The C8’s Going Mid-Engine, But Why?

Everybody is making a huge deal about the Chevrolet Corvette switching to a mid-engine driveline. Not just now, with the upcoming C8, though, the internet, and before that the newsstand, has been hyping a mid-engine Corvette for decades. But why? What’s the mid-big deal? Well, it comes down to styling and performance.

We’ll start with styling. Because that’s what the Corvette is really all about, right? Just kidding, but that is where we’re going to begin.

Where the engine goes inside the car makes a huge difference to how the car looks. Especially these days, when pedestrian safety is as big of a concern as hitting another vehicle. You need crumple zones up front. That’s the space where the nose of the vehicle can compress, absorbing impacts so you don’t.

Because big iron or alloy engine blocks don’t compress, not in a car accident, at least, there needs to be a certain amount of bodywork ahead of the engine. That’s what saves your butt in a crash. Unless you want your car to be land-yacht-long, that means that the driver and passenger compartment of a rear-drive coupe will be pushed to the back. With the driver close to the rear axle.

On top of the crush zone, for pedestrian safety, the hood has to be well above the top of the engine. To make it softer when that poor pedestrian lands on it in a crash. Sure the C7 is still low in the nose relatively speaking, but look at it compared with a C5 and you’ll see how much things have changed in a short time.

So crumple zones and pedestrian impact standards mean that a front-engine sports car needs to have an upright and tall nose and hood line. Which can look good, but limits options.

Put the engine in the back, and suddenly you can make the nose lower Because there’s no engine in the way. And you can make it shorter. Because there’s no engine blocking the driver’s feet from moving forward.

Now instead of the new Camaro you can get the front end of a Lamborghini. In fact, the original mid-engine car, the Lamborghini Miura (above), is an amazing example of the styling differences a mid-engine car allows. Just look at the Muira, with its low nose and centered cabin, compared with the Lamborghini 400 GT that was unveiled the same year. Still gorgeous, but a forgotten also-ran with a huge nose and rear-mount cabin when you see it next to the Miura.

Now, performance, which is more important to some, but, let’s face it, we’re not sure which of the two is more important to GM’s beancounters and bosses.

Putting the engine in the middle of the car, or more accurately just ahead of the rear axle, has a number of performance benefits. One of the biggest being the center of gravity. Putting the engine and occupants in the center of the car makes it more balanced.

Imagine swinging a hammer, then trying to change its direction mid-swing. Unless you’re Thor, it’s not easy to control that big weight swinging at the end of the handle. Now try swinging the hammer by the head. That’s like having all of the weight between the wheels. It’s easier to change directions, and it makes those changes much more eagerly.

The other big perk is when it comes to traction. With the engine up around the front wheels, much of the weight of the car acts on those wheels. And weight is a big part of traction. So when you mash the big V8’s loud pedal, there’s a big heavy weight on the front wheels, and not much in the rear. So your rear tires spin.

Move the engine between the rear wheels, and there’s suddenly more traction under acceleration.

There’s more traction when you stop, too. When you brake, the nose dives. That takes more weight off of the rear wheels and means they can lock up more easily. With an engine on top of them, you can get more braking force in the rear before the tires lock up. So now the car can go quicker and it can stop quicker. Win, right?

Are there downsides? Sure. Don’t expect to fit a set of race tires in the frunk of a C8 like you could in a C5. And it’ll probably be more complex if you need engine-related repairs. The platform will probably cost more too. And GM will have to put a heck of a cooling system on it, but they already know that. Those cost issues are why GM has tried mid-engine prototypes for decades but never made the jump to production. After all, the Corvette is supposed to be affordable.

Put those against the pros, like the potential for better looks and better handling, and it’s easy to see why the C8 is all turned around.