The 2020 Corvette Stingray’s birth was not an easy one.
The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is one of those machines with a specs sheet so impressive it becomes an instant hit despite how no one working outside of General Motors has gotten to sample how it drives. And although fans already have most of the information needed to fall in love with the C8, one crucial question remains. Namely, what process did GM take to design and build the mid-engined 'Vette and keep it so affordable when it had hardly any experience building such a car before (the Pontiac Fiero doesn't count)?
The answer, as Popular Mechanics details in an extensive look at the C8's development process, lies in a handful of test mules developed by Tadge Juechter, the Corvette's executive chief engineer, and his team. When tasked with building the C8, Juechter's team first went about trying to learn more about mid-engine sports cars by building a test mule.
The problem was that if Juechter's engineers simply built a C7 with its engine in the middle, the world would know what Chevy was up to because no amount of camouflage would have been able to cover up such a dramatic change in engine placement. And since General Motors had no mid-engine car in its lineup to camouflage, the team had to get creative. So Chevy did what it does best when it's in a tight spot, it built a new truck.
That truck, however, was nothing like the Silverado or mid-size Colorado. Instead, it was shaped like an El Camino and given a big Holden badge to fool onlookers into thinking GM's Australian wing was busy building the type of vehicle Australians love, a Ute. Juechter's team affectionately called this first C8 test Ute "Blackjack."
"Before, we could disguise development work by tweaking a current car," says Juechter. "You can't do that with mid-engine proportions, so we decided to make it look like a ute." The Ute body style was perfect because it allowed the test mule to have similar dimensions to the production C8 while still hiding its centrally-mounted engine in the bed and under a fake tonneau cover, making the mule look like anything but a Corvette. There was, however, a few dead giveaways.
The main one was the large rear wing (which had to be placed upside down to counter the severe lift on the front end) that bore intake openings carved into its thick supports as well as C7 Corvette parts used for the roof, dashboard, and windshield. But by the time the car-loving public had discovered this, Blackjack had served its purpose and taught the C8 team a lot about building a mid-engine vehicle.
Chevy learned, for one, that a dry-sump oil system was a must, that it needed a new generation of electrical architecture (the C8's electronics, including the nose lift system, are not easy to install on an old school platform), and even the Porsche PDK dual-clutch transmission installed in Blackjack was good enough to convince engineers to go with a dual-clutch on the next mule, rolled out in 2016.
From that point forward the mules got better, merging C8 styling elements with the latest tech that previous mules taught the engineering team about. And that, according to Juechter, is how you build a car that steals the spotlight on the very first try.