Change is coming to the world of the Corvette: On July 18, the world will watch slack-jawed as a new, mid-engined Corvette appears. It’s been rumored for nearly half a century, and finally, for 2020, it will arrive. We learned this on April 11, 2019. This was less than 24 hours after Chevy was kind enough to drop a 2019 Corvette Grand Sport convertible off for evaluation. I didn’t even have a chance to fire it up, and I was driving an anachronism. You can read more about it in the Production Line column of the July 2019 Hemmings Muscle Machines.
Change does not come easily to the world of the Corvette fan. Oh, some may embrace change, and change may bring new players, but plenty more owners grumble that any change beyond more power or improved handling is in danger of ruining 65 years of icon-building. I can only imagine the reaction of the traditionalists upon learning that the engine was no longer going to be in the front. (Let’s get over the tricky nomenclature: We know that the Corvette has been a mid-engined car since the launch of the C5, and we all know that a front-mid-engined car like the Corvette has been for 20-odd years a very different animal to one with the engine stuffed behind the driver.)
Nothing is ever as good as it once was, whether it actually is or not. Was this don’t-change-it attitude prevalent among fans in the fall of 1962 also? How did hardcore Corvette fans feel about the new-for-1963 Corvette when it launched? A coupe version — a Corvette without a removable top? Hidden lights? What the hell is a Sting Ray — some kind of fish? Independent four-wheel suspension? All new and all alien to Corvette fans up to that time. Did buyers and fans understand that the old solid-axle car had reached its developmental limits, and that new concepts were needed to move the game along? Was the car embraced, or was it kept at a distance, sniffed at by people who knew what a Corvette was, and whatever this new thing was, that wasn’t it? History records that Corvette sales jumped 50 percent year to year, from 14,500-ish to 21,500-ish. Which didn’t give the naysayers a ton of credence.
Power ratings were in freefall throughout the 1970s; Corvette was widely considered to be too big to make sports-car demands on the weak-suck emissions choked engines of the era. Yet sales were never better. The C4 launched mid-1983 as an ’84 model; the tantrums thrown over the lack of an ’83 Corvette beggar belief, and some complained the style was too anodyne and slavish to the whims of the wind tunnel. The C5 launched in late 1996, after more than a dozen years of the C4? Meh, it looked flabby. C6 comes and tightens things up? Hey, what happened to the flip-up lights? You still hear enthusiasts in some corners grumping that the C7’s taillamps look like Alice Cooper’s stage makeup and are no longer round (or even oval). The change happened in late 2013.
The upcoming 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, still wearing camouflage wrap. Photo courtesy General Motors.
Change comes. Change is resisted. I suspect that this resistance is one of the reasons why it took so long for Chevy to flip the script and put the engine in back: The customer base, enthusiastic and vocal, has been telling Chevy for years that they like things as they have been.
How long will it be before the last of the front-engined Corvettes is discussed as a classic? Or will a new generation of enthusiasts dismiss them out-of-hand as old-fashioned, and look upon the new mid-engined 2020 Corvette as Year One? If the cars share a name, will they be considered a part of the lineage? What do you think?