How do you replace a motoring icon? In the years leading up to 1968, U.S. automaker Chevrolet was dealing with this very problem with their venerable Corvette. The first and second generation Corvettes, designed by Harley Earl and Larry Shinoda respectively, were stylish and innovative creations that drew countless fans from the automotive community.
In the late ‘60s, GM engineer Zora Arkus Duntov and his team were toying with the XP-882, a mid-engined design and engineering exercise built on Oldsmobile Tornado underpinnings. Though fascinating from a design and engineering standpoint, Chevy General Manager John DeLorean saw no future for the XP-882 and canceled the project in 1969. It was simply too expensive and too impractical for the impending 1970s America.
When Ford announced it would be selling the Italian designed / American engined De Tomaso Pantera at its Lincoln / Mercury dealerships in 1970, DeLorean hit the roof. He immediately ordered Duntov and GM designer Charles Jordan to dust off the XP-882 and ready it for the New York Auto Show.
Renamed the Aerovette, the XP-882 was a revolution. After being re-engined for the 1973 Paris Auto Salon, the Aerovette now featured four transversely mounted Wankel rotaries, a full five years before they would be popularized in the United States by Mazda’s RX-7. Beneath that sleek glass fibre skin was a steel and aluminium birdcage that was both lightweight and strong.
Innovative features abound such as the bi-fold gullwing doors, V-shaped front windscreen and deformable plastic bumpers. Pop up headlamps, a fully independent coil spring suspension and four wheel disc brakes were also incorporated into the design.
Inside, a digital instrument panel displayed speed and engine rpm, while a switchable screen could show fuel, water temperature, oil pressure or voltage. A second digital display in the centre console could display the date, time and radio station as well as the elapsed time in minute or seconds for time trials.
Though the Aerovette / XP-882 never progressed beyond the concept stage, its design was highly influential in the third generation (C3) Corvette. Many of its ingenious design features would find their way into production cars; though in some cases this process took as long as then years(!).
So there you have it. The Aerovette: a car that was ten years ahead of its time but doomed by the ‘70s oil crisis. Gone, but hopefully, never forgotten.
By Tristan Hankins
Photos: GM / Wikipedia