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Is the Mid-Engine C8 Corvette Zora a Chevrolet or a Cadillac?

Automobile logo Automobile 2015-03-20 Todd Lassa, Theophilus Chin/Chris Doane Automotive
Corvette Zora ZR1 Front Three Quarter© Provided by Automobile Corvette Zora ZR1 Front Three Quarter

Tadge Juechter, the Corvette program’s longtime chief engineer, casually dismissed speculation about a mid-engine C8 Chevrolet Corvette “Zora” on John McElroy’s “Autoline After Hours” last week.

Juechter and I were guests on the show, and I asked him about something I saw just days earlier during an episode of Velocity’s “AmeriCARna” that featured what it billed as a sneak peek of a possible mid-engine Corvette design.

“I’ll have to check that out,” he replied, straight-faced and relaxed. “Because I know no such car exists.”

Rumor and speculation that Chevrolet finally would move the Corvette’s small-block V-8 to just behind the seats began again anew (rumors of a mid-engine Corvette have been rampant seemingly forever) when our colleagues at Motor Trendreported it last August. Our friends and competitors at Car and Driver plastered all over their October 2014 cover, saying unequivocally that it was coming in 2017. Then just before January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Car and Driver procured exclusive spy shots of what it said was a mid-engine Corvette mule using Holden Ute bodywork, with some C7 bits (the very definition of a mule).

AUTOMOBILE's editor-at-large, Art St. Antoine, offered up his take on the speculation in a sidebar to his Corvette Z06 and McLaren 650S feature under the title “The Corvette (probably) goes mid-engine” (May 2015). Art mentions Ford’s unveiling of the mid-engine GT set for late-2016 production and writes of the mule spy shots that “Chevy insiders aren’t swatting aside the giddy conjecture it’s caused.”

Now the Corvette chief engineer has officially swatted that speculation aside. But that still doesn’t explain the mule.

My wild rumor, conjecture, opinion ... it’s a Cadillac.

Next page: Why a mid-engine Cadillac makes sense

Here’s why I think it makes sense that the mule is indeed a Cadillac and not a Corvette:

-- Cadillac’s new president, ex-Infiniti chief Johan de Nysschen, said last fall that the brand needs sports cars. “We should also look at one or two sports cars that you buy for emotional reasons, not for practicality, but because they’re so sexy and fun to drive,” he told me in an interview. Obviously, all future products on his “wish list” had been in the works before he came to General Motors last summer. As Audi of America’s president from December 2004 to June 2012, he saw the effect the mid-engine R8 has had on elevating Audi’s position as a premium/luxury brand.

-- The C7 Chevrolet Corvette is only in its second model year. And it’s the best-performing, best-handling, best-balanced Corvette ever. Though not explicitly stated in the rumors and speculation, a Zora could be an additional model that essentially breaks Corvette off into its own brand, a move that would be so pre-2009 GM. But what would GM achieve by applying a Chevy, or Corvette, badge to a six-figure mid-engine sports car? Would it drain sales from the Z06 among rabid Corvette-o-philes who must have the best-performing model, or would it serve as a very low-volume halo to the Corvette, which already is a halo for Chevrolet?

-- The Ford GT is not a Corvette competitor. Nor will it compete with a $125,000-$150,000 mid-engine sports car. It will be produced in the hundreds and will be offered to a lucky few for at least $400,000. While GM has both Chevy and Cadillac badges at its disposal, try to imagine the GT as a Lincoln.

-- Cadillac has the budget. Or, at least, it did until Harry Wilson got his Wall Street cronies to force GM into a $5 billion stock buyback. When a caller to “Autoline After Hours” asked Juechter what he would do with Corvette if he had “carte blanche,” Juechter laughed at the idea of a billions-of-dollars budget. But when de Nysschen announced last fall that Cadillac would keep a separate set of books from the rest of GM (not unlike Audi operating as its own German AG, though under the Volkswagen Group umbrella), he told me, “When you’re a mainstream brand, then you’ve got to have very stringent criteria for the financial performance of each individual product. If you don’t manage your project before the process of conception, you’ll lose your pants. For Cadillac, some cars have to make volume for us, some cars have to make money, and some cars have to make image. … If you were to apply these very stringent financial criteria to individual projects, you’ll probably never do the halo cars. The way to measure it properly is to say, ‘Well, how did they help the pricing power on the rest of the cars?’ That’s their contribution.” In other words, Cadillac’s new accounting system will make it easier to green-light an exotic, high-priced, low-volume sports car as a way to elevate the value of its more mainstream products.

Next page: What we know we don't know

I must note that no one at GM has told me anything, on or off the record, about a mid-engine sports car, though one independent analyst told me at a recent auto show that the Cadillac theory is warming up as a rumor. Even de Nysschen remained vague and general when outlining his wish list for future Cadillac products. He never so much as whispered “mid-engine.” Nor did he talk about the positioning of “one or two sports cars.”

It should be clear, though, that Cadillac’s top sports car must be priced and positioned above any sports car Chevy markets, and it shouldn’t be diluted by having to share such a high-cost platform with Chevy.

The long-nose, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout is as iconic to the Chevrolet Corvette as the rear-engine layout is to the Porsche 911. Even if the mid-engine rumors are nearly as old as the Corvette itself, the car’s layout shouldn’t change. Prove me correct, GM, and give us a mid-engine Cadillac sports car.

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