A trained aerodynamicist really...
A trained aerodynamicist really only cares about the numbers, but Dave Salazar, A2 Wind Tunnel's general manager, broke out the smoke machine after we finished each test to help us actually see what the air was doing as it moved over and around each generation of Corvette.
If America has an iconic supercar, it has to be the Corvette. Yes, there are other candidates, but none seem to be able to withstand comparison. The Viper comes close but is still just a bit too rough around the edges. Ford's GT40 hasn't been produced for 40 years, and production of the modern GT didn't last but two. The Saleen S7 is still so exotic that only the most obsessed car nuts have ever heard of it. And the Camaro and Mustang are beloved but fall short of the Corvette in terms of performance and power.
The truest test that the Corvette is America's greatest sports car is simply to take a look at its mythic status. Ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov got his way and crammed a V-8 into the fiberglass-bodied two-seater in 1955, the Corvette has generated a mythology that no other American car can match. Yes, there have been issues like cheap plastic interior components, creaks and rattles, and the doldrums that were the '70s, but every long-lived car has its growing pains. But something, somewhere along the way has clicked with the American public. Maybe it's the unique styling or the fantastic lineup of great engines that have been found between the fenders. Whatever it is, the Corvette is still a car that just about any grandmother that doesn't know a camshaft from canola oil can identify. It's also the car that most of us mooned over as teenagers. Oh, and hey, it's a very unscientific fact that a Corvette can help an average guy get a date with the pretty girls. God bless America.
With that in mind, we were very interested when we learned that Gary Eaker, owner of two of the few public wind tunnels in America, was willing to run a few Vettes through one of his facilities for us. Eaker's first wind tunnel, the AeroDYN facility in Mooresville, North Carolina, stays booked up with Sprint Cup race teams, so he recently built a smaller tunnel-dubbed "A2"-right beside of it. Although NASCAR teams also use it, Eaker says its primary purpose is for more budget-minded racers-everyone from Saturday-night oval trackers, to drag racers, to land speed racers. (For more information, check out www.a2wt.com.) On off days, he'll even host something completely out there, like comparing every generation of Corvette back-to-back-to-back.
You've got 55 years of history...
You've got 55 years of history when it comes to Chevrolet's Corvette, but have the styling changes over time really resulted in a better car? Only by spending days cooped up in a wind tunnel can you tell for sure. Hey, we're here for you.
Dave Salazar, A2's general manager, and Tunnel Operator/Technician Bob Smith handled all the nuts and bolts of running eight Corvettes through the tunnel in a span of two hectic days, making sure that all the results were comparable. They also handled the time-consuming chore of lining up the cars for the tests.
The tests for all cars (called "blows" in wind-tunnel jargon) were performed at 85 mph thanks to four fans and 640 hp worth of electric motors pulling air across the cars. The A2 tunnel also uses a special floor in the test section to simulate the aerodynamic effect of the road surface moving underneath the car. In case you doubt these guys take their job seriously, they also made the effort to set the air pressure at 30 psi in every tire on every car that rolled through the tunnel. Finally, each car was tested in three different configurations: empty, with two passengers to simulate a more realistic road-going attitude with weight in the seats, and with two passengers and the headlights exposed (if applicable).
The first generation of the Corvette, the C1, was manufactured from 1953 until 1962. Our test car was a '62 all-original Corvette owned by Ben Horack. This first-generation model had the removable hardtop, which was in place for the tests. The C1 was also unique among Corvettes-until the C6 showed up-because it has fixed headlamps that can't be hidden away when not in use.
The removable hardtop on the...
The removable hardtop on the '62 C1 has a lip where the windshield meets the roof that is easily 1.5 inches tall. You can see here how it not only disrupts the airflow as it travels up the windshield, but also causes it to separate from the roof. Then, when it does reattach to the roof midway back, it's very turbulent. This is a major cause of the C1's poorer lift and drag numbers.
The change to hide-a-way headlamps...
The change to hide-a-way headlamps with the introduction of the C2 produced a cleaner look when driving during the daytime, but notice the car's high parting line. Any air passing below the level of the smoke goes beneath the car, causing both lift and drag. One styling cue that's helpful, however, is the humps over the wheelwells. They keep the air from sliding off the top of the car and down the sides where it can cause more drag.
The addition of a fastback...
The addition of a fastback rear also helps move air fairly smoothly to the rear of the car.