The Corvette Museum is fantastic. So much so that reviewing my visit’s 350+ photos is a bit mind-boggling.
Organizing the coverage into topic chunks seems most logical versus one massive article. The below video highlights these Astro concepts briefly… before my iPhone conked out of battery life mid-filming. Good times.
Let’s dive in to these exceptional concept Corvettes in the Engineering and Prototype room.
The Astro and Astro II are both from 1968, and show the deep divide over where to take the Corvette C3 in its 1970’s iteration. They show a wild expression of streamlined principles across the board, but one is far more conventional than the other.
With the legendary OHV mounted up front, the Astro concept is actually quite narrow versus the other three concepts it sits with. The biggest dimension changes come from a huge stretch and length, and a drop in roof height of at least a foot versus the upright C2 series from 1963-1969.
THis evolution toward a much lower and higher-speed Corvette had long been sketched by the Corvette teams as early as the 1957 Q-Corvette XP-84 shown below.
So, the desire for a wildly futuristic Corvette has always shown brightly from Chevrolet. The real debate centered around where the mount the engine. If going the real Miura-style hypercar route — why not have the big V8 out back in a longitudinal layout?
This mid-engine exploration has arguably consumed hundreds of millions of General Motors’ dollars over the years. The answer ultimately always seems to come back to a few core principles:
— Putting the engine out back fundamentally changed all the vehicle’s handling characteristics, requiring all-new suspensions and barely a single shared part with the front-engine Corvettes
— A longitudinal mid-engine car is not easy to build or produce in any volume. The transmission and other mechanical parts are enormous, lengthening the rear overhang and effectively ruining the streamliner aesthetic the Miura epitomized.
— A transverse mid-engine layout, perhaps? This is what appears to be the ASTRO II’s chosen path. But it too brings major issues — along with a stretch in width of perhaps two feet versus the Astro I.
Corvette teams have continued flirting with a mid-engine setup ever since, but ultimately these two cars really show the huge pitfalls of that idea.
Most critically: the Corvette was already America’s Sports Car due to its affordable power and pace. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater just to make a hypercar version?
Logic or perhaps fear ultimately keeps the Corvette’s front-engine setup for the production cars.
A production mid-engine Corvette like the Astro II would have been a dismal failure if launched with the Corvette C3 in the 1970s — just as the fuel crisis and safety regulations threw a wet blanket on all of Italy’s small-volume makes as well.
But in the world with $0.20-per-gallon gasoline of 1968, watching Ford mop up Le Mans glory with their GT40 teams — the ambition of the Corvette Astro II remains stunning to behold in the flesh. This was imagined as something of a Le Mans car for the street.
The ideas assembled in these two concepts are still quite relevant today, with a possible Corvette Speedster or Spyder looking pretty likely for this C7 Corvette generation in 2015 or 2016.
Please enjoy these photos of the one-off Astro I and Astro II Corvette prototypes, located at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.