Payne: Corvette C8 to get three high-performance trims — but expect delays
The mid-engine Chevy Corvette C8 is the most capable 'Vette ever. You ain't seen nothing yet.
General Motors Co. is planning to introduce three high-performance cyborgs in the next few years, according to insiders familiar with the plans who weren't authorized to speak and a GM note to suppliers that was obtained by The Detroit News.
Those performance variants include a 1,000-horsepower, all-wheel drive, hybrid hypercar expected to be designated Zora. The model is named after Zora Arkus-Duntov, the legendary "godfather of the Corvette" who developed the first mid-engine Corvette prototype back in 1960. That's in addition to the Z06 and ZR1 variants featured on past front-engine models.
Each car will introduce Corvette's first-ever dual-overhead cam, flat-plane crank engines, the 5.5-liter LT6 and LT7. Compared to the traditional push-rod small-block V-8 in the standard C8 — and the previous, front-engine generation — the new design allows the engine to breathe better and spin to higher revs. The technology is found in some Ferraris supercars.
The LT6 scheduled for the Z06 is normally aspirated, according to industry sources. The LT7 variant for the ZR1 gains twin turbochargers for more horsepower, they say. The engines are similar to the high-revving V-8 found in the Corvette C8.R race cars that debuted at Daytona last January.
The mid-mounted LT7 is expected be mated with an electric motor up front in the Zora hypercar to give it an extra boost totaling up to 1,000 horsepower that's channeled through all-wheel drive, industry sources say.
That's the good news. The bad news is that, according to GM's note to suppliers, the performance models will be indefinitely delayed due to the coronavirus crisis. The Z06 was originally scheduled for model year 2022, the ZR1 for 2024, and the Zora for 2025. The delay has also impacted other GM vehicle programs including refreshes on pickups, Chevrolet SUVs, Cadillac V-series Blackwing models and the electric Chevy Bolt hatchback.
A GM spokesperson had no comment on the company's Corvette plans. On production delays, a statement from the automaker said: “As you would expect under these unprecedented circumstances, all of our development teams are looking for opportunities to conserve resources. We are not canceling any programs, but we are making some adjustments."
The 5.5-liter LT6 engine that debuts in the Z06 will be distinguished by its Ferrari-like shriek thanks to that new dual-overhead cam, flat-plane crank powerplant that's expected to spin at up to 8,000 rpms. That shriek was heard at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January aboard the C8.R race cars that finished fourth and seventh. The LT6 is similar to the 5.5-liter engine in the C8.R that is restricted to 500 horsepower by IMSA sports-car racing rules.
Those rules require that the race engine appear in a production car, which News sources say are the performance variants. One source expects the Z06 engine to make about 650 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque.
The modern LT6 is an advance forward for a badge that has heretofore used push-rod engine technology shared with V-8 Chevy trucks. The standard 490-horsepower C8 on sale now is equipped with an updated version of the push-rod V-8 called the LT2.
The last-generation front-engine Corvette C7 drew its power from a 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 that developed 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. The Z06 and ZR1 versions of the C7 were powered by LT4 and LT5 engines making 650 and 755 horsepower respectively.
The 2020 Corvette stickers for $59,995 and has sold out until the 2021 model year. In addition to the high-performance Z06, ZR1, and Zora models, the standard C8 is due for a track-focused, 2023 Grand Sport model with a similar LT2 engine.
The last-generation front-engine Z06 started at $81,775.
Originally due in model-year 2024 before delays, the ZR1 will be stuffed with the LT7 V-8 which adds twin turbochargers to the 5.5-liter LT6 for more power, industry sources say. The LT7 puts to rest rumors that a variant of Cadillac's 4.2-liter V-8 Blackwing engine — orphaned by the Cadillac CT6-V, which has ceased production — would find its way into the Corvette.
The LT7 is expected to put out about 850 horsepower and 825 pound-feet of torque. It will be mated to the same dual-clutch Tremec automatic transmission found in the standard C8 and the Z06, according to the supplier note. The Tremec is Corvette's first quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission.
The previous front-engine ZR-1 achieved its 755 horses with a supercharger.
The long-rumored hypercar is real according to sources, and was initially scheduled for 2025 before delays. When the News broke news of a mid-engine Corvette in 2016, sources said electrification was a key factor in moving the engine rearward so the sports car could take advantage of rapidly evolving hybrid-electric capabilities found in European supercars.
Meant to honor the engineer whose mid-engine dream was finally realized 70 years after it was first conceived, the Zora is expected to dial in an estimated 1,000 horsepower and 975 pound-feet of torque, according to one source. The twin-turbo LT7 will achieve its added power thanks to the electric motor mounted up front.
In concert with an all-wheel drive system to better maintain traction, the combination should make for under face-flattening zero-60 launches.
The 900-horsepower club is rare air, occupied by limited-production, million-dollar-plus hybrid hypercars like the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Koenigsegg Regera.
In line with the C8's "affordable supercar" mantra, expect the Zora to match its European competition with similar performance and state-of-the-art interior technology for a much lower price.
Kalea Hall of The Detroit News contributed.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.