1965 XP-819: The little-known rear-engine Corvette was built by GM to test the viability of a V-8-powered Porsche 911 killer. Larry Shinoda styled the car, which is said to have handled well, but only if fitted with special tires. It crashed in testing (on stock Corvette tires) and was quietly forgotten.
The XP-819, developed in the mid-1960s, was an engineering exercise to test a rear engine concept for the Corvette. The body was designed by Larry Shinoda. You can see styling cues in XP-819 that later appeared in Shinoda’s famed "Sting Ray" design. A GM marine engine powers the car so the two-speed transaxle would operate properly. The entire chassis, suspension, and steering are custom made components unique to this car.
Actually, the XP-819 was the result of a clash between Zora Arkus-Duntov and engineer Frank Winchell, who’d been involved with the Corvair project. Winchell contended that you could make a balanced, rear-engine, V-8 powered sports car by using an aluminum engine and larger tires on the rear to compensate for the rear weight bias. Duntov adamantly disagreed. A loose design was drawn that received some very unflattering comments from Duntov and Dave McLellan. Winchell asked designer Larry Shinoda if he could make something beautiful with the layout, to which Shinoda told him that a tape drawing could be shown after lunch. Shinoda and designer John Schinella sketched out the basic shape shown here. Duntov asked Shinoda, "Where did you cheat?". It didn’t look "too bad", so a working prototype was ordered. Shinoda supervised the styling and Larry Nies’ team of fabricators built the car. In only two months the XP-819 was on the test track.
It turned out that Winchell’s theory about rear-engine, V-8 cars didn’t work out very well. However, Shinoda’s design was well received. They were obviously into the "shark thing" and picked up styling points from the Chaparral cars. It even had wheels from a Chaparral.
This car was definitely a Corvette, even though the back end was big. Unfortunately, with all that weight behind the rear axle, it was only a matter of time before it crashed during a high-speed lane change test. Paul vanValkenberg crashed it because he put the same (standard) size Corvette rim on the car front and rear and then wet down the track and went out and lost it. He bounced it off the wall a couple of times and pretty well wrecked it. It was then sent off to Smokey Yunik, where it was later found. The chassis was cut in half and usable parts were removed. What was left was stored in an unused paint booth as just "old junk." Years later, a Corvette collector was buying some parts from Yunick and offered to buy the junked XP-819. So the pile of car scrap was rebuilt and finished as a streetable car, like a kit car. A cast-iron V-8 was used in place of the original all-aluminum engine. We’re talking serious rear weight bias here. It’s quick and now does awesome wheelies!
XP-819 now sits in the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green (KY). It is "on loan" from Ed McCabe, who runs his own advertising agency in New York. Ed bought the car in 1990 at an estate auction being run by Sothebys in Palm Beach.
Source: Frank Markus - MotorTrend Magazine; Mario van Ginneken - www.corvettes.nl