The Corvette is an American icon, the only American car capable of competing with exotic, imported sports carts; but GM should kill it. The screams of legions of irate Corvette lovers can be heard in the background; but GM should ignore that and kill the Corvette. One reason is that it uses antiquated technology, developed to perfection but still antiquated. An example is its pushrod engine,
With one exception, no other high-performance engine for at least fifty years has been a pushrod engine. NASCAR, Trans Am or other rules-limited racing series engines don’t count. The one exception is the Mercedes V-8 that gave Roger Penske his proverbial unfair advantage at the Indianapolis 500.
In the nineties, in an effort to encourage the use of stock block engines to reduce costs in the Indy 500, USAC gave pushrod engines 48 cubic inches of increased displacement and 10 inches of increased turbocharger boost, acknowledging that DOHC engines had an inherent horsepower advantage.
Ilmore Engineering, with backing from Mercedes-Benz, saw an opportunity that USAC didn’t anticipate, a purpose-built pushrod-engine that would have a huge advantage. Al Unser Jr. won the 1994 Indianapolis 500 for Penske Racing with the engine, said to have 200 horsepower more than the DOHC racing engines.
The catch is that even the Ilmore/Mercedes engine wasn’t really a pushrod engine. The pushrods were so short that it was effectively an OHC engine. The engine just exploited a loophole in the rules. Ilmore knew that real pushrods aren’t the way to build a high-performance engine. Corvette engineers know that too, even if they’re still perfecting a pushrod engine.
The fiberglass Corvette body minimizes tooling costs, but using it makes the Corvette a trailing-edge technology body-on-frame car. Chevrolet engineers have performed miracles to keep the weight of the base 2009 Corvette at only 3,200 pounds. The frame is a work of art. But, imagine how much torsional rigidity could be increased and general shake, rattle and roll could be decreased with a modern, semi-monocoque body.
Another reason that the Corvette should be killed is that it projects the wrong image for the new GM. Back in the day, when GM was selling muscle cars, pickup trucks and SUVs with huge V-8s, a brute force sports car with a big pushrod V8 was a perfect image car. The fact that the Corvette could match the performance of “foreign” cars at a third of the price just by using more cubic inches was a matter of sly satisfaction. Those times were awesome, but they’re gone. To survive, GM needs to become more competitive with cars like the Accord or the Camry. It needs to shift its emphasis to smaller, lighter cars with fuel economy meeting the 2016 CAFE standard, 39 miles per gallon. Those cars won’t be using big V-8s. The 2009 Corvette image won’t fit anymore. Some say that GM should keep the Corvette because it’s profitable, but GM is bankrupt after years of building “profitable” pickup trucks and SUVS and leaving the mainstream passenger car market to others. None of this means that GM should be building only hybrid electrics and micro-cars five years from now or that there’s no room for high-performance sports cars. It’s easy to visualize three new sports cars, one for each remaining GM brand, that would be fantastic image builders. They wouldn’t have big V-8s, but they would be fun, drivers’ cars.
If GM can’t find the money for tooling to build new, more fuel efficient cars by 2016, including new high-performance sports cars to help create a new image and build showroom traffic, no amount of government bailout money will save it again.
VP Strategic Technologies