Some of GM’s finest experimental automobiles were Corvette concepts that paved the way for the production version of the legendary sports car.
Automobile manufacturers’ ingenuity is on full display in concept cars. For instance, Chevrolet debuted the Corvette at the 1953 Motorama held by General Motors in New York. A Corvette concept served as inspiration for that model. Concept cars are a huge investment for automakers. These prototypes act as a spark for the company, so they’re willing to put in the extra effort. These concept vehicles show where an automaker is headed in the coming years.
On the flip side, when automakers show off concept cars to the public, they can gauge consumer interest in future offerings. Automobile designers and engineers are given the freedom to think creatively when working on concept cars. They can be used as prototypes for various innovations, including new propulsion systems, aerodynamic designs, and technologies. These elements are integral to the development of the brand and contribute to its advancement.
Some of these concept cars make it to the assembly line, but most of them just fade into automotive obscurity. They often excite car fans, show them a glimpse of the future, and occasionally fail to impress. Let’s take a closer look at the Chevrolet Corvette concepts that paved the way for one of the most famous sports cars ever.
1953’s Prototype EX-122 Vehicle
The EX-122 was the basis for the first hand-built Corvette, whose name was taken from that of a fast naval warship. General Motors vice president Harley Earl began designing the car in 1951, and the following year it was given the now-famous “American sports car” moniker. In 1953, at the GM Motorama in New York City, the concept car made its debut. After only six months, GM rushed to put the prototype into production based on positive feedback from the public.
The designers of the Corvette concept used 46 individual fiberglass pieces to create the sleek curves seen in the finished product. Due to financial constraints, Earl and his team opted to power the rear wheels with a 3.8-liter Chevrolet straight-six engine and a 2-speed automatic transmission.
Corvette SS XP-64 from 1957
The Chevrolet Corvette SS is a precursor to subsequent generations of Corvette sports cars due to its ultra-lightweight design. It was the first Corvette to ever wear the SS designation. The legendary Zora Arkus-Duntov led the team of engineers who created the Corvette, and many consider him to be America’s answer to Ferdinand Porsche and Enzo Ferrari. Duntov was fixated on creating a high-quality Corvette, and he thought the brand’s reputation in racing would help it sell better.
The goal of the Project XP-64 magnesium Corvette body was to reduce the vehicle’s curb weight. The manufacturer equipped the 1,850-pound Corvette SS with a V-8 block good for 307 horsepower at 6,400 RPM. The XP-64 Corvette SS had to pull out of its debut race at the 12 Hours of Sebring after only 23 laps due to mechanical problems. However, Juan Manuel Fangio, winner of the 1957 Sebring, was impressed enough to try out the vehicle. A new lap record was established by the Corvette prototype.
A few months later, when factory-produced race cars were outlawed, work on the Corvette was halted. For the rest of his career, Duntov advocated for the conversion of the Corvette to a mid-engine design. Although this concept was shelved for decades, the Corvette eventually adopted a mid-engine layout, probably around 60 years later.
Corvette XP 700 from 1958
William “Bill” Mitchel, then the chief designer at General Motors, oversaw the creation of the futuristic-appearing Corvette XP 700. The base for the prototype was a Corvette from the year 1958. The factory car was heavily modified to look and feel more like a grand prix car.
The XP 700 underwent an intensive redesign that resulted in sleeker curves, larger air intakes, four round headlights, and a looped grille. To make the XP 700 more in keeping with the look of race cars from that era, wire wheels were installed. The car’s original engine and other mechanical components were kept. After years of development and refinement, Chevrolet finally unveiled the Corvette concept at the 1960 New York International Auto Show in April.
A. Mako Shark, I, 1961
Larry Shinoda, Corvette’s then-recently appointed design chief, worked with Bill Mitchell to create the XP-755 Corvette concept car, also known as the Mako Shark. General Motors claims that Mitchell’s inspiration for the experimental car came from a mako shark he caught off the Florida coast. Fans of fast cars will recognize the Mako Shark 1 not only by its name but also by the iridescent blue paint that blends with the white lower portion of its body.
The XP-755 was easily recognizable thanks to its double-bubble roof, twin exhaust pipes, and periscope-style rearview mirror. Before its engine was installed, the car was merely a museum piece. The Mako Shark II, powered by a 425-horsepower Mark IV V-8, made its debut in 1965.
CERV II in 1964
The ’60s were the time of mid-engine development. Chevrolet, like many other automakers, felt the need for speed and worked to perfect the mid-mounted engine. Chevrolet’s division known as CERV (short for Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle) was responsible for making many of the company’s wildest automotive concepts a reality.
The CERV II, which improved upon the design of the CERV I, was destined to collide with the likes of the Ford GT40. The Duntov team’s main focus this time around was on building a car that could compete and win in both short sprints and long endurance events like Le Mans and Sebring. At one point in its development, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, thanks to the work of the company’s engineers who paired 500 horsepower with an all-wheel drive system.
The open roadster CERV II had some impressive numbers, but it was unable to win any races. It was used in demonstrations and trial runs to highlight the company’s engineering prowess and demonstrate how far the brand had come.
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