General Motors over the years have developed many show, prototype and test cars. Gm’s policy would have been to destroy many of these show cars after their test period or show career. Only a few have actually made it into car collections, museums and private ownership. Fortunately the survival rate of Corvette prototypes has been far better than some of their more ordinary cars with a fair number having been saved by enthusiasts, museums and private car collectors. General Motors also have a number of prototypes in their Heritage Collection. There are a few in the National Corvette Museum and this one in the UK . Prototype XP987 GT has found itself a good home at Claremont Corvette’s Snodland showroom with Tom Falconer.
Tom found this unique car following a good tip from his friend Geoff Lawson who was then head of style at GM’s Bedford Truck Division at Luton in Bedfordshire UK.
It all started with a phone call.
“Tom, it’s Geoff here, do you want a baled Corvette”?
“Yes, of course I do Geoff. But I think a Corvette, being fibreglass, won’t crush into a bale..”
” Well Tom, this one will! – the body is made of steel and it’s on the roof here at Vauxhall’s works. We need to make space and General Motors have told us to crush it”!
“A steel-bodied metal Corvette prototype? It can only be the XP987 GT 2 Rotor prototype”
“Tom, The 2-Rotor Wankel engine and transmission are missing . But otherwise it’s pretty much complete”
Geoff suggested that Tom should start negotiating with GM officials back in Detroit, Michigan, USA. So Tom made contact, and starting with a breakfast meeting at 6 am with the head of styling Charles M. “Chuck” Jordan, they made a deal to transfer ownership of XP987 to Tom. The car could stay in the U.K and Tom could take care it.
Well you would think, why is it not in the USA? GM were not prepared to cover the import duties on the car after it went to every international motor show during 1973. The ‘show’ season starting at Frankfurt, Germany. Tom first saw the car at the annual 1973 British Motor Show at Earls Court in London later that same year. After the 1973 motor show ‘circuit’ the car effectively became obsolete and with the rapidly approaching fuel crisis of the early 1970’s it was obvious to most automobile manufacturers that whilst Wankel engines had good performance characteristics and were very compact in size the rotary engines were terrible in fuel efficiency and emission terms. They were not going to be the future power plants many had hoped they would be.
As with every prototype GM that had produced it was originally intended to bring it in to production at a later stage. The XP987 GT prototype was originally intended to be the 1976 Corvette. GM had built the prototype as a complete running and road worthy car. Although it was much smaller than the C3 Corvette it was destined to replace, it had more shoulder and leg room, a better driving position although a still a bit short on baggage space.
A special note is that John Delorean (known from his Delorean DMC12 cars) was one of the driving forces behind this project. After he’d left GM he wanted to buy the designs, but he was told by GM “no way”!
Looking at the design, it has a very European like styling. Although it was designed by the GM’s Styling Department in Detroit, GM had it built by Pininfarina with a full GM team supervising. Tom says it has a very Ferrari 246 Dino feel to it, and we learn that GM actually used the Ferrari 246 as comparison to XP987 in their presentations.
Inspecting Tom’s prototype we see that the rotary engine is installed directly behind the cockpit space. It’s well covered with a black cover plate. The engine is now a Mazda 13b rotary engine mated to a Cadillac gearbox. The original engine is back in the ‘States and unfortunately did not come with XP987 GT when Tom got the car. The body itself rests on a cut down Porsche 914-6 chassis. This was shortened and widened in Detroit before it being sent to Pininfarina in Italy to give it better proportions. The split front screen was a special feature on this car with a radio antenna molded in to the split of the front screen. The GT 2-Rotor car has a complete interior with what were then very special features like adjustable pedals (the car has fixed driver and passenger seats). It has a complete dashboard, GM radio, tilt and telescopic steering wheel and automatic transmission. The auto transmission does not have a ‘park’ position on the selector. When you place the transmission in neutral an indicator light comes on and you then need to apply the hand or parking brake. Tom had the body re-sprayed, checked out the braking system and had the Mazda rotary engine installed in the car. Nothing more was needed to complete XP987 GT. The car is fully drivable and can be seen in the Claremont Corvette showroom at Snodland in Kent.
We could have written a lot about this special and very rare Corvette prototype, but why not take a look the Corvette Web blast on Google, there is a whole video about the car online from Tom Falconer himself and CCUK’s Rob Ashard.
A special thanks goes to Tom Falconer for allowing me the opportunity to take the photos of XP987 GT back in 2012.
All images are under copyright © Jonny Bens