31 March 2017

Bunkie Knudsen was right: A Corvette sedan is unholy

The rumors of a mid-engine Chevy Corvette are now common. Confirmation, however, remains elusive. Some purists may already be in shock by the prospect of a Corvette with its engine in the “wrong” place, and now the web delivers another fiberglass bombshell: The specter of a new four-door Corvette.

What began as a thread on CorvetteForum.com about the Callaway C7 AeroWagen, a package that can be purchased to increase the storage space beneath the seventh-generation Corvette’s hatch, escalated to include the possibility of a four-door ‘Vette. Before you send hate mail to General Motors, Chevrolet, or Hagerty, calm down. The four-door Z06 is only a forum member’s Photoshop attempt at humor (or horror).

But that rendering of a fictional yellow car prompted us to dig through some Corvette history and to discover that at least one four-door Corvette actually was built, and at least two four-seaters were considered. The first attempt at a four passenger 'Vette was developed in 1956 and called the Corvette Impala. It didn't see production as a Corvette but proved to be the 1958 Impala's inspiration.

Another four-seat concept followed in 1961 and looked like a stretched 1963 Split-Window, codenamed XP-796. It was created at the behest of Ed Cole, GM car and truck chief and, later, GM president, likely as a possible Ford Thunderbird competitor, as he was tired of seeing the Corvette beaten in sales. The T-Bird had gained two seats in 1958.

Chevrolet also purchased a Ferrari 2+2 for the Styling department to study the potential for a four-seat Corvette. Ultimately, the XP-796 project was undermined by Bunkie Knudsen, Chevy Division general manager Bunkie Knudsen. According to Corvette Fever magazine (Dec. ’07), Knudsen frequently criticized the notion of a two-plus-two Corvette: “ ‘It’s the wrong thing to do,’ he told GM Vice President Bud Goodman, feeling sure it would be turned down. Three days later, on Thursday, October 18 [1962], Knudsen tersely described the meeting in which the four-passenger Corvette was thrown out.” But it wasn’t.

Early in 1963, according to Corvette Fever, Knudsen expanded in his diary: “ ‘For some time now Mr. Cole has persistently asked me for a four-pass Corvette. Our Sales Dept-our advertising department and myself feel that a four-passenger Corvette will only ruin the Corvette image and not sell any great quantity. I have also asked our largest Corvette dealers, and they do not want a four-passenger Corvette. On arriving in town last weekend, I found in Styling Modeling a four-passenger Corvette. I understand this was Mr. Cole's instructions.’ ” The four-place Corvette probably died, finally, shortly thereafter. Although Corvette historian Jerry Burton says that designer Larry Shinoda told him that the four-seater was actually killed because a GM vice-president got stuck in the back seat. Apparently, a seat release jammed, trapping the exec.

Still, through the late 1970s. Chevrolet explored production of a four-seat, four-door Corvette. According to Super Chevy (March ‘01), the project was outsourced to California Custom Coach, which built the prototype. After five personalized production vehicles were built, however, the project was scrapped due to the exorbitant cost: While a standard, new 1979 Corvette cost roughly $13,000, these four-doors stickered at about $35,000.

One detail that did survive the Corvette America, as it was named, was the glass hatchback. It went into production on 1982 Collector Edition Corvettes and returned on all non-convertible models when the C4 launched.

Finally, Chevy was also rumored to have been playing with a sixth-gen four-seat Corvette to compete with Porsche’s Panamera (which this C7 resembles), but no evidence surfaced.

Bunkie Knudsen was right. A four-seat model would have hurt the Corvette’s image back then, and it would now. Witness the extinct Ford Thunderbird.

Now, where is that mid-engined monster Corvette?

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Michael OH April 5, 2017 at 15:32
    Average yearly sales of the 4-door Porsche Panamera for the past seven years? 6,290 units/year. Hey Chevy, I think there might be a market for 4-door Corvettes.
  • 2
    James MA April 5, 2017 at 15:37
    GM already built a 4-door Corvette, and a wagon. They were called the Cadillac CTS-V.
  • 3
    Dan Murray Planet Earth April 5, 2017 at 16:18
    It was bab enough that the years of the 2 seat Impala had to be endured thanks to the Carter regulators. A 4 door Corvette should only be black and have landau bars on the sail panels like all the other hurses have. It should only be allowed to operate behind a Brinks truck. Of course the Brinks truck would have to be a Chevrolet Duramax / Allison.
  • 4
    Pete SC April 5, 2017 at 16:30
    Don't call it a Corvette, release it with a Cadillac badge, and that could actually be a decent competitor to the Porsche Panamera or other newly styled GT-type 4-door sedans (Maserati, Audi A7 & variants, etc).
  • 5
    Lloyd Klee NY April 5, 2017 at 16:42
  • 6
    Char Michigan April 5, 2017 at 17:00
    Back in the day CORVETTE NEWS had an article about a car called the Corvette Drum Buggy. I can't remember the details but it was like a 'station wagon' so the owner could haul around his drum set. Maybe Hagerty can do some research and share.
  • 7
    larry henderson san diego April 5, 2017 at 17:29
    are they out of there damn minds at GM. Look back and see what happened to the T-bird when they decided to add 2 more doors. As for a mid engine Corvette, bad idea. I guess you want to be like all the other European super cars. I wouldn't buy one. If it is working don't fix it.
  • 8
    Don Barrie, Ontario April 6, 2017 at 14:46
    Happy belated April fools day.....
  • 9
    Mike Houston April 7, 2017 at 12:24
    If G M had built a four door corvette back then maybe today BMW wouldn't be the top selling high performance sedan in America
  • 10
    Georges Windsor ON April 8, 2017 at 13:11
    Build em with suicide doors. Duct tape a pair of design engineers to either side. Drive through GM's testing facility. Repeat as necessary.
  • 11
    Steph Pleasant View May 12, 2017 at 17:15
    Love the creativity and initiative, but don't like the 4-seat design.
  • 12
    john burrows newark ohio May 12, 2017 at 18:26
    I wonder what happened to that one four door corvette that was made.I bet it would be worth quite a bit today.

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