Artwork by Kip Wasenko, Tom Covert, and Others

This lithe concept mounted a 180-horse Wankel transversely, driving a new automatic transaxle being developed for the forthcoming X-body Citation. Designed by GM’s Experimental Studio and built on a modified Porsche 914 chassis by Pininfarina, the 2-Rotor made its debut at the 1973 Frankfurt show.

 

029-kip2rotor

 

Mitchell had the car crushed.

Ron Will recalls this about the car: “Bill Mitchell absolutely hated the 2-Rotor and was very verbal about it calling it all kinds of nasty four letter words. I think he hated it because it was not his Corvette image of a big powerful sports car. Plus he had no input in the design. He also hated Porsches and thought this was in the Porsche class of Sports cars. Not long after it was shipped to the U.S. for review, I believe Mitchell had it crushed. He didn’t want anyone to get the idea that this could ever be a Corvette. That’s why you don’t see it at any of the retro show car gatherings.”

 

Or did he?

This is from Remarkable Corvettes: Tom Falconer now owns this little Corvette. That story began with a strange phone call from Tom’s friend, Geoff Lawson, the late Jaguar design chief, who in 1982 was head of styling at Bedford Trucks in Luton. He called to tell that the next day they were going to crush a Corvette that had a steel body. Tom instantly knew that this was no ordinary Corvette but the mythical two-rotor show car, supposedly lost in a fire in California in 1977.

Having begged Lawson not to crush the car straight away, Tom rang the head of GM styling, Chuck Jordan, who he had come to know while writing a book about the Cadillac Seville, and a meeting was arranged at the GM Tech Center in Detroit to discuss the future of the orphan prototype. Jordan soon explained the reason for the two-rotor Corvette’s death sentence: it was a shameful embarrassment, a painful reminder of the expensive Wankel interlude and an ideological dead end; no Corvette, as far as he was concerned, would ever have a steel body or a mid-mounted engine.

Tom pleaded for the car’s life and convinced Jordan that he should be allowed to take it into protective custody. Since 1997 it has been fitted with a Mazda 13B rotary unit (much more in the spirit of the original concept) matched to a Cadillac front-wheel drive automatic gearbox so that everything lines up. With a respray in its original Candy Apple red (the paint in the door shuts is original), Tom “relaunched” the two-rotor at the National Corvette Restorers’ Society Flight 2000 event six years ago. “I quite often get Americans coming in wanting to see it; they can’t believe it’s here,” he says.

 

American Racing Vector Wheels

I remember Tom Covert telling me that he designed the wheels for the 2-Rotor Corvette, and that American Racing Wheels copied or perhaps was involved in the tooling for the prototype wheels and decided to put them into production as the American Racing Vector. I don’t know the actual story.

Thanks to Wayne Ellwood of Corvette Articles and Photos, Kip Wasenko, and General Motors Corporation for the photos.

7 Comments
  1. Ron Will

    I’m very happy to see that my death sentence for the little 2-rotor Corvette was premature. [I thought it was crushed as well. I may have seen the car once or twice.—Gary]

  2. Wayne Barratt

    Hi Gary,

    I remember the XP-897 was also displayed on the GM stand at the 1973 British Motor Show at Earls Court London (I still have the photo I took of it as a 14-year-old schoolboy). As I remember, it was quite well liked (in Europe, anyways) and its front end fascia treatment must have influenced the 1976 Chevrolet Monza’s (I owned a Belgium made 1976 red Monza V8 for a while.)

    Wayne

  3. Jay S

    These sketches show more than a little of Mitchell’s answer to the 2-Rotor, the 4-Rotor/Aerovette, which he declared should be the basis for the next production Corvette. So it looks like Mitchell suffered from a bout of Not Invented Here syndrome over this car even though it was invented here.

  4. While I do not dispute much of what has been presented, I know from experience that Mitchell had secret multiple projects running at once. In this case:

    1. I worked on the 2 and 4 rotor Corvettes

    2. That work was done in the Chevy-2 studio led by Hank Haga.

    3. All front and mid-engine Corvettes were personally directed by Mitchell (with the help of Larry Shinoda and a team of very talented designers). Depending on the specific date, middle management included Jordan, Rybicki, and Holls.

    4. Despite being the champion for a mid-engine Corvette, Mitchell could never gather the support of the two chairmans during the later 60s and 70s.

    5. In addition to the 2 and 4 rotors, there were at least another half-dozen designs created during this period.

    6. Many projects started and stopped, only to be resumed months or years later (sometimes by other studios). This appears to be the case.

    Roy

  5. So many great styling renders… too bad they all could not have been made. But the car that did get produced is spectacular and deserves its place in Corvette History.

  6. Tom Semple

    An amazing story, good for Tom! He was a good friend and fishing buddy. A scrappy guy….wow!

    A really good design too. Kip led that project. Chuck and he wanted something new. It must have upset chuck too…but he had that mask of toughness about him. But later, after chuck retired, he taught underprivileged kids car design down in San Diego. I helped him in Home Depot in Encinitas once, find some supplies he needed things for the class…I never saw him so enthused.

    sorry, I digressed.

    Tom Semple

  7. DICK RUZZIN

    TWO ROTOR CORVETTE

    Roy, Are you sure you worked on the two rotor Corvette that was made into a running car?

    It was done in Overseas Studio overseen by Clare Mackishan as I recall in the late summer and fall of 1971.
    I had left there to work in Germany and it was done while I was away. Dick Finegan was the Chief Designer and I think that Kip Wasenko was the main design driver..

    Otto Soeding was the Engineer coordinating the project and the car was built over a Porsche 914 chassis, that is why it has a bump in the sheet metal just ahead of the rear wheel opening. Although the upper was one that we all were doing in some way for several years it surely had a big influence on the Porsche 928, the first ex-Opel Designer project done by the new design staff.

    There also was a 2 Rotor Opel GT project started when I was in Germany when I was there that I participated in. Photo attached.

    DICK RUZZIN

    2-RotorOpel

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