Was Chevy’s rear-engine XP-819 really a contender for the Corvette badge, or was it something else entirely – Jim Koscs @Hemmings
One word might best sum up the arrival of the 2020 Corvette, the first mid-engine model in the Chevy sports car’s nearly 70-year history: finally! Mid-engine Corvettes had been teased as engineering cars, prototypes and concepts for more than 50 of those years. If your car magazine collection stretches back to the late 1960s, you likely have issues promising “the next Corvette” as a mid-engine car. Since then, there have been six generations of front-engine Corvettes and, as social scientists could point out, two generations of humans.
The half-century lineage of mid-engine Corvette teasers was on display at this year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in March. Nine of those cars were gathered in the same place for the first time ever, including Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle I (CERV I), CERV II, GS-II, CERV III, XP-819, XP-895, XP-987 rotary Corvette, the Aerovette and the Corvette Indy.
Among the group, and even among rotary-engine ‘Vettes, the Chevrolet Engineering XP-819 had long seemed to be an outlier due to its rear-mounted, not mid-mounted, V-8. The XP-819’s recently completed restoration by Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, New York, has confirmed, however, that this car was a critical link in the Corvette’s evolutionary chain. Even if testing proved the rear-engine location to be unworkable, the XP-819’s legacy could be found in other engineering, design and safety ideas applied in Corvettes stretching into the 1990s.
This important, intriguing engineering car would have disappeared for good but for the efforts of several passionate Corvette enthusiasts since the 1970s. The restoration itself could better be described as a heroic rescue-and-rebuild, such was the XP-819’s severe state of disrepair and deterioration. “Of all the cars we’ve ever done, this was the most difficult and the most challenging,” says Kevin Mackay, owner of Corvette Repair. The shop is renowned for restoring historic Corvette racecars and ultra-rare production models.