The Top 5 Chevrolet Corvettes That Aren't Mid-Engined
The mid-engined Corvette is finally, finally, almost, finally here. Until then, here are our five favorite Corvettes with the party up front.
Yesterday, Chevrolet confirmed that the long-rumored and long-gestating mid-engined Corvette will definitely, finally debut on July 18th. And though Zora Arkus-Duntov’s American supercar is finally coming to fruition, Chevrolet Performance hasn't exactly been goofing off over the last 60 years. The Corvette—the front-engine one—has long been a world-class sports car, if saddled by stereotypes in recent decades.
Since it was first introduced in 1953 at the General Motors Motorama in New York City, Chevy’s halo car has seen engineers push limits, physics, and the ragged edge of pure insanity. So before the eighth generation hits the street this summer as none have before it, here's a look back at our top five favorite front-engined 'Vettes.
The OG: 1963 Corvette Grand Sport
The Corvette Grand Sport project started because Ford’s executives and racers wouldn’t shut up. Partnered with hard-talking chicken farmer Carroll Shelby, Ford took the MkI AC Cobra and quickly began winning races—and with that, indirectly irritating Chevrolet’s engineers. Duntov, however, was having none of it. Without corporate approval, and in clear violation of General Motors' anti-racing stance at the time, Duntov and his team built the Grand Sport in secret.
The recipe was simple: Reduce weight, tighten up the Corvette’s already brilliant (for the time) handling, and pull even more power out of a stroked 377 cubic-inch V8 that’d humiliate the Fords. Five Grand Sports were built, according to legend, under fictitious names to hide them from the corporate overlords. But the project was scrapped soon after. Racing legend A.J. Foyt recalled his first experience of the Corvette Grand Sports passing him on track, saying "What’s in that damn dinosaur? It went by me like I was stopped."
The Lover: 1968 Corvette Stingray L88
The Corvette was a hit. Harley Earl's vision had succeeded in capturing America's newfound love for sports cars, and designer Zora Arkus-Duntov followed it up with the sublime C2. Keeping the lineage going past the second generation, however, meant the third generation had to be something unique that still keep the soul of the original. What Chevrolet’s team of engineers came up with was a more sensual design that perfectly went with the decade it was on sale for.
Launched in 1968, the C3 Corvette spanned nearly 15 years from concept to the final Collectors Edition Corvette Stingray. However, none of the special editions or upgraded engine options throughout its life could compete with one of the third-generation Corvette’s first engine offerings: The legendary L88. The L88 is the engine code for a 7.0-liter, 427 cubic-inch big block V8 engine Chevrolet built for “racing purposes only.” That’s definitely not what happened.
The Lunatic: 1988 Callaway Corvette Sledgehammer
Imagine you’ve been dropped into 1988. Reagan is President, gas costs $0.91, and Oliver North was just indicted for Iran-Contra. Meanwhile, Ferrari introduced the 477 horsepower, 197 mph F40 a year prior, a high-water mark for the world of supercars. Where would you expect a challenger to come from? Probably not a little company called Callaway and their 898 hp, 254-mph modified Chevrolet Corvette.
Developed by Reeves Callaway as a way of testing his fledgling company’s new turbocharger packages and according to Reeves, "Win every magazine top speed event," the Corvette Sledgehammer is a mic-drop of a car. In addition to the use of two turbochargers, Reeves took the Corvette’s engine and essentially threw most of it away, replacing it with a block from a NASCAR to hold the Sledgehammer's almighty power. Additionally, every internal part was custom made from stronger and lighter materials.
Callaway tapped engineer Paul Deutschman to build the Sledgehammer an aerodynamic body that retained the original fourth-generation Corvette’s shape. That famed 254-mph run came in 1988 on the tarmac oval of the Transportation Research Center in Ohio with Reeves' friend John Lingenfelter behind the wheel. How's that for a run at the record?
The Champion: 2001 Corvette C5-R
We now consider Corvette Racing to be among the winningest teams in the history of sports car racing in America. However, there was no Corvette Racing before the 2001 Corvette C5-R based on the fifth-generation Corvette.
After shelving the Grand Sport racers in the early 1960s, General Motors and Chevrolet panned racing for years. The company’s tune changed before the introduction of the fifth-generation Corvette. Chevrolet knew that to properly propel the Corvette back onto the world’s stage, the company needed to validate its performance credentials. So, the company took a handful of its as-yet-debuted Corvette and began building a race car around the platform.
Chevrolet ran into a ton of issues early in development. But a year after builders Pratt & Miller took sole ownership of the whole operation, Corvette Racing secured its first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans—the first such win in decades and the beginning of a string of victories that reinvigorated the Corvette program.
The Devil: 2019 Corvette ZR1
Chevrolet Performance’s latest top-spec Corvette, the Corvette ZR1, might as well come with holy water, a crucifix, a book on exorcisms, and $1 million life insurance policy that covers demonic possession as standard. Though that’s slightly hyperbolic, consider that the 6.2-Liter V8 is helped along with a 2.3-Liter supercharger that’s internally called the Big Ass Supercharger and pentagram-styled wheels.
In an apparent prayer to the dark lord, Chevrolet Performance pulled out all the stops when designing, engineering, and baptizing the Corvette ZR1. Powered by the aforementioned supercharged V8, the Corvette ZR1 generates a hellacious 755 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque sent to the rear wheels and the rear wheels alone.
The power delivery is savage, in a word. Though the Corvette ZR1 has a suite of trick safety systems that prevent amateurs and more angelic owners from wrecking, it’s still quite capable of showing who’s boss—as it did to GM’s Executive Vice-President Mark Reuss last year when he wrecked a new Corvette ZR1 on a safety lap ahead of the Detroit Grand Prix. The Corvette ZR1 also represents the swan-song of the front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout that’s been employed since the Corvette’s inception.