1976 Chevrolet Aerovette Evolution – A Look Back At This Beauty

1976 Chevrolet Aerovette Is One Of The Most Beloved Concept Cars

We are looking at the history of the 1976 Chevrolet Aerovette. The story starts with two XP-882 Chevrolet Design Exercise projects.

General Motors (GM) is one of the largest car manufacturing companies in the world. For about 77 years, it held the top spot, before losing it to Toyota in 2008 and again in 2021. Maybe they will get it back in 2022?

Despite these shifts and changes, GM continues to top the favorites lists of many car enthusiasts. The reason is that they continue to produce a long list of beloved cars, pick-up trucks, and sports cars. 

Among the most favored GM sports cars, is the Chevrolet Corvette. But other than the many favored sports cars, Chevy and GM have released several incredible concept cars/show cars.

All GM Show cars were in a constant state of change while in top-secret development!

Once they were secretly declared “Dead” all changes stopped with no chance of production, which is when they were shown to the public! The public never knew that and magazines covered them like “News Scoops on the next Corvette!”

The Chevrolet Aerovette is one of them.

The 1967 XP-882  was brought back as teasers and finally as the 1976 Aerovette.

The Aerovette sparked plenty of hype, as many were looking forward to a mid-engine Chevy. But despite the hype, the concept was scrapped, and the Aerovette lived on, only in the dreams of gear heads. 

We are looking today at the 1976 Chevrolet Aerovette as it is one of many concept cars that will be exhibited at the Lime Rock Historic Festivals Concours – Sunday in The Park on September 4, 2022.

As I worked on this blog post, I realized that the 1976 Aerovette is also referred to as the 1973 Aerovette. In light of this, I reached out to historian Kenneth Kayser for clarification.

Was the Aerovette a 1973 or 1976?

Ken Kayser clarified the confusion. I might also mention that Ken has written several in-depth books on the history of Corvette and his book Corvette Legend or Myth Volume II Zora’s Fabulous “Mid-Ship” Corvette History covers all 44 experimental Mid-ship creations. You can order his book on his website Tachometer Publishing.

Here is the XP-882 Aerovette Sequence:

  • The 1st XP-882 was a 1967 three wheeler with a turbine engine
  • The 2nd XP-882 was the 1968 that was not shown until the 1970 NYC auto show and it was DOA
  • The 3rd XP-882 was the 1973 Rotary Engine Gull-wing Corvette also DOA when shown in 1975
  • The 4th XP-882 was the 1976 Aerovette with 400-CID transverse V-8 also DOA when shown & now in GM Historica Collection.

Keep reading to learn all about the evolution of the 1976 Chevrolet Aerovette. 

The Rise of Mid-Engine Cars

Mid-engine cars were predominantly found in racing cars. But in the 1960s, the mid-engine layout made its way into ‘normal’ sports cars. 

Mid-engine refers to the powertrain layout of cars. It means that the position of the engine places its center of gravity between the front and rear axles. Mid-engine cars often have a smoother drive. Thanks to the evenly distributed weight, the car’s suspension absorbs bumps much more effectively. 

Mid-engine cars also have better traction control making the car safer all-round. This is why mid-engine cars were mainly racing cars.

But in the 1960s, the mid-engine design moved onto ‘ordinary’ exotic cars. These included the Ford GT40 and the Lamborghini Miura. The release of these sportsters made front-engine cars seem outdated.

From there, automotive companies scrambled to release their own mid-engine car. Many waited with bated breath for America’s favorite car brand, Chevrolet, to release their own. In the late 60s, they finally seemed to be following suit.

Unfortunately, many were left disappointed, as Chevrolet never released a mid-engine car to the public until much later. They did showcase several concept cars, though, including the Aerovette.

The up and down evolution of this car constantly left gear heads waiting with bated breaths at the edge of their seats.

So, what was this long, winding evolution of the Chevrolet Aerovette?

The Start of The Evolution

The beginning of this car’s journey starts with the XP-882. This concept car was meant to be Chevrolet’s rendition of the mid-engine configuration. 

The XP-882 was a Wankel-powered car, meaning it was equipped with a rotary engine. Thanks to this 6.2l engine and its ability to produce 400 hp, the XP-882 was well on its way to becoming the C4. 

Zora-Arku-Duntov served as Corvette’s first chief engineer from December 1, 1967, until December 31, 1974, when he officially resigns from Chevrolet. (On January 1, 1975, David McLellan takes over as chief engineer of the Corvette.)

Zora’s position allowed him to advance the mid-engine Corvette toward becoming a viable production vehicle. His accomplishments eventually lead to the release of the Corvette Stingray C8.

Zora Arkus-Duntov developed two XP-882s, but the entire plan was scrapped in 1969. Chevrolet’s general manager at the time, John DeLorean, believed that the project was costly and time-consuming.

But the end of the 60s saw a major shift in the automotive industry. Ford shocked the world with their plans to join forces with the Italian automotive company, DeTomaso. Together, they developed the DeTomaso Pantera, a mid-engine sports car that combined American power, with Italian design. This car would be sold through Lincoln-Mercury, a division of Ford Motors.

Thanks to this announcement, DeLorean saw the value in mid-engine cars. He quickly ordered that the XP-882 prototype be shown at the New York Auto Show in 1970.  

The design of the XP-882 was futuristic and highly appealing. It sported double-folding gullwing doors that complemented its sharp front end. The XP-882 also had pop-up headlights.

In the next couple of years, DeLorean authorized further work on the XP-882. But he renamed the project, giving it the code name XP-895. This became the 1973 XP-895 Reynolds Aluminum Corvette Prototype.

The Many Changes

The XP-895 was nearly identical to its predecessor, but there were quite a few changes, namely chassis improvements. The XP-895 had a 400 CID small block v8 engine. It also featured a Turbo Hydromatic transmission via a bevel gearbox. 

But DeLorean wanted more. So, he authorized Bill Mitchell and his design team to create a new body for the improved XP-895. While fresh, the design strayed a little far from the Corvette look. It was rounder and had large wheel flares, along with a sugar scoop on its rear.  

The new body was also made completely out of steel, making the car extremely heavy. The weight unfortunately yielded poor performance and negated many of the updates. 

To see the benefits of lightweight metal for car bodies, GM teamed up with Reynolds Aluminum. Together, they developed the Reynolds Aluminum Car.

Both the steel and aluminum XP-895s were displayed in 1973, alongside the XP-897 GT (more on this later). The latter sported a 2-rotor engine, while the XP-895 had a 4-rotor engine.  

1973 4-Rotor Corvette Engine - Almost the C4 Production Corvette. Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
1973 4-Rotor Corvette Engine – Almost the C4 Production Corvette. Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
1973 Aerovette at NCM Four Rotor Engine  - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
1973 Aerovette at NCM Four Rotor Engine – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood

While the aluminum body on the XP-895 proved practical in terms of performance and weight, there were several drawbacks. The largest being the cost. Manufacturing wholly aluminum cars was exceptionally pricey, more so than steel-frame and fiberglass body cars. 

Compounding matters was the impending oil crisis. Thanks to this, GM abandoned its rotary engine projects and scraped all plans for a Wankel-powered car.

As a result, the XP-895 concept was dead, and the concept cars were put into storage. Later, the concept of the 2-rotor GT897 was sold to Tom Falconer. The concept was then fitted with a Mazda 13b rotary engine in the late 90s.

SNAZZY CORVETTES DEBUT - Two rotary-engine Chevrolet Corvette experimental vehicles, representing the latest in mid-engine sports car design, will be shown for the first time in the United States at the Chicago Automobile Show February 23-March 3.  The non-production Corvette prototypes, using transverse rotary engines, and featuring highly adv ance aerodynamic design, were developed by the GM Design Staff and Chevrolet Engineering. The vehicles are designated as Corvette Two-Rotor and Corvette Four-Rotor for the number of rotor housings in the engine. The two-rotor (top) is a red hatchback model while the four-rotor Corvette (bottom) features a fiberglass skin integrated with a steel and aluminum cage.
SNAZZY CORVETTES DEBUT – Two rotary-engine Chevrolet Corvette experimental vehicles, representing the latest in mid-engine sports car design, will be shown for the first time in the United States at the Chicago Automobile Show February 23-March 3. The non-production Corvette prototypes, using transverse rotary engines, and featuring highly adv ance aerodynamic design, were developed by the GM Design Staff and Chevrolet Engineering. The vehicles are designated as Corvette Two-Rotor and Corvette Four-Rotor for the number of rotor housings in the engine. The two-rotor (top) is a red hatchback model while the four-rotor Corvette (bottom) features a fiberglass skin integrated with a steel and aluminum cage.

Finally: The Chevrolet Aerovette

Despite all these mid-engine concept cars, nothing truly stuck. And with the energy crisis still looming, it seemed like the concepts could go nowhere, especially with GM looking at saving costs as best it could. 

Frustrated with the lack of innovation, the Father of the Corvette left General Motors in 1975. In hindsight, his retirement was a bit rushed, because a year later, Bill Mitchell revitalized the mid-engine Corvette concept.

Mitchell ordered the dusty XP-895 to be removed from storage. But he recognized that several changes needed to be made.

Mitchell scrapped the original 4-rotor engine design, replacing it with something far more economical – a 6.6l Chevrolet V8. The car was also renamed Aerovette.

Aerovette rear window view of engine at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette rear window view of engine at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Shown here is the 1976 Aerovette Engine. In 1976, the 4-rotor engine was replaced by a 400 cu in (6,600 cc) Chevrolet V8 engine, and the concept car was named Aerovette. - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood. 
Note: The 1973 Chevrolet Aerovette XP-882 is a mid-engine configuration had a 400 C.I. V8 (6.6L). It had a 3-speed automation and the original engine was the 4 rotor Wankel. It weight 2,600 lbs.
Shown here is the 1976 Aerovette Engine. In 1976, the 4-rotor engine was replaced by a 400 cu in (6,600 cc) Chevrolet V8 engine, and the concept car was named Aerovette. – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood.
Note: The 1973 Chevrolet Aerovette XP-882 is a mid-engine configuration had a 400 C.I. V8 (6.6L). It had a 3-speed automation and the original engine was the 4 rotor Wankel. It weight 2,600 lbs.
Aerovette Engine - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
19Aerovette Engine – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood

Outer Design

1976 Chevrolet Aerovette with Gullwing Doors - Photo © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Aerovette with Gullwing Doors – Photo © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Aerovette Side View - Photo © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Aerovette Side View – Photo © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Aerovette Top View - Photo © General Motors
1976 Chevrolet Aerovette Top View – Photo © General Motors

Noting the importance of lightweight bodies, the Aerovette had an aluminum tubular frame. It was clothed in steel and fiberglass, though. 

Despite these changes, some things hailed to the original XP-882 design. The Aerovette sported pop-up headlights and a sharp front end. It also featured the popular double-folding gullwing doors, which were a sportscar staple at this point.

Adding to its futuristic design, the Aerovette’s windshield came in a ‘V’ design and was angled at around 72 degrees. This design allowed the windshield to wrap around the car’s doors, which hid the pillars.

Large glass seemed to be the theme with Aerovette, as the rear quarter panel sported glass louvers. This improved visibility and allowed for heat dispersion. Heat management didn’t stop there, though. A hole was placed near the front of the back tires, which allowed cool air to make its way to the carburetor. 

And, for better cooling all-round, the radiator and air-conditioning units were placed near the front wheels.  

Inside the Aerovette

Aerovette Interior at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Interior at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood

The interior of the Aerovette was just as pleasing as the exterior, and the mid-engine concept as a whole. Bringing the futuristic design to the inside of the car, the Aerovette sported several high-tech features, for its day.

It had an eye-catching dashboard that housed controls for an AM/FM radio, a calendar, clock, and even a lap-timer – it was a sportscar after all. Its steering wheel was also telescopic.

Maintaining this high-tech design, the Aerovette also had a digital display. This display allows for the adjustment of several comfort levels. 

But, the Aerovette didn’t come with adjustable seats. While you could still move the seats up and down, they had to remain in a fixed position. This allowed for an even weight distribution. To counteract this ‘backward’ design, the Aerovette did have a special lever, which adjusted the pedals, either closer or further away from you.  

The Aerovette wasn’t only forward-thinking with its design. It also featured several safety features, something that wasn’t common at the time. The Aerovette had an alert that warned the driver that doors were unlocked, and seatbelts weren’t fastened. It had many more features, even energy-absorbing bumpers.

Aerovette at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette drivers side at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette drivers side at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette drivers side at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette drivers side at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette rear at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette rear at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette rear at NCM - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette rear at NCM – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Front - Photo Credit Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Front – Photo Credit Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Front - Photo Credit Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Front – Photo Credit Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
Aerovette Rear – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood
GM Aerovette - Photo Credit - Wayne Ellwood
GM Aerovette – Photo Credit – Wayne Ellwood

Canceled… Again

Despite this futuristic interior and all of its high-tech capabilities, the Aerovette wasn’t perfect. Many described the interior as being cramped, and while the drive was smooth, it felt too labored for a sportscar. Its trunk was also disappointing, being so small that it could only fit two duffel bags. 

But there was still hope for a mid-engine Chevrolet. 

While the original concept had a 400 cubic-inch engine, the final concept would have had a 350 cubic-inch engine. This change put the price range of the Aerovette at between $15 000 and $18 000. 

This changed again, though, eventually going back to the original engine size. 

Unfortunately, despite being approved for production in 1980, GM canceled the program. Again.  

The new general manager for GM, David R. McLellan, believed the company should stick to what worked: front-engine configured cars. They had decent performance and were cheaper to make.

The Revitalization

While the plan was scrapped, the Chevrolet Aerovette moved into the GM Heritage Collection. It remains there today.

But, this isn’t the end of the mid-engine story. In 2020, the Aerovette concept dream was finally brought to life with the mid-engine C8 Corvette.

Finally, the world would see a mid-engine Corvette, albeit almost half a century later. But you know what they say, better late than never.

The Evolution of The Chevrolet Aerovette

The story of Chevrolet’s mid-engine concepts is a winding one. But the evolution of the Chevrolet Aerovette tells us one thing—it’s never too late to make a concept a reality.

Actual 8mm footage of the Four-Rotor Corvette

Note: This is not the Aerovette – The car featured in this video was officially called the Four-Rotor Corvette.

Note: This is not the Aerovette – The car featured in this video was officially called the Four-Rotor Corvette.

1976 Chevrolet Aerovette to be Featured at Lime Rock Concours

In September, the iconic Chevrolet Aerovette, along with 11 other concept cars, will be displayed at the Lime Rock Concours during Sunday in The Park on Sunday, September 4, 2022.  The 1959 Chevrolet Stingray Concept Car and Race Car is just one of the concept cars you can enjoy.

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The No. 4 Corvette race car features a silver livery, inspired by the color of iconic Corvette concepts such as the Chevrolet Aerovette and the 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer that pushed the envelope both in design and on-track performance. You might enjoy the article titled Chevy Debuts C8.R Corvette Race Car for Next Racing Season.

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