You like rumors? Hot, hard-to-resist rumors? Here’s one to jack your blood pressure through the roof! The next Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will be mid-engined. That’s right, kids! Multiple sources have told us that the next version of the Corvette ZR1 will be mid-engined. One of these sources even stated that the next-generation Corvette -- the C8 -- will ship with its engine mounted in the middle. The rendering above, by Tom Matsumoto, shows what the mid-engined Corvette could look like.
Yes, yes -- we know -- another story about a mid-engine Corvette. Will this madness never end? This particular fantasy tale, as some of you know, seems to have been continuously reported on since 1963 when the CERV II was built. The father of the Corvette -- Zora Arkus-Duntov -- seriously wanted to build a mid-engine ’Vette. Only GM’s cement-shoed board stopped him. Chevrolet tried again in 1964 with the (admittedly rear-engined) XP-819 and then again with the XP-882 in 1969. Next came the XP-895 in 1972, the two-rotor (and Porsche 914-based!) XP-897GT in 1973 (odd side note: the XP-897GT eventually got a Mazda 13B mated to a front-drive Cadillac transmission installed by its private owner in 1997), the Aerovette in 1976 and finally the CERV III in 1986.
Point is that a mid-engine Corvette has been in the collective Chevrolet consciousness for decades. The story of the (almost) mid-engine car has become part of the Corvette’s lore, of its mystique. Grok this: Pre-bankruptcy, Chevrolet was working on a mid-engine C7, but it got shelved when Bob Lutz left GM and former Corvette chief engineer Tom Wallace retired. In other words, mid-engine work has already been done on this generation of Corvette.
Further supporting the mid-engine Corvette hypothesis is the fact that on June 2, Chevrolet trademarked the name Zora for the intended use of “motor land vehicles, namely, automobiles.” That suggests a future Corvette may be named Zora. What better way to honor the man who made the Corvette the performance icon it is today than by finally building the car he always dreamed of? Remember that way back in 1959, Arkus-Duntov built the CERV I (CERV stands for Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle). It was of course mid-engined, as Zora firmly believed that a low polar-moment of inertia was the key to a world-class sports car. Emphasis on “world.”
Here’s another reason to suspect that the mid-engine Corvette rumors are true: The next Camaro will be based on GM's Alpha platform, which underpins the Cadillac ATS. A 2013 ATS with the 2.0-liter turbo-four and a six-speed manual we tested weighed in at 3433 pounds. Presumably, a 2.0-liter Camaro (to fight the 2015 EcoBoosted Mustang) with a shortened wheelbase would weigh even less than the lightweight Caddy. The new C7 Corvette Stingray coupe with a seven-speed manual? Around 3450 pounds. The last Camaro SS we weighed came in at 3893 pounds (the track-focused 1LE). Furthermore, we suspect the C7 Z06 with its supercharger and aero aids will weigh more than the base ’Vette, probably around 3500 pounds, about 100 pounds lighter than a Porsche 911 Turbo. In terms of power to weight, the 2016 Camaro is going to be stepping on the Corvette’s toes, hard. Especially if you can imagine that the next-generation Z/28 is suddenly up to 600 pounds lighter than the current monster. If Chevrolet makes not just the C7 ZR1, but the entire C8 Corvette lineup mid-engine, the move would make sense from a sales and marketing as well as model-differentiation point of view.
There’s also some talk of a Corvette “family” for the C8. Corvette is obviously strong enough to stand as its own brand. Rather than doing that (like the short-lived SRT experiment at Chrysler), Chevrolet may very well do what Land Rover is doing with its families -- Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover Evoque; Discovery and Discovery Sport -- and create a Corvette family that could consist of both a front- and a mid-engine car.
Can one platform support both engine locations? It’s doable, though certainly unprecedented, and it would no doubt be freakishly expensive. If GM were to turn Corvette into a family of vehicles, we suspect the front- and mid-engine cars would be built on two distinct platforms. The front-engine model range (Stingray?) would use the existing C7 platform. That would keep prices down and allow GM to position Stingray as the entry-level Corvette. The C8 Stingray would probably not get the biggest horsepower engines.
The Zora/ZR1 range (the mid-engine cars) would be more highly priced and would be given the most powerful engines to ensure a real performance differential between the two Corvette siblings. Interior finish would be more lavish. Horsepower of 750-800 is OK in a rear-drive-only format when you have a mid-engine platform (Pagani Huayra, anyone?), though all-wheel drive would make sense, too. If Chevrolet chose to follow Ferrari’s lead of driving the front axle off the front of the engine like the FF, that would be a nice nod to the all-wheel-drive mid-engine CERV II. Chevrolet would certainly be acting logically to allow for all-wheel drive in an all-new mid-engine architecture. Long term, a mid-engine layout also makes an advanced high-performance all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain (like the Porsche 918, for example) easier to package. Will Chevrolet go down the electrified hypercar path? One of our sources indicated that such a car is in the cards.
A new mid-engine platform would be expensive, but it would be the only way to take the Corvette brand upmarket, and to a higher price point. Remember, the name of the game these days is global sales. Keeping the entry-level range on the existing platform ensures the Corvette brand remains accessible. The front-engined Stingray is Corvette's 911. It's the heritage play. The mid-motored Zora would then be free to compete in the $200,000 playground against the usual suspects (Ferrari 458, Audi R8 V10, Lamborghini Huracan, McLaren 650S), as well as Porsche’s upcoming 960 (or maybe it will be called the 988?), the $250,000 mid-engined supercar due in 2016. The Zora could even go head-to-head with hyper-exotics like the Aventador.
One final curveball on the mid-engine platform: Does Cadillac need a supercar? Well, did Audi need the R8? If so, sharing the Zora's mid-engine architecture makes all the sense in the world. (We know the XLR was a flop, but that was more in the execution than the idea.) A Cadillac supercar would give the Zora hardware more volume, and GM has been quite adept at sharing performance parts between models and brands as of late to keep prices low. Examples: The LSA motor was common to the last-gen CTS-V and the current Camaro ZL1, and that engine shared a great deal with the old ZR1’s LS9. Magnetorheological dampers can be found on the ZL1, several Corvettes as well as many Cadillacs. The Z/28 shares its carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes with the upcoming Z06 and (we think) the upcoming CTS-V. There would be different Cadillac styling inside and out; toss in different engine specs, different suspension tune, and you would wind up with two contrasting cars with unique characters but underlying similarities. Exactly how Volkswagen differentiates the Audi R8 from the mechanically similar Lamborghini Gallardo/Huracan. The highest performance, hardest core version of the mid-engine car would remain a Corvette; the Caddy version would be more a GT. Also, the guy who's just taken over Cadillac (hi, Johan!) used to drive an R8 when he was running Audi U.S.…
What would power the ZR1/Zora and its Cadillac cousin, and how much will the cars cost? The Z06 motor would be plenty adequate, what with 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. However, a GM source recently told us that the Z06’s supercharged LT4 is capable of producing 1000 hp, though traction is an issue in the C7. Mid-engine weight distribution would help to put more weight over the rear tires. Years ago, a different GM source told us that we could gauge the next ZR1’s output based on the C7 Z06. If the Z06 made only 575 hp or so, expect 700ish ponies in the ZR1, a logical step up from 638 hp in the C6 ZR1. But if the Z06 makes 625 hp (this was a couple of years back) or more, the ZR1 engine could be, should be good for 750-800 hp. Americans love huge numbers (Hellcat!) so we’re going with 800-plus hp for the range topper. It makes sense that there would be both a 650-hp version, as well as an 800-plus-hp stud. Just like how Audi creates space between the R8 V-8 and V-10.
Price for a Corvette with the engine behind the driver? Figure a minimum of $150,000, though $200,000 isn’t out of the question for the biggest boy. Add an additional $50,000 for the Cadillac. You might scoff at such prices for a Chevrolet, but the Zora/ZR1 would theoretically be capable of spanking a McLaren 650S, making it quite the hypercar bargain. Also remember that wealthy Chinese buyers don’t care about price -- or brands -- the way we do and there are more of them than us. And you can’t forget the kings, sheiks, and gangsters of Europe, the Middle East, and Russia. When would we first see the Zora, should these rumors prove true? In time for next year’s Indy 500 is our best guess.
Is all this domestic mid-engine supercar talk too good to be true? There are certainly several reasons to think so. First and foremost, no mid-engine Corvette rumor has come true, ever. And they’ve been around almost as long as the ’Vette itself. Building such a vehicle would cost a stupid amount of money, and it would sell in low volumes. Meanwhile, the C7 is experiencing a nice sales bump over the C6. GM has been happy with the Corvette as its halo car at the current price and market position for decades, and this is not an organization that’s given to making snap changes in strategy. Sure, GM is selling more and more cars and trucks these days, but all those recalls have dinged the corporate piggy bank and likely the General’s sense of adventure. There’s almost every business reason to leave well enough alone.
Wind the clock back two years, and every single car expert in the known universe said Tesla would fail and pointed to Tucker as proof of that fact. History is a guide, however, not an absolute. As much as a mid-engine, hyperpotent Corvette sounds like a 12-year-old’s biggest fantasy, many pieces of the puzzle suddenly fit together, as our divergent sources are all saying the same thing. All the renewed mid-engine Corvette gossip feels different this time. Like an airplane disaster, the holes in the Swiss cheese are starting to line up. In conclusion, several signs point to Detroit going mid-engine, and in a big way. Hey, who knows -- maybe Ford will bring back the GT? Dare to dream. And stay tuned.