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The Astro-Vette: Corvette's Wind Tunnel Study That Put Aerodynamics Before Horsepower

1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept 21 photos
1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept1698 Chevrolet Astro-Vette concept
1968 was a shifting year for Chevrolet's famous sportscar (coincidentally, their – and America's – only automobile of that breed), the Corvette. The year marked the arrival of the third generation, a fluid design inspired by the 1965 Mako Shark II concept of Larry Shinoda. The purpose of this slippery-surfaced Corvette was to point out something that is the norm today: flowing shapes are just as important as engine capacity.
GM did not sleep on its laurels after the Corvette emerged and continuously looked for ways to evolve the automobile onto new, less explored paths. One thing became more transparent with each generation of the Chevy two-seater: the aerodynamics played an increasing part in the overall choreography.

If we look at some of 'Vette's contemporaries, the difference is noticeable from miles away: we only need look to the best-selling Mustang, the menacing Charger, the then-new-entry Camaro, or the 'Cuda – to name but a few of the elite of America's V8 sweethearts – and the comparison is over.

While Corvette sleeked through the air, everybody else accelerated the horsepower arms race to peak heights. But Chevrolet went its undisturbed way with its beloved sports car and couldn't care less about the drag strip ambitions of everyone else. So, in '68, they presented a design study that more closely resembled a bullet than an automobile (although it was a beautiful one in its own right).

The Astro-Vette was even more audaciously aerodynamic than the C3. Or the other Corvettes before it, thanks to a speedster-like profile. The windscreen was almost an ornament, with its minimalistic size and wrap-around contour that extended into the doors' windows.

1698 Chevrolet Astro\-Vette concept
As far as ornaments go, the Astro-Vette had none – to keep drag to a minimum. Look at the gallery and notice the complete lack of mirrors (then again, we should keep in mind that this is a concept, so mirrors were not a requirement). GM itself stressed the air-splitting intentions of the prototype derived from wind tunnel tests. The engineers concluded that the clean lines and surfaces, the shallow front end, and the elongated rear deck made tons of difference.

Large flat wheel discs kept the air stream undisturbed, and rear wheel skirts gave the Astro-Vette a tint of 30s styling. The tires were specially selected narrow-section type, which shoved two aces up the car's sleeve: they put up less rolling resistance and provided less aerodynamic friction.

Derived from a '68 convertible, the Astro-Vette features a protuberance-free front end. The most significant impediment to fluidity would be the occupant's heads popping above the windshield. However, if it was to move, the car needed an engine. A 400 hp, 427 CID (seven-liter) L-68 V8 solved the horsepower equation (from the original factory soft-top), together with the Turbo Hydra-Matic gearbox.

But a large displacement small block under that low-profile hood needed air, so the air intakes – and the radiator – were developed accordingly. Behind the front wheels, fender-integrated air exhaust louvers would automatically open when the pressure built up to a certain level. The underside benefitted from partial pans installed to guide the airflow toward the back and not downwards.

1698 Chevrolet Astro\-Vette concept
Since the car had no roof, a roll bar was the only safety structure keeping the occupants from scratching the tarmac in case of an upside-down mishap. Shaped as an inverted airfoil, the B-pillar extension would also generate some downforce. The flat surface was the car's highest point, but it was still one foot (30 centimeters) below a standard C2 Corvette.

Overall, designers anticipated that increased fuel economy, improved yaw stability, and diminished aerodynamic lift would be achieved through the solutions proposed by the Astro-Vette. Unfortunately, the feedback on the car was less than exhilarating, and the vehicle even got a not-so-flattering nickname: "Moby Dick." As with numerous other automobiles, this concept ended up in the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky.

 
 
 
 
 

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