger brand, Chevrolet. For better or worse, the C8 Corvette Stingray only helps make that case. But legendary sports car turned S.U.V.? Like it or don’t like it, but it’s not news anymore.
Jamie Kitman is a car columnist for AIR MAIL