To many Corvette owners, the idea, let alone the existence, of a Corvette driven by its front wheels likely amounts to blasphemy. To John Jacobi, it was just practicality, a result of a lifetime appreciating cars in a northern climate. That individualism and can-do attitude has now been enshrined in the National Corvette Museum with the recent donation of the end result: what could be the world’s only front-wheel-drive Corvette.
“My dad… strived to do things differently than most,” Jacobi’s daughter, Tara, wrote when donating the Corvette. Jacobi, an engineer and a car enthusiast, lived a do-it-yourself life, choosing to build what he could easily buy and repair what he could easily replace.
The Corvette, perhaps more than anything, typified his outlook on life. “At the time, we lived on Long Island where winters brought snow,” Tara wrote. “My dad wanted a front-wheel-drive vehicle for all-weather handling. Also, after repairing numerous rusty cars, he wanted a fiberglass body.”
While he could have chosen something exotic like a Saab Sonett or a Peel-bodied Mini, Jacobi instead sourced a 1979 Corvette body and 1979 Cadillac Eldorado chassis from local junkyards, both at the time about six years old. His plan, which he had a local chassis specialist sign off on, was to cut 16 inches from the latter’s wheelbase and drop the Corvette body on top.
His plan also proved easier said than done. As Tara detailed, the Corvette would ride too high on the Eldorado’s chassis, so Jacobi and the chassis specialist sectioned the frame rails by a couple inches then cut the rear coil springs and adjusted the front torsion bars. They also had to insert the Corvette’s rear frame section to maintain body support and retain the gas tank.
Then, once they mated the body to the chassis, they discovered that, with the Oldsmobile 350-cu.in. V-8 and THM325 drivetrain mounted so much farther forward in the Eldorado’s chassis compared to the Corvette’s original engine and drivetrain, they had to cut a hole in the hood to get it to clear the engine and design and fabricate a custom radiator, cooled by electric fans.
Five years of nights and weekends resulted in a running and driving car, one that handled well, according to Jacobi’s reports. Registering it in the state of New York, however, proved difficult, especially once Jacobi discovered that the Corvette, which he bought from the junkyard, had previously been reported stolen. It took until 1993 — and buying the car back from a police impound auction — for Jacobi to sort that out and get a clean custom title for the car. He then held on to and drove the Corvette for the next 25 years, until his death in April.
“To me it embodies who my dad was because he wasn’t stock parts,” Tara wrote. “He wasn’t afraid to be different and to challenge himself.”
The donation of Jacobi’s Corvette, according to National Corvette Museum Curator Derek Moore, came at an opportune time.
“We have a lot of examples of Corvettes as they were built at the factory, but we also want to show cars that have been personalized,” he said. “These are some of the stories we want to start telling along with those factory production stories.”
Moore noted that Jacobi’s Corvette is the only Corvette known to the museum to have been converted to front-wheel drive. Chevrolet has never offered a Corvette in any other configuration than rear-wheel drive.
For more information about the National Corvette Museum, visit CorvetteMuseum.org.