Despite its tire weaknesses, the Corvette is a superior automobile in all departments of handling. Like the man said, the machine is excellent, but the car’s functional applications are limited. In addition to the aforementioned storage deficiencies, it is full of minor irritants—many of them the responsibility of the stylists, not the engineers. To begin with, limited interior space makes things very hot indeed, the glories of “Astro-Ventilation” notwithstanding. With that great lump of hot iron mounted a few inches on the other side of the firewall, BTUs pour over the driver and passenger in unpleasant quantities, even at cruising speeds.

The windshield wipers are concealed beneath a moveable flap that looks as if it came from the wing of a Boeing 727. Before the wipers can become operable, this covering has to wind itself clear, a movement that takes several seconds. There are moments, especially in a car with the cruising potential of the Corvette, when several seconds with an opaque windshield would mean certain disaster, and peek-a-boo wipers become a grim bit of frivolity. The dash, while containing a lovely, large tachometer and speedometer, is cluttered with little lights that tell the driver what external illumination he has operating at any given times—in essence, gimmicks. And instead of a clock within the 5-dial instrument bank on the console, why not an oil-temperature gauge? The higher-performance 427s are known to be thirsty for oil (we used two quarts in 1500 miles) and the more that informs the driver about his expensive engine the better.

Fifteen years worth of Corvettes have been produced since 1953, using five body styles. The past two (1963-67 and the present design) have been esthetically delightful. A bit flamboyant, perhaps, but nonetheless pretty shapes that have few deficiencies in a purely artistic sense. But it is time for a change and the Chevrolet management knows it. Up to now, development has been evolutionary, with constant refinement of the basic front-engine, two-place roadster design. In 1956 came the first V-8, with its shocking acceleration, while 1963 brought the first Corvette coupe and along with it the masterfully articulated independent rear suspension. But at the same time the Corvettes have gotten heavier, and more complicated, departing in a sense from the original sparse, functional roadsters that first caused so much excitement.

It is known that Zora Arkus-Duntov is a great exponent of small-displacement, high-revving engines, and it would seem logical that he would be pushing for the manufacture of smaller, lighter Corvettes powered by the zappy, exciting, 302 cu. in. Z/28 engine. But here Duntov faces a difficult personal choice. Because he rightfully believes that his Corvette should represent the pinnacle of Chevrolet engineering, he cannot bring himself to accept producing his car with anything less than the biggest, most powerful engine in the Chevrolet line-up. He feels, with some justification, that it would be absurd to market a 305 or 350 cu. in. Corvette as the top performance car in the division when a customer could buy a Chevelle or Chevy II with a much larger and more powerful engine. Therefore he consents to his once-nimble machine being made bulkier and bulkier by the year.

The present Corvette will doubtlessly be the last front-engine model. It remains uncertain if the new rear-engine version will be introduced in 1971 or 1972 (a great deal depends on Ford and its rumored rear-engine sports car). Until then, the present Corvette will be marketed in essentially the same form as seen on these pages.

Although a number of prototypes have been tested, a certain amount of turmoil exists within Chevrolet as to exactly what form the new car will take. The present General Manager, John DeLorean, is as much an automotive purist as ever reached the top ranks of General Motors, and it is known that he is unhappy with the present Corvette. Rumors from deep inside the company indicate that DeLorean has pronounced the mid-engine version must be a functional sports/GT car, weighing in the neighborhood of 2600 lbs. and containing an engine of about 400 cu. in. This places a giant challenge before Duntov and his engineers. It means cutting the weight of the present car by 1000 lbs. while keeping essentially the same size engine. Proper amounts of luggage space, etc. must also be included. If this can be accomplished with a fiberglass or steel body remains to be seen, but it can be assumed that DeLorean, who is an engineer himself, will drive hard to make this new Corvette lean and tough.

If he succeeds, it could mean goodbye to the jet-plane gimmickry. And for that, we’d all be thankful.

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