Bertone’s Nivola concept was a ’90s bellwether for the mid-engine Corvette


Italian design house Bertone is well known for its over-the-top concepts featuring futuristic, wedge-shaped styling. But of Bertone’s early-1990s creations might have hit the mid-engined nail on the head when it came to the future of America’s sports car—the oft forgotten 1990 Corvette Nivola concept.

The late-1980s and early ’90s marked an important turning point in Corvette history. The sports car was finally regaining its footing as a true performance machine after the Malaise Era crippled the late-C3 with fuel economy and emissions regulation. It wasn’t until the birth of the ultra-’80s, fuel-injected C4 that this trend began reversing itself. With improvements in both power and performance each year, it paved the road to the 375-horsepower ZR-1 for 1990.

Bertone’s Nivola concept, also released in 1990 at the Geneva Motor Show, showcased just how far into supercar-dom you could take the fourth-generation Corvette’s parts with some careful rearrangement and re-imagination. Unlike the neon-green Ramarro of 1983 that preserved the front-engined layout, the Nivola moved the powerplant to the middle, providing the car with Lamborghini-like proportions with shorter overhangs and a wider stance than its ZR-1 contemporary.  

1990 Bertone Nivola concept under construction
1990 Bertone Nivola concept Bertone
1990 Bertone Nivola concept Interior
1990 Bertone Nivola concept Bertone

1990 Bertone Nivola concept side profile gravel pit
1990 Bertone Nivola concept Bertone

The looks weren’t the only exotic part, either. Underneath the all-steel body (in contrast to the C4’s fiberglass construction) was the Lotus-designed, DOHC LT-5 V-8 mated to a five-speed ZF transaxle, the same gearbox used in the DeTomaso Pantera. Popular Mechanics claims the engine’s output matched the ZR-1’s at 375, however other outlets reported the use of twin-turbos to send as much as 650 horses to the 315-section rear tires.

Bertone’s original design called for a complex retractable hardtop, but it settled on a simple removable targa roof to get the job done. Then there’s the interior—oh-so-’90s purple leather with light-green accents envelop the cabin and all-digital, early-C4 gauges complete the psychedelic alien motif.

The concept served as an homage to famous 1930s and ’40s Italian racer Tazio Nuvolari (who’s nickname was Nivola) and its bright paint job was a throwback to his signature yellow sweater. And while this car was a look back at automotive history through a famous name, it was also a fairly accurate glimpse into the future of the Corvette.

The next-generation C8 is rumored to not only share the mid-engine layout, but also house a new turbocharged DOHC V-8 and a retractable hardtop, akin to what was envisioned for Bertone’s Nivola 30 years prior. Whether these rumors actually come to fruition won’t be known for months, but it’s certainly worth taking the time now to appreciate how advanced and just-plain-cool the 1990 Nivola concept was, and still is today.

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