The one pressing question I had during the official launch of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette had to do with time. The car is new for 2020, but it has been talked about since at least 1960. When exactly was the project finally green-lit? When could the people involved finally, emotionally invest in turning myth to reality?
The idea of a mid-engined Corvette was first grafted onto the body of a Holden ute in 2014. Internally, it’s affectionately named “Blackjack,” according to Mike Petrucci, the C8 Corvette’s Lead Development Engineer The team brought Blackjack out to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch as part of a media presentation, apparently marking the first time the car has left its home at the Milford Proving Grounds.
Blackjack looks bizarre. It has fenders as wide as park benches, there’s a weird, upside down wing on it and it gives off an indefinable sense of ricketiness. As any good prototype should. It’s a Holden face stuck on a C7 cabin and ends with a pickup bed. This is where General Motors engineers learned to build a mid-engine Corvette. There’s was only one Blackjack ever built.
As Petrucci tells it, the prototype is a sea of billeted aluminum. An excellent Popular Mechanics feature from July mentions engineers milling “7,000 pounds of metal to produce 400 pounds of components” from solid aluminum. In the midst of all that sits a small-block LT1 V8 engine.
Testing the thing was tricky, as Petrucci and his team were forever on the lookout for aerial spy photographers. Therefore, they drove Blackjack around with a tarp in the trunk, always at the ready. If they got so much as a whiff of a spy photographer, they’d pull over, get the tarp out and pull it over the car. It was a heavily practiced act that Petrucci says he and the team got down to about five or six seconds to fully perform.
Next came the architectural mule, built somewhere in the 2016 timeframe. The Chevy team hand-built 11 of these things. Five were crashed for testing. Three never ran. One was brought out for display for us. It has a large number of C7 bits to it (doors, windshield). But it was the first time the C8’s LT2 engine was used in a prototype.
“This is a very ugly car underneath all the camo and the wrapping,” Petrucci remarked. I don’t doubt it.
But looks didn’t matter as much as what the car achieved. After Mark Reuss himself came to check it out, the team got their high-level support for the project. Projects get cancelled all the time. Budgets get rebalanced. But this was an official green light. There was no turning back after that. I can only imagine the team’s excitement that welcomed this news.
The architectural mule saw tests such as the C8’s square steering wheel. Per Pop Mech:
“The wheel was a case where we just had to try it out, live with it and see what we thought,” says Mike Petrucci. The final design, the so-called “squircle,” allows a clear view of the new dash display and went through countless iterations before it was finalized.
“It gets down to millimeter by millimeter,” says [Tadge] Juechter, [Corvette executive chief engineer]. “That’s just the wheel. There are literally a million decisions on the way to making a new car.”
The third car, built in 2017, was the integration vehicle prototype. This is the car that could be tested on public roads, off the proving grounds, for real-world issues such as fuel economy, finish quality, and further validation. GM built over 100 of the things, and they are the ones you all had been sending us spyphotos of. The dates certainly line up. It was cool to finally have the curtain lifted off this side of the process.
Inside, you can see definitive C8ishness.
And the rest, as you know, is history. The mid-engine Corvette is real, we’ve driven it.
Petrucci refused point-blank to comment on further product, but he did note the team’s need to “ensure there’s bandwidth for future projects.” Does that mean Z06 and ZR1 variants? Perhaps.
If GM has cool stuff like Blackjack hiding away in its facilities, can you imagine what else is lurking there? Other weirdo mules and prototypes? Show us!