The Chevrolet Corvette is an American icon. It’s a definitive sports car that has always maintained a certain core image and character, but if the latest news is accurate then it could be the end of the Corvette as we – and the US – know it.
Downsizing and turbocharging is getting to be old news in Europe. Makers of American cars have resisted a move in that direction because, until recently, they haven’t needed to think about it. Emissions regulations like the CAFE standards have started to push manufacturers a little, though. The news that the next Corvette could drop capacity and add turbochargers could be about as welcome among the car’s fans as a fart in a phone box.
To be clear about something, I’m not American and I’m not a US resident. This is not a piece designed to pretend that I’m either. It’s an observation of a specific piece of American car culture that’s about to be caught in the headlights of change.
America is notoriously stubborn about giving things up that are dear to its heart. Nobody mention guns (but guns). Big, normally-aspirated V8s that shout loud enough to wake the ancient Greek pantheon are part of US heritage; part of its rich car culture. Taking them away is like taking Miss Piggy out of the Muppets. The biggest piece of the overall character is gone.
And yet the speculation is that General Motors is arming two new V8s for the C8 Corvette, both turbocharged and fundamentally different in character to the normally-aspirated and supercharged animals that have gone before. Alternatively, it’s perfectly possible that the smaller of these, at 4.2 litres, could have six cylinders. A six-cylinder Corvette would raise eyebrows right out of the roof.
Owners’ forums like the Corvette one from which this story was born are often populated by die-hards. It’s also fair to say that a lot of more moderate car enthusiasts know the score on the emissions front and have accepted the fact that engines will be downsized. Others… well, others like things just the way they always have been.
It’s beyond argument that a smaller, turbocharged engine doesn’t feel like a bigger one at low revs no matter how many turbochargers you strap to it. There’s always a weak spot, or lag before the boost kicks in. “There’s no replacement for displacement” is a long-standing American tradition in engine-building. As such, there are grounds for potential customers to be unhappy about this.
While there have been blown Corvettes in the past, most impressively the 254mph Callaway Sledgehammer of the C4 era, they’ve tended to be tuner specials. Callaway also created the twin-turbo B2K C4 at around the same time as the Sledgehammer.
Even if turbos are fine, will the US really be okay with downsizing such a legend? Has the Corvette become so expensive that the group of people who will look at buying the C8 are outside that core, principle-clutching audience that seems to dominate voting-age America?
Using Mercedes-AMG’s recent history as an example, albeit in Europe, we know it’s possible to soldier on after losing one of the greatest engines ever made. The 6.2-litre V8 that graced the C63, E63, S63, G63, SL63, CLS63 and many more AMG legends was staggeringly good. It was so sharp in its reactions, blasted a heart-stopping T-Rex roar from its exhausts and was surprisingly genteel at low revs without giving up its response or urge. It’s in my top three engines ever made and I can’t see it being deposed in the turbo era, therefore ever.
The point is that it was an icon that was extinguished. Status doesn’t grant immunity from progress. The 4.0-litre lump that replaces the 6.2 these days is a fantastic engine, no doubt about it. But it’s not the same. Given the choice, I’d still take the older unit.
In 10 years time America could be in the same situation with the C7 Corvette’s 6.2. To our American friends who’d miss it, we say: enjoy it while it lasts. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.