Hooniverse Asks: Is the C8 still a “Corvette”?

I’ve been spending a week with the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette. It’s the C8 Corvette, which means it’s a totally different machine from what we’ve known in the past. The nose is shorter, the rear wider, and oh that’s right, the engine is now in the back. Or the middle, if you want to get technical. The car I’m driving is a Sebring Orange 3LT Z51 spec C8 Corvette. It stickers for $86k, which is a lot of money but this is also a performance bargain compared to the vehicles against which it now competes. The car is quick. It’s a looker out on the road. And it’s far more focused than Corvettes of old. It’s also nicer inside too, as the fit and finish is top notch.

But I still can’t figure it out.

It looks sort of like an Acura NSX now. The color on this tester and the wheel choice probably exacerbate that feeling. There are angles and parts where it still looks like a Corvette, but it doesn’t feel like when from behind the wheel. But what does that even mean? When I think Corvette, I imagine the engine and hood stretching out in front of me, while cozying up to the rear axle. And Chevy says it took that formula as far as it could before making the mid-engined move.

The numbers and capability of this car are impressive. And this is “just” a step or two over the base model. That means the Z06 and other higher-performance iterations should be wild. So why haven’t I connected with this car yet? I’m not sure. It’s “a good car” to be sure but it’s not what I want from a “Corvette” driving experience.

Am I crazy here? What say you…

13 Comments

  1. I say that the C-8 is absolutely a Corvette. Although it cannot be denied that the Corvette started down the wrong path at its birth with the blue flame six, and then wandered lost in the desert for a decade during the 1970’s, generally speaking the Corvette has always been the best vehicle for Americans yearning for the car that is every true motorists dream: an affordable car that punches far above its weight.

    No Porsche nor Mercedes owner, ever saw a Corvette coming up behind them on a mountain road and was confident that he could leave the Vette behind easily. Many Ferrari owners learned respect as well. Yes, yes, yes, the Corvette is often as crude as a Saturday Night Special compared to a hand-built Purdy shotgun quality European car but when it comes down to gettin’ it done, the Corvette usually can.

    The C-8 is the logical extension of the Corvette ideal for the 21st Century. Flawless? No. The price level of Corvettes always necessitated compromise. Still impressive performance and a worthy competitor.

    Note: the life story of the Corvette is one of the reason that I hate GM. The Corvette shows that GM has good and inventive engineers….. the rest of the GM line shows what happens when you let the bean counters handcuff those engineers.

  2. When Barrett Jackson thinks Corvette they think of an open topped two seater that has an underpowered six cylinder.
    When the seventies thinks Corvette they think of two things. A wildly underpowered Corvette that looks like it has bell bottoms around its wheels and proudly shows its underpowered horsepower every time you sit and look at the armrest. While at the same time they dreamt of a mid engine rotary powered beast that would have drank oil and had its engine size been a quarter of that of the classic 350.
    I tweeted that there was a Ferrari that was the pace car at the Indy 500. I am one of those ones that hasn’t adjusted to the new look of the C8 but sometimes you have to get past the 1983 C4 and try something new. GM is avoiding the Harley syndrome and we should salute them.

    1. In my alternative universe, GM green lit the Pontiac Banshee and created a wide ranging performance brand that would today rival Porsche. The Corvette could still be the independently respectable Audi R8 of the otherwise stodgy brand, but an entire full range legit perfomance brand could have been.

    2. “…they think of an open topped two seater that has an underpowered six cylinder.”

      Ah. Not just me, then. Personally I blame the Powerglide transmission more than the Blue Flame Six, though.

      1. Agreed. That was a good engine, but the 2-speed Powerglide is awful. I’d like to see someone pair up the Blue Flame Six with a modern 6-speed and throttle-body fuel injection. I bet it would be fun.

        1. I don’t know if I fully agree with the statement of the Powerglide being all that bad. GM didn’t really have a sporty manual in their lineup in ’53. The options would have been either a wide spaced 3 speed or a granny geared 4 from the truck division. And there wasn’t enough time to really develop something better. And automatics were pretty high tech at the time, not many cars had them.

          1. If you beef them up, they make for good drag race transmissions (fewer gear changes), but with ordinary street engines, they absolutely suck. I’ve seen guys with “ordinary” Novas that literally couldn’t pull away from a stop when parked uphill. I’ve only driven them on a couple of occasions (both with modest V8s), and I would much prefer the three-speed.

  3. What a “Corvette” is could probably be a pretty instructive enthusiast Rorschach test regardless of the C8. I had a C3 project car and spent a lot of time over on Corvetteforum.com as they were an amazing resource of detailed encyclopedic knowledge of the cars, the obsessiveness over everything that you could possibly imagine was, something to behold. Most folks over there had some notion of what a Corvette was, but it varied widely. It ranged from a symbol of American Might bordering on idolatry to a crude means to a particular end. I’ve only ever driven my rickety C3 and rode in a couple of C4’s long ago, so I can’t say that I could give any kind of authoritative summary of what the model “is” or should feel like, but just based on what the most rabid fans of the nameplate had to say about the C7’s tail lights alone, I’m sure you can get volumes of feedback from more opinionated folks than me.

  4. I say that the C-8 is absolutely a Corvette. Although it cannot be denied that the Corvette started down the wrong path at its birth with the blue flame six, and then wandered lost in the desert for a decade during the 1970’s, generally speaking the Corvette has always been the best vehicle for Americans yearning for the car that is every true motorists dream: an affordable car that punches far above its weight.

    No Porsche nor Mercedes owner, ever saw a Corvette coming up behind them on a mountain road and was confident that he could leave the Vette behind easily. Many Ferrari owners learned respect as well. Yes, yes, yes, the Corvette is often as crude as a Saturday Night Special compared to a hand-built Purdy shotgun quality European car but when it comes down to gettin’ it done, the Corvette usually can.

    The C-8 is the logical extension of the Corvette ideal for the 21st Century. Flawless? No. The price level of Corvettes always necessitated compromise. Still impressive performance and a worthy competitor.

    Note: the life story of the Corvette is one of the reason that I hate GM. The Corvette shows that GM has good and inventive engineers….. the rest of the GM line shows what happens when you let the bean counters handcuff those engineers.

  5. Of course a mid-engine car is not a Corvette, just as a Ford Probe was not a Mustang.

    But the Probe was not an improvement on the Foxstang it was intended to replace. At least the 2020 Corvette is better than its predecessor, in most measures.

    They should have named it something that, for marketing purposes, evoked the Corvette’s essence, but was still something else, kind of how S10 Blazer was not a Blazer. Maybe just call it C8 since that’s what everyone calls it anyway. Although G8 didn’t work out for Pontiac in the long run.

    1. It’s not a Corvette in my mind, either. It’s not necessarily an unfit replacement for the Corvette, but never in the marque’s history has the fundamental design changed so much in one generation. I’m sure it’s fast, and after a couple of years of tweaking, it’ll be even better. But it’s not a “Corvette”.

      If I’m honest, the Corvette hasn’t really appealed to me since the replacement of the C2, but I’ve always respected its front-engine layout trying to compete with mid-engine cars. The C8 feels like a concession of sorts… a sell-out move and an admission that the last few decades were a waste of time and effort.

      My biggest gripe, though, is the derivative styling. I think it’s easy to make mid-engine cars look fast, but it’s tough to make them pretty. Squint and they’re all as cookie-cutter generic as are compact CUVs. It’s just so… uninteresting, I guess?

  6. From another direction:
    I’d never driven a Corvette of any kind till driving a late C1 a few weeks ago. [My dad’s, that he bought in the last year or so. A ’62, 4-speed, with probably a positraction axle as most of the manual cars were; albeit with a later 350 installed underhood at some point in the past, making it a nice driver at a price probably less than half what a more numbers-matching car would have asked.] As with all C1’s it’s a convertible with a non-independent rear axle. The steering gear is some technology before modern gears where it had to be led into the turn, unlike modern gears that turn as soon as you turn the wheel (whether on account of its design or on account of it dating to the J F Kennedy administration.)

    I always liked the Corvette thru the C7, I would rather that the front bodywork stayed long and the engine was underneath that, but: at what point do the technical changes necessary to keep the car competitive make it no longer itself?

    (Side questions:
    aren’t the 4-seat Thunderbirds from 1958-1997 really the norm, not the 1955-57 and the sad little Lincoln LS-based early-2000’s thing?
    At some point doesn’t the 2006+ Dodge Charger 4-door RWD sedan establish itself as “really a Charger” vs. the now-shorter runs of the Charger name as a 2-door RWD coupe or a FWD hatchback?
    etc….)

    1. “… at what point do the technical changes necessary to keep the car competitive make it no longer itself?”

      This is the point I was trying to make. The C8 is technically a smart replacement for the C7. But it’s not an evolution of the C7, or the C6, C5, etc. It’s essentially a different car filling the same niche.

      As for the Thunderbird: yes, you’re right, the two-seater is a mere drop in the production bucket. Over 97% of Thunderbirds had back seats. I think the original generation represented the “vision” of the T-bird, but the reality was something more practical. Personally, when I think of a Thunderbird, a 1964 model comes to mind, though the biggest production year was 1978.

      Regarding the Charger: IMO, the Charger is both the original B-body muscle car and the current “muscle sedan”. Spiritually, I think they fufill the same purpose. The FWD car was just an Omni that stole the name for market recognition, and I prefer to forget about it.

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