Nearly seven decades after its debut, the Corvette is getting a dramatic makeover.
The eighth generation of the quintessentially American sports car, referred to by enthusiasts as the C8, will be revealed Thursday night as the 2020 Corvette Stingray.
Featured in hundreds of movies, such as Mark Hamill’s “Corvette Summer,” and numerous songs, such as Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” the General Motors sports car is tightly woven into the fabric of American culture.
And at a starting price of less than $56,000, it’s much more accessible than many of its exotic European competitors.
Known for its affordability as well as its lightweight, high-powered, low-slung design, the Vette is ranked as the most collectible car of all time, according to classic-car insurer and valuation firm Hagerty.
“The Corvette has existed in a category all its own as an American car,” said Hagerty CEO McKeel Hagerty. “It’s a pretty magical story through and through. It’s very evident they’re about to do it again.”
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The Vette, a Chevrolet model assembled in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is getting one of its biggest changes yet: The engine is shifting from underneath the hood to the middle of the car, making it a “mid-engine” car much like some of Europe’s speediest vehicles.
That change is aimed at making the vehicle even faster and better able to navigate sharp turns.
It’s the vehicle’s first total overhaul since GM resurrected the Stingray moniker for the seventh generation that debuted as a 2014 model.
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A Vette isn’t a Vette without some serious zip, so expect the engine growl on the C8 to wake up your neighbors.
Karl Brauer, the executive publisher of car-information sites Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, predicted a range of 460 to 500 horsepower for the base model of the 2020 car.
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But expect eye-popping numbers for the loaded editions, including a possible ZR1 supercar.
Rumors were flying earlier this year that GM had to delay the new Corvette because it was so powerful that its frame was warping in track tests. Industry observers have speculated that the high-flying version could achieve an astounding 1,000 horsepower.
The extra-powerful edition is sounding like an “unbelievable performer and fire-breathing monster,” Hagerty said.
Don’t change TOO much
The shift to a mid-engine setup carries risks, considering that even the slightest changes for a vehicle with a rabid following can stir up angst. (When engineers abandoned the car’s trademark round taillights in the 2014 redesign, critics loved it, but some fans were upset.)
To be sure, many Vette enthusiasts have been clamoring for such a mid-engine version for years. Even the GM engineer credited with transforming the car into a powerhouse, Zora Arkus-Duntov, is said to have proposed a mid-engine version since nearly the beginning.
Many fans are putting their trust in GM to get it right.
“I’ve never met a Corvette that I didn’t love,” said Chris Mazzilli, owner of Dream Car Restorations on Long Island and co-founder of Corvette Heroes, which is conducting a sweepstakes to give away 36 Corvettes from the first 36 model years at CorvetteHeroes.com in a promotion with the National Guard Education Fund.
One widely rumored change that might not sit well with fans: the elimination of the manual transmission.
Brauer said the stick shift is likely to go away for the Corvette, though he doubts it’ll lead to many lost sales. After all, the stick shift is slowly dying.
Be careful about the price
The Corvette’s appeal has long been predicated on price. You don’t have to be a multimillionaire to get a new one.
“They’ve always tried to be at the cutting edge of technology at a reasonable price,” Mazzilli said.
Its starting price of $55,900 in 2019 is more than most of us can afford, to be sure, but it’s still far below six-digit competitors like Aston Martin and Ferrari.
“It’s represented great value over the years,” Hagerty said. “Not bargain basement, but cutting-edge technology for a fraction of what the rest of the world has to offer.”
Yet GM is widely expected to increase the price for the 2020 edition. How much is too much?
Brauer said it’s possible GM will go upscale with the new Vette under the assumption that the loyal fan base will stick around and that it should potentially prioritize lower-volume, higher-profit cars.
Appeal to younger buyers
Here’s where GM has a big challenge with a vehicle that debuted in 1953: The Corvette’s most loyal fans are typically baby boomers or older members of Generation X, according to Hagerty.
What can GM do to appeal to a younger crowd to ensure the Vette’s longevity continues?
That’s hard to say, though one step could be to offer a powertrain that incorporates batteries and electric motors.
Brauer said a plug-in hybrid electric version of the Corvette is a possibility.
Take cues from the past
The 2020 Corvette needs to appeal to young buyers, but it also needs to capitalize on the qualities that have gotten it this far.
Lessons can be learned with the 1967 Corvette L88 Coupe, which set the record for most expensive Vette ever when it was sold in 2014 by auction house Barrett-Jackson for $3.88 million.
That car’s powerful, exclusive engine put in the rarefied company of the era’s elite race-worthy beasts.
GM could also take cues from the second generation Corvette from the mid-1960s, when the car was truly in its heyday. The average value of the second-generation Corvette is the highest at an average of $162,148, according to the Hagerty Price Guide.
But don’t repeat the mistakes of the ho-hum fourth-generation Corvette. It’s the cheapest average Corvette at $13,726, according to the Hagerty Price Guide.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.