Dozens of other outsiders also helped engineer and refine the new car. Due to the in-house team’s limited resources, the Corvette probably received more pieces and expertise from non-GM sources than any other vehicle created by the company at that time.
STAYING UP FRONT
McLellan, along with Chevy’s then-engineering boss Lloyd Reuss, decided early in the program that the next Corvette would stick with a front-engine/rear-drive layout. When I asked him about this decision, McLellan rattled off a litany of compelling reasons for maintaining the traditional layout.
“The midship Corvette really had its coffin nailed shut when we decided to stick with the V8 and not go to the V6,” said McLellan. It certainly wouldn’t have made sense to pit a V6 Corvette against the V8-powered Porsche 928, but that was only part of the story.
“My feeling going in,” McLellan continued, “was that if we just put the Aerovette into production, we’d have a terribly exciting automobile—no question about that. (But) when you look at the Aerovette in detail it’s got some pretty heavy flaws. First, it’s about a 4/5th-scale car. By the time you make an honest production vehicle out of it there’s not enough room for all of the mechanical and functional things you need. Even though the plan view looks fairly large…the car is so darn low that there’s just not enough cubic volume inside to fit everything. You quickly consume the packaging space with people and big tires and a big engine—there’s nothing left to cram all the other stuff into…. Even the (front-engine C4) is absolutely jam-packed (around) big tires, the smallblock-V8 engine/drivetrain, and all the convenience accessories and auxiliaries you have to have.”
Reuss noted another issue, namely “…the inherent complication of providing…good heating and air conditioning. You can do it so much more easily and better in a conventional front-engined, rear-drive design.”
CHECKING THE COMPETITION
Still, this decision hadn’t been reached easily. Early on, Chevrolet Engineering organized ride-and-drives with all of the serious sportscars and exotics then available. The testing took place on Michigan highways and at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. Among the cars evaluated were a Ferrari 308, Lotus Esprit, Porsche 928, and Porsche 911 Turbo. Dave McLellan again: "If you look at the mid-engined cars (then) in the marketplace—those with big engines—they all tend to be pretty hard to live with. The Pantera, various Ferraris, the Maserati Bora…these are very exciting cars, but they aren’t easy to live with, and they’re extremely special-purpose. The [Lamborghini] Countach and [Ferrari] Boxer are special-purpose even beyond the rest.
“Nobody has figured out how to make the mid-engine design a good arrangement for carrying two people plus luggage. If you want to put your coat someplace, you barely find enough room.So by the time you go from something as exciting as an Aerovette or a Countach or a Boxer to putting that ounce of practicality into it so that it’s acceptable as a road car…it drives you back into the position of a [front-engine] layout.