The mid-engine Corvette’s refined nature makes me miss the old days

Dovie Salais

I finally got a chance to drive the long-awaited eight-generation Corvette, now with the engine sitting in the middle of the car — not up front under the hood, its home since the early 1950s. The so-called C8 Vette is the most radical redesign in the car’s long history. I […]

  • I finally got a chance to drive the long-awaited eight-generation Corvette, now with the engine sitting in the middle of the car — not up front under the hood, its home since the early 1950s.
  • The so-called C8 Vette is the most radical redesign in the car’s long history.
  • I expected to be impressed, and I was. But I also ended up struggling with the change.
  • The C8 Vette is almost too good — I miss the wilder side of the C7.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One of the first cars I drove and reviewed when I joined Business Insider in 2014 was the then all-new Chevy Corvette Stingray. 

This was the seventh generation of a defiantly American sports car that had basically defined my entire life. My first ride in a truly impressive set of wheels took place in a second-gen Vette, when I was maybe 7 years old, with a buddy of my grandfather who had fixed up the machine. 

Corvette Stingray

I drove the C7 Stingray in 2014.

General Motors

Later, I experienced my share of the third-generation Vette, with its legendary “Boogie Nights” curves, as well as the updates that followed. The factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, rolled ’em out, and I marveled at the Corvette’s longevity.

The seventh-generation Vette was, I suspected, something special. Rumors abounded that the so-called “C7 “would be succeeded by a very different C8 — one with the engine relocated from the front of the car, where it had been since 1953, to the middle of chassis, European-supercar style.

CarPlay Corvette

I checked out the convertible a year after the coupé.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

For several years, I pestered General Motors’ former product czar and now president, Mark Reuss, about the mid-engine idea. I did so mainly because I knew he was a Vette enthusiast, not to mention an avid supporter of Corvette Racing, which had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015 with the competitive version of the C7, the C7.R.

Reuss’ prudent executive silence spoke volumes, and last year, the C8 finally arrived, inaugurating a new era for the Vette. The great American roadster would now be engineered like its competition from Ferrari and Lamborghini, with a snarling V8 between the rear wheels and the driver’s head.

Corvette Grand Sport

The Grand Sport was my personal favorite C7 Vette.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The mere concept of the C8 Corvette was candy for enthusiasts — a $60,000 mid-engine supercar for what on paper looked like a Bluegrass State Ferrari 458. Built for speed with 495 horsepower and a dagger-like design, I was as excited as any other fan.

So when I finally got a crack at the new Corvette, I was ready for thrills. 

Objectively, I got them. The new Corvette is plenty fast, a weapon in the corners, makes a glorious noise, and let’s just say that while I driving it around, I attracted lots of fist pumps. When I stopped to take pictures, I enjoyed some socially distanced interrogations.

Corvette Z06

The Z06 proved the Vette as a supercar.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

My partner in crime, Kristen Lee, mostly dug the car. “The C8 is easily the most exciting thing this side of $100,000, and as something to live your normal, everyday life with, it’s pretty tough to beat,” she wrote in her review.

Agreed! More or less. The C8 is a staggering, staggering — I’ll say it again — staggering bargain. But while I was driving it, it felt like a race car in search of a racetrack. The car seems to show its true personality only in Track Mode, the most unexpurgated drive setting.

That’s backed up by the, again, staggering performance of the C8.R race car in the IMSA WeatherTech series, where, in the car’s first season, it has Corvette Racing in first place overall.

To be honest, a lot of mid-engine supercars leave me with this impression. They’re churlish in real life. 

Corvette ZR1

The ZR1 terrified my with its 755-horsepower output.

Matthew DeBord/BI

Backing up to the previous-generation Vette, I didn’t experience that. From the 455-horsepower Stingray all the way up to the 755-horsepower ZR1, I could settle into a nice around-town rumble with that big V8 thrumming away in front. 

The C7 Corvette was a much less back-woodsy ride than its predecessors — the auto press took to calling it a “proper supercar,” based on specs and performance — but it also had a wild side on tap. The rear wheels had a mind of their own under hard application of throttle. Give it too much gas and you could be in for big trouble. That edge was ever present in my mind.

The inherently more stable design of the C8 Vette took that away. Now, the car wants to rotate around its heaviest component, the mid-mounted motor. I could feel the balance and the remarkable sure-footedness of the platform, hard into the corners, as if the new Vette were saying, “Nope, sorry, those slidey days are gone for good.”

C8 Corvette

The C8 was brilliant but I thought it craved a race track.

Matthew DeBord/Insider

For a pro, this is what you want. For an amateur, not so much. I’d like to have some of the old, unrefined Vette’s disposition back, although I realize that’s a nostalgic wish and a worthless one to fulfill, given the superb capabilities of the C8.

But while we’re on nostalgia: I’m not sure about the design now that I’ve touched the actual sheet metal. My personal favorite C7 was the Grand Sport, and before that, I was a supporter of the fourth-generation Vette, which arrived a year before I graduated from high school in 1984. I will forever be 17 when I gaze upon a C4, with its flip-up headlights and a curved backlight/hatch. A commoner’s Ferrari Daytona? You be the judge.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette_KL_24

The shape of things to come has arrived.

Kristen Lee/Business Insider

The bottom line, of course, is that change is good. I welcomed the C4 as a teenager because I thought the C3 was yesterday’s news. The mid-engine C8 is that car for a new generation, and the truth is that folks had been begging Chevy to move the motor for a long, long time.

Having seen the C7 Vette go up against the Ferrari 488 and Ford GT at Daytona and Le Mans — winning the former with a 1-2 finish in 2016, but losing the latter that year — I was a mid-engine advocate myself.

I guess I’ll just have to get used to it.

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