1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum

The Corvette Museum is fantastic. So much so that reviewing my visit’s 350+ photos is a bit mind-boggling.

1968 Corvette ASTRO GIF

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.

1968 Corvette ASTRO II GIF

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.

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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.

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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.

1957 Q-Corvette XP-84The CERV I and II concepts from the 1960s also explored this low, long speedster style.

Images courtesy of RM Auctions
Images courtesy of RM Auctions

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?

1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 14 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 15

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

1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 19 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 32 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 23

— 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.

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— 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.

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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.

1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 21 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 27

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?

1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 22 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 17

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.

1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 22 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 26 1968 Corvette ASTRO and ASTRO II Concepts at the National Corvette Museum + Ferrari and Bugatti-style Concepts 28

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.

C7Gif

C7Gif

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.

Outdoor image credits: Richard Spiegelman

 

2014 Corvette Stingray IVERS Prototype at Nat'l Corvette Museum 28 2014 Corvette Stingray IVERS Prototype at Nat'l Corvette Museum 29

 

National Corvette Museum Fact Sheet

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Looking Toward the Future: The Museum has purchased 70 acres of land and holds options on an additional 300+ acres across the interstate from the Museum for the future home of the NCM Motorsports Park. Fundraising is currently underway.

 Visitors: 146,000 annually (calendar year 2010)

  • Membership: 35,000 members
  • Students Served Annually: 3,000

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 Admission:

  • Adults (ages 17 and up): $10
  • Youths (ages 6 through 16): $5
  • Seniors (55 and up): $8
  • Children (ages 5 and under): FREE
  • Active Military: Free
  • Student Groups: $4
  • Senior Groups: $6

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Hours of Operation:

  • Open daily, seven days a week, 8am – 5pm Central Time; Closed: New Year’s Day, Easter, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day

Permanent Exhibits:

  • Gateway- An area that will test your knowledge of America’s Sports Car with a series of interactive quizzes and displays representing every generation of Corvette.
  • Nostalgia- Series of realistic scenes mirroring Corvette’s early history. Stroll down Main Street
  • and see a mid-20th century barbershop, Mobil service station, Route 66, 60s Chevrolet dealer showroom and St. Louis Corvette Assembly line.
  • Performance – Exclusively devoted to Corvette performance with a Corvette Racing section, recreated pit stop and an interactive pit crew challenge.
  • Driving Simulators- Interactive educational tool to take the danger out of learning to drive.
  • Demonstrations daily at 10am, 1pm and 3:30pm.
  • Design & Engineering- An area highlighting the design and development of Corvette, including a Nürburgring display, concept cars, actual clay model, rolling chassis, crash test car and a few hands-on samples.
  • Enthusiast- A celebration of the Corvette lifestyle with memorabilia, videos, images, club spotlights, interactive trivia games and a racing experience.
  • Skydome / Hall of Fame- Home to over 30 Corvettes and the largest display area measuring 140 feet in diameter. Constantly changing cars, and home of the Corvette Hall of Fame.

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  • Employees: 26 full-time and 54 part-time
  • Volunteers: 380
  • Hours Donated: 5,396 during calendar year 2010
  • For more information, call (270) 781-7973 or (800) 538-3883 or visit
  • www.corvettemuseum.org

1968 Corvette ASTRO II GIF