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By Dennis Romero
The world of supercars is dominated by brands on the other side of the pond: Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren. The Chevrolet Corvette has always been a more ambitious challenger with an Achilles heel that prevents world domination: its engine mounted at the front is in the wrong place.
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, announced last night that the next generation of Corvette would be unveiled, confirming that the oldest sports car in the United States was about to get a much-awaited upgrade – a mid-engine placement that would put him in the same league as these European rockets.
(Some fans of the Ford Mustang, sold for the first time in 1964, say it's the oldest American sports car, because the Corvette, first available in 1953, jumped the year 1983 to facilitate the development of a new generation.Calling the Mustang, a four-seater coupe, a sports car, is debatable, however).
Barra, speaking Friday at an event in New York to honor families of first responders killed on 9/11, did not say outright that the engine would be placed behind the driver, but she appeared with a camouflaged ninth-generation Corvette that has the short nose and long rear of a typical mid-engined vehicle.
"We have not confirmed or commented on the engine, even though it is highly speculative," said Chevrolet spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato.
The mid-engine placement, considered ideal for the competition because it allows for better handling, is a sure achievement for Corvette fans, many of whom are stunned by the fact that instead of being a front-sleigh runner , the next Corvette will probably be more of a star on the world track.
"I think having this central engine will welcome new Corvette enthusiasts into the family," said Katie Ellison, editor-in-chief of the US magazine Sports Car and marketing and communications manager at Corvette Museum's Bowling Green, in Kentucky, where the Corvette is built.
She noted that the godfather of the Corvette regrets, Zora-Arkus Duntov, had long dreamed of placing the engine in the center. On Saturday, corvetteblogger.com noted that the camouflaged Corvette revealed by CEO Barra includes an image of Duntov.
Some auto reviewers think the top-performing version of the current Corvette has more horsepower (755 horsepower) than its front engine configuration can handle. In addition, the European presentation of the vehicle will make it attractive to young buyers at a time when the stereotypical customer of the Corvette spends most of his time in a recliner.
"We are already seeing a downward trend in age," said Ellison.
One of the questions Corvette fans are asking is whether GM can keep it as a boon to performance. Current prices start at $ 55,000 and are in the low of $ 100,000 versus about $ 200,000 or more for European competition. Mid-engine development is likely to add thousands of dollars to the sticker.
"It's the most affordable sports car on the market," said Ellison. "I'm sure it will cost a little more, but Chevrolet does not want to lose its main customers."