My Car Quest

July 16, 2024

The Fraud of General Motor’s Rotary Engined Mid-Engined Prototypes

The big news about the new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette brings out memories of other mid-engine Corvette designs. Our Wallace Wyss shares his experience with the General Motors attempt at trying to design a rotary engine for the Corvette. He also wrote about his memories of this failed effort for the two rotor here and the four rotor here.

Mike Gulett

by Wallace Wyss –

Once upon a time I worked for a little magazine called Ward’s Wankel Report.

I heard from a GM executive, Chuck Jordan, that they would be showing a twin rotor Wankel and he invited me to see it. When I showed up at the GM Design Center, there was some confusion as to who sent me (I was still on the masthead of Motor Trend but no longer in their employ) and I went out to the show area and stepped into the Pininfarina bodied, American designed XP-897 Twin Rotor Corvette.

Corvette rotary engine prototype

It was a sporty little car, made a guttural growl but only had an automatic, there being no GM manual shift transaxle that would work.

My preview was abruptly cut off when some goons showed up, embarrassed that I had somehow crashed Motor Trend’s exclusive preview (I sold the story to Car & Driver with photographer Marc Madow).

But then a few months later GM shows a four rotor car. Now I can’t find an article that says any reporter drove the Four Rotor but it was implied in various magazines that it was a running, driving car. Well, I’m here to tell you that GM never had a road operational car powered by a four rotor engine. Mazda had a prototype and of course Mercedes. GM’s Four Rotor was naught but two rotors lashed together to work just enough to get the car up on a show stand.

Then the poop hit the fan over the rotary’s gas mileage. There was an Arab oil embargo and you had to wait in line to buy gas, and then get only $3 worth. Nobody wanted the rotary.

GM re-engined the Four Rotor with a good old pushrod V8, and renamed it so it could be kept for posterity. The Two Rotor was improbably given away to an Englishman who championed the Corvette (Gee, Chuck, I should’ve said at the time, why didn’t you give it to your old pal, Wally?)

The Four Rotor also had a dubious long tail. I would say that was a dumb idea, as proved by Dr. Wunibald Kamm decades earlier. But now McLaren has a long tail that looks the same. Maybe they have more underbelly work to control airflow that makes it work.

In sum, when summing up GM’s achievement in mid-engined prototypes, I have to say both these cars–the Two Rotor and Four Rotor–were flawed. Maybe the biggest flaw of all came out when Zora Arkus-Duntov, perhaps having one too many vinos told a reporter it was a Porsche 914 underneath. If it had gone into production, I’m sure Porsche would have had something to say about it. That’s why the car was banished to a far off land…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a long time automotive journalist and author of the action thriller Ferrari Hunters.




Corvette rotary engine prototype

Photos from General Motors.
The Fraud of General Motor’s Rotary Engined Mid-Engined Prototypes
Article Name
The Fraud of General Motor’s Rotary Engined Mid-Engined Prototypes
The Chevrolet experiments with rotary engines led to naught.

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