CorvetteAmong the folks who take "spy shots" of upcoming new cars being tested, the holy grail is a shot of a new Chevrolet Corvette in the wild. Like shots of Big Foot (or, to a lesser degree, footage of Lindsay Lohan leaving a courthouse), a picture of a new Corvette is rare and exciting -- and because the Corvette's enduring popularity, auto blogs and magazines pay top dollar for the right to run the photos.

Last week, one of the leading auto paparazzi aces scored and caught a pair of heavily disguised Corvette prototypes -- likely to be officially unveiled in a year or so, as 2013 models -- undergoing cold-weather testing in the hands of General Motors (GM) engineers.

Somewhat surprisingly, the new Vettes look quite a bit like the current car. At the very least, what is pretty clear from the photos is that the all-new Corvette will reprise the tried-and-true formula one more time -- a powerful front-mounted V8 engine driving the rear wheels.

But will it be the last time?

The Draw of Old-School Cool

Corvette sales are tiny compared to what they once were -- just 13,596 produced in 2011, down from a peak of almost 54,000 in 1979. While Corvettes don't add big bucks to the General's bottom line, the car still draws traffic from casual fans and serious sports-car drivers to showrooms after all of these years.

CorvetteThis is, after all, "America's Sports Car." For car enthusiasts, any all-new Corvette is a big deal. The new-generation model will be just the seventh all-new Corvette in the car's nearly 60-year history. Guys -- and it is mostly guys -- will come in to see the new Vette -- and after looking at the rest of the Chevy lineup, they (or their spouses) will end up leaving with a new Tahoe or Malibu.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

While GM is clearly determined to keep the Corvette and its fire-breathing V8 engine going in an era of high gas prices and ever-tightening environmental regulations, one has to wonder how much longer this horsepower party is going to last.

Too Much Power for the Fuel-Efficient Future

Enthusiasts have to ask if the C7, as the upcoming seventh-generation Vette is known, will be GM's last, or at least the last to feature that old-school formula -- rear-wheel-drive, a conventional manual transmission, and a powerful gas-fueled V8 engine.

New federal rules that will require automakers to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 would seem to relegate those big V8 engines to the history books. How can cars like the Vette, Ford's (F) brawny Mustang, and Chrysler's Hemi-powered Charger and Challenger possibly exist in a world full of hybrids? Will Tesla Motors' (TSLA) sleek new Model S emerge as the new standard for high performance?

The answer might be to make the sports cars into hybrids, too. Believe it or not, it's already happening.

A Thundering, High-Performance... Hybrid?

Horsepower fans might cringe at the thought of their beloved muscle cars being turned into Toyota (TM) Prius clones, but if you think about it, this might not be a bad thing. I own a car with a big high-performance V8, and it's a blast. But when I'm just commuting on the highway, or driving to the grocery store, the 17 miles per gallon it gets is a lot less fun.

Porsche may have showed the way with its hyperexpensive 918 sports car, a high-tech hybrid with two electric motors -- and a 500 horsepower gas-fueled V8 that starts instantly when you want more power.

The Porsche can be yours for a mere $845,000, but the basic idea -- a car that runs on electricity until you stomp the gas pedal, at which point the big V8 takes over -- is a solid one that seems likely to be widely copied.

From that perspective, it's easy to imagine the next new Corvette as a plug-in hybrid, with a thundering V8 that shuts itself off when it isn't needed. Will that be where GM takes its iconic sports car? We'll have to wait for the paparazzi to find out for sure.

At the time of publication, Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owned shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Tesla Motors, General Motors, and Ford Motor. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor.


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12 Comments

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nthereoff

Corvette and Ford T Birds. Never own either but wish I did. In the 60's when I was in my 20's a few of my friends had Corvette and T Birds. I'm sure they will remember those days the rest of their lifes

January 25 2012 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tomheld

I can easily average 26-28 mpg on the highway with my 89 corvette and 6 speed transmission burning 87 octane regular and about 19 combined city and highway.

January 25 2012 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peter Geal

I have an '06 Mustang GT that averages 19 mpg around town andIi love it! It's classic! Bollocks to Obama and his socialist ideas! Look how well socialism is working in Europe. Nuff said!

January 25 2012 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
docmikerdman

Long live the Corvette and Mustang! I don't share Mr. Obama's vision for America and I have the gut feeling that most voting Americans will agree with me in Novermber. Honestly, I don't know who I would want fired first. Karen Sebelius, Steven Chu or Lisa Jackson? Their policies are all disastrous for America. Washington elitists who try to control our behavior through executive fiat will ultimately be thwarted by we, the people.

January 25 2012 at 8:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mlrinc10

The most recent base model corvette gets surprisingly good fuel economy so why would they discontinue it.
Highly unlikely they will discontinue it, I mean it's already been around for 59 years......geez! Really stupid article.

January 24 2012 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dodie1990

Obama will not let cars like this be built no matter what. His plan is mini-euro tiny cars or you ride the bus or train. If you want a Corvette or Suburban or Camaro, get it now.

January 24 2012 at 9:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
dcmanw30

Why would it be the last? This is there cash cow. Who writes this crap?

January 24 2012 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bill

BOTTOM LINE WE TAXPAPERS FOOT THE BILL FOR THOES THAT CAN BUY THOES CARS.TAX WRITE OFF'S.NOT JOE SIX PACK,MA&PA KETTLE THAT WORKED THERE ASSES ALL THERE LIVES.

January 24 2012 at 4:13 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Andrew

A world full of hybrids? Get a clue junior. The Vette sales are plummeting because it isn’t exciting, special, or affordable any more. Since the 1979 peak, it has been too big,
too fat, too heavy, and way too expensive. Chevy should stop throwing money away on the VOLT, and pull out the Corvette dies from 1966.

January 24 2012 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Andrew's comment
vlady1000

The mid 60's is a true classic. Unfortunately, that body style would hurt the gas miliage, high speed handleing/ stability (they had issues with that back then). While I agree, it would be nice to have a little smaller and lighter Vette, the Vettes between 1975-1982 were the "pigs". Slowest ever (outside 1953 and 1954 straight six / 2spd) 180hp, heavy (actually the l979 was the heavst vette ever made, I believe), "tail happy" (luckly, u had to really "work" to get them to break loose), the "fixed" rear window made the storage behind the seats about useless, quality was bad, etc. I had a 1975 way back, mother-in-law still has a 1980 (original owner with 13K miles), and I was very disappointed, even back then, with their performance. The reason of the larger sales was there was just about nothing made at that time that was worth anything as far as performance, so the Vette sold off it's history/name. The new Vettes are the best performance for the $$, IMO, although there are now sevaeral other cars coming on strong and depends what you are looking for. I still have my '93 (and a few other toys). I did a few simple, little mods for more power, better mpg (I can actually get 32mpg on the hwy from a 19 year old Vette, with 100K miles) and there is something about how reliable (starts at the 1st turn of the key, even if it has sat for 2 years), easy/ cheap to maintain, the engine torque, the ride is as new, fun (it is nice to get the little hand waive from every Vette owner that passes by), etc that you just can not beat for the $$.

January 25 2012 at 1:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wdodf

There will always be sufficient interest in the Corvette for GM to build one. As for that Obama mandated 54.5 CAFE figure, it could be just as easily over tyurned as Obama Care will be when the Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress. With that feat a lot of the "last 2%" clean up od the environment will stop. There is the law of diminshing returns that has already come into play with many regulations promulgated by the federal governent.

January 24 2012 at 4:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to wdodf's comment
ARKTEX

AMEN!!!

January 24 2012 at 5:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
vlady1000

But when you THINK money grows on trees, that law does not apply.

January 25 2012 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply