When Ford transformed the Thunderbird from a sports car into a personal luxury coupe for 1958, they left the burgeoning Corvette without any true domestic competitors for decades. In 1984, the Blue Oval nearly jumped back into the American sports car market and hijacked Zora Arkus-Duntov’s dream for the Crossed Flags in one fell swoop.
Phase one of Ford’s scheme went into effect at the ’84 Turin Motor Show. Along with Italdesign, the third (or fourth) best automotive design house in Italy (known for penning the BMW M1, DMC DeLorean, Maserati Bora, Lotus Esprit, and, more recently, the Nissan GT-R50 and Chevrolet Aveo), Ford unveiled the Maya; a mid-engine two-seat sports car with production intentions and the Corvette empire in its crosshairs.
Between the driver’s seat and the rear axle of the working show car was a 140 horsepower Ford V6 that was acting as a proxy for the intended powerplant; the Yamaha co-developed 3.0L V6 that ended up in the 1989-91 and ’92-’95 Taurus SHO. At 250 HP, a Maya with the Yamaha-built six would have enjoyed a 45-horse advantage over the newly introduced C4 Corvette’s carryover L83 V8 and would still be ahead by 20 ponies on 1985-86’s updated L98.
The following year, Ford commissioned a pair of Maya II prototypes. The first of these follow-ups, dubbed the ES, was smoothed out to differentiate its design from the (Italdesign) Lotus Etna concept that the original Maya was panned for “cloning.” A Ferrari-like central air intake was also added.
The Maya II EM was the most hardcore of the prototypes. It was built to test on real-world roads and featured an updated notchback design. In a decades-early preview of the current Ford GT, the EM had a pair of turbos added to its V6, resulting in 300 horsepower. All three… Mayans(?) featured a trick wraparound dash, five-speed manual transmissions, and a steering wheel that featured all of the vehicle’s controls, possibly serving as the inspiration for the Sega Dreamcast.
Ultimately, the Maya never made it past the prototype stage, but it is interesting to consider the effect that a worthy upstart from Dearborn may have had on Corvette history. Would it have fast-tracked the development of the LT5 or even more extreme performance solutions, like the V12 Falconer? Or could the C4 have had an abbreviated, mid-year/C7-esque life cycle and been replaced by a production version of the 1986 Indy Concept, leading to mid-engine versions of sixth and seventh-generation Corvettes, meeting us here in the present with a ME C8, albeit a much less hyped ME C8, with constant rumors of a return to its front-engine roots? The possibilities of what could have happened are fun to ponder, but, unlike the poor souls who would have enjoyed a second-gen Thunderbird that retained its original formula, or an af’Ford’able take on the Blue Ovals mid-engine efforts, we are pretty happy with the timeline that we actually received. The one with (nearly) non-stop Corvette production and improvement.