Z06 Corvette Story, Pt 4 – The C7 Z06 and Z06/Z07

Dateline: 5.2.22 Graphics & Illustrations by K. Scott Teeters, Photos GM Archives, this story was first published in the April 2017 issue of Vette Vues MagazineUpdateThe C8 Z06 has been all over the Corvette community, as it should be. Clearly, the car is a vast improvement over the C7 Z06. At the April 29, 2022 Corvette Bash event at the National Corvette Museum, Corvette Product Planner, Harlan Charles made it perfectly clear when he said, “The C8 Z06 is a race car that you can drive on the street.” Continue reading “Z06 Corvette Story, Pt 4 – The C7 Z06 and Z06/Z07”

Mario Brunner’s 1966 Corvette Pilot Car

A Super-Rare Classic Sting Ray in Germany

Dateline: 8.29.21 This story was first published in the February 2021 issue of Vette Vues Magazine; Story by K. Scott Teeters; Photos by Mario Brunner: In the Corvette world, C2 Sting Rays are becoming increasingly rare. With only five years of production, 1963-to-1967, only 117,964 Sting Rays were built. Compare that figure with the 1968-to-1982 C3 Corvette total production of 542,741. Now imagine a 1966 Sting Ray convertible in modern-day Germany in an ocean of Porsches. Let’s add another layer of uniqueness. Mario Brunner’s 1966 327/350 Corvette convertible is a numbers-matching pilot car!

Before we get into the details of Mario’s unique Sting Ray, let’s review pilot cars. After the details of an updated car are nailed down, a small batch of cars are built for evaluation. Engineers drive the cars to make sure everything works, everything fits properly, no leaks, etc. The cars are not subjected to harsh durability testing, they are driven as a customer would drive the car. Pre-production cars built for durability testing are typically pretty-well beat-up and are eventually sent to the crusher. When you see magazine road tests that come out before or at the same time as the new cars are in dealer’s showrooms, those are pilot cars.

Pilot cars are also built more slowly so that the plant workers can make sure that everything is up to speed for production. As problems are identified, solutions are implemented. Typically around 20 pilot cars are built. Pilot cars can be identified by their very low last three VIN numbers. Any VIN number 001 and above is considered by GM to be saleable.

After evaluation, pilot cars are sold at the GM factory auction to dealers. Pilot cars are not the same as GM Fleet / PEP cars, private fleet cars, or dealer demo cars. Pilot Corvettes have a unique place in Corvette-Land, while they look like a regular Corvette, they are quite rare.

I recently read a humorous expression for us “car people”; we’re the way we are because we have “the car gene”. Mostly guys have it, and some gals too. Typically, the car gene kicks in during our adolescent days, around the ages of eight-to-ten. All races and nationalities can have the car gene.

Mario Brunner grew up in the small German village of Enzweihingen, just northeast of Stuttgart in southern Germany. As a little boy, his family often drove into Stuttgart and would drive by the Porsche factory. Today, the Porsche factory and museum are at the same location. Mario recalls, “I was absolutely fascinated with the Museum and the beautiful Porsches parked in front of the museum. It all started there. My dad was also a car and motorcycle guy. He owned a Harley and some Jeeps. When he passed away way too soon, my mom told me, to maintain dad’s legacy, I had to buy a classic American car.”

When Mario grew up he became a professional photographer. But Mario’s intense car interest was a little out-of-the-ordinary in a European nation; American muscle cars were his passion. At the top of Mario’s bucket-list was a 1963-to-1967 Corvette Sting Ray. In 2010 Mario acquired a 1967 383 stroker engine Camaro and in 2017 Mario bought a 1964 327 4-speed Impala SS. But he still had the Sting Ray itch, and we all know what that’s like. Mario was definitely on the hunt and the car he found is truly extraordinary.

On Craig’s List Colorado, Mario found the car of his dreams; a 1966 327/350, 4-speed Sting Ray convertible with factory side-pipes, knock-off wheels, and a hard top. Much to his surprise, the car was a pilot car with the VIN #194676S100006. Note the last three numbers, “006”, that’s what tipped off Mario that the car is a pilot car. Mario sent NCRS detail photos of the car and they verified that indeed, Mario’s Corvette is a “pilot car”.

NCRS’s 1966 specialist told Mario that the car is very early and rare pilot car and they were very impressed. Concerning the authenticity of the VIN plate and the Options plate, NCRS said that the rivets and the arrangement of certain letters indicate that the tags are legitimate. Another indication that the car is indeed a pilot car is the hand-laminated fiberglass inner fenders in the engine compartment. The inside of the front wheelwells look completely normal.

As if the pilot car status wasn’t enough, the car is numbers-matching, complete, all-original, and well-optioned. The car is a survivor and in 2009 was treated to a new Laguna Blue respray. In 1966 only 2,054 1966 Corvettes were ordered in Laguna Blue; only Trophy Blue (2,054) and Tuxedo Black (1,190) colors are rarer.

The car was optioned out to be a maximum-performance small-block 327 Corvette. The L79 327 engine was rated at 350-horsepower @ 5000 rpm and 360-lb-ft of torque @3000-rpm. The next step up the 1966 Corvette performance ladder was the L36 427 with 390-horsepower and then the L72 427 with 425-horsepower. If a lighter-weight Corvette with plenty of grunt was your passion, the 350-horsepower L79 327 was a $105 option! The base price of a ’66 Corvette convertible was $4,084 and Mario’s car had a sticker price of $5,573. That was a lot back then!

A closer look at the options on Mario’s ’66 Corvette indicates that the car was optioned for performance. Options include: L79 327-cid, 350hp Engine, M20 4-speed Manual Transmission, Side Mount Exhaust System, Power Brakes, Positraction Rear Axle, Cast Aluminum Knock-Off Wheels, Genuine Leather Seats, Soft Ray Tinted Glass, Telescopic Steering Column, Teakwood Steering Wheel, Power Windows, AM/FM Radio, and an Auxiliary Hardtop.

Missing from the option list were Air Conditioning ($412, the single-most-expensive option in 1966) and Power Steering ($94). But if the car was optioned for maximum small-block performance you wouldn’t add unnecessary weight to the very front of the car. The tires are Goldwall Michelin 215 Radials with the tire information on the inside of the tire to maintain a classic look.

In 2019 Mario decided it was time to go for his dream classic car, a Corvette Sting Ray. He sold his ’67 Camaro and ’64 Impala to fund a C2 Corvette. So when Mario found a super-clean, complete 327/350 ’66 Sting Ray on Craig’s List Colorado, he knew others would be looking at the car, so he had to act fast. Mario says, “I haven’t owned the car that long. After being transported to Germany, when the trailer opened and I saw the car for the first time, it was a very emotional moment. Unreal. Mileage is low, with just 65,585 miles on the odometer.”

Mario did some research on the car’s build and found several interesting things:

* The 1966 model year production started in September 1965. This car was built on 9th

July 1965. Body number 5.

* The car has hand-molded inner fenders.

* The engine block has the correct casting number for 1965 models (3782870) but the

correct serial number for Corvette number 6 of 1966. Engine, distributor and cylinder head

were made on 24th May 1965.

* Lot of early 65 parts.

* New color for 1966, perhaps the first 327 convertible ever painted in Laguna blue.

Back in the day, cars such as Mario’s were often driven very hard. I’m certain that somewhere in the car’s past it was driven “with enthusiasm”, but the car is 100-percent complete and numbers-matching and shows no signs of being thrashed.

Mario explains, “Most people that see the car don’t know what it is because there are hardly any C2 Sting Rays in Germany. Germans know what Mustangs are, but not old Corvettes. They also can’t believe a car this old has 350-horsepower. The ultimate pleasure is to drive the car without the top on a warm summer night, listen to the side-pipes, feel the 350 hp V8, and knowing that this is a very special car, especially here in Germany. This is the fulfillment of a life-long dream for me. It’s a privilege to drive something special like this.”

The only repairs I had to make was replacing the intake manifold gaskets, shocks, flywheel, and clutch, that’s it. I drive the car as much as possible. It is pure joy and adventure to drive. NCRS recently confirmed that the car is indeed one of the rare pilot Corvettes. For me, this is the best and last classic car in my life.”

When asked what he intends to do with his 1966 327 Corvette Sting Ray pilot car, Mario gave the right answer, “Drive it. Take care of it, and learn more about the car’s history.” Yes, spoken like a man with the car gene! – Scott

PS – Mario Brunner is a professional wedding photographer in Stuffgart, Germany. Check out his work HERE.

PSS – To subscribe to Vette Vues Magazine, CLICK HERE.

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1963 Aluminum 377 Small-Block Chevy Engine

Before the 1969 427 ZL1, there was the All-Aluminum 377 Small-block Chevy!

Dateline: 5-7-21, This story by K. Scott Teeters was first published in the October 2019 issue of VETTE magazine – In the early 1960s, an aluminum performance engine was as exotic as fuel injection, independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. The first mention of an all-aluminum engine for a Corvette was in Zora Arkus-Duntov’s proposal outline for the Q-Corvette in 1957. Ed Cole was Chevrolet chief engineer from 1952 to 1956 and was the lead engineer in the design and development of the small-block Chevy.

The Wintersteen L88 Grand Sport #002 resides at the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia, PA. Part of the collection includes the hand-made #002 Roadster replica body and one of the all-aluminum 377 SBC engines that Dr. Simeone purchased from Jim Jeager. The replica body is mounted to a chassis buck with an interior.

Cole was a mechanical engineering visionary. After he became Chevrolet’s general manager in 1956, Cole announced his 1960 Q-Chevrolet concept that would put a transaxle into every car to improve traction and handling and eliminate the transmission hump that would open up the interior. Cole’s plan included the Corvette.

Even before going to work for Chevrolet, all Duntov wanted to do was to build racecars. Based on his racing knowledge, Duntov’s Q-Corvette was spectacular and included; a four-speed transaxle, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and an all-aluminum fuel injected 283 engine. Duntov is usually credited with the all-aluminum small-block Chevy, a deeper look tells a slightly different beginning.

The design parameters of Cole’s SBC were that the engine should be; small, lightweight, simple, and inexpensive. Cole reasoned that an aluminum version of the SBC using a new aluminum-silicone alloy would be obviously lighter and probably less expensive to make. To keep costs down, there would be no valve seat inserts, no pressed-in valve guide inserts, or cylinder liners. But sometimes a simple idea turns out to not be so simple.

Problems started right from the beginning. The complex molds used sand cores and the completed castings required extensive machining. Sand-cast aluminum is high in porosity and low in density. During machining, cavities would open up in the castings, causing a high rejection rate, which drove up the cost.

Another indication that this is likely to be one of the Nassau Invasion 377s is the chrome stamped steel valve covers. Photos in the “Corvette Grand Sport” book by Paddock and Friedman from the race show the same valve covers.

Aluminum pistons on aluminum bores were hard to lubricate and would scuff the bores. Between the strength of materials and the casting challenges, pouring aluminum into molds designed for cast iron wasn’t going to work for mass production.

Weber carbs were THE hot setup in the 1960s before fuel injection became more efficient. The 377 used four massive 58mm side-draft carburetors. The “EW” on the float chamber cover stands for Edoardo Weber, the founder, and inventor of the Weber carburetor.

A few aluminum engines were completed. Duntov installed one in his CERV-I car in 1959, but the valves would freeze to the guides when the temperature went low. Mickey Thompson got an aluminum engine for an Indy car project and bored the cylinders to installed steel sleeves to reduce the C.I.D. to the Indy limit of 255-C.I.D.

Note the non-stock location of the alternator. This was to slightly lower the car’s center of gravity.

Roger Penske had TRACO modestly build an aluminum SBC to just 300-horsepower for his Cooper Monaco. When TRACO was done, the engine weighed just 350-pounds; the lightest of all the aluminum SBCs.

Forensic evidence gleaned from the book, “Corvette Grand Sport” by Paddock and Friedman indicates that based on the shape of the collector on the headers, this was most likely one of the engines used during the Nassau assault in 1963.

The original SBC was never designed to be cast in aluminum. So when exact copies were cast in aluminum, the basic weaknesses of the original design were obvious. In 1960 some Corvette brochures offered 275 and 315-horsepower fuel injection engines with aluminum heads but were canceled early in production due to breakage. Briggs Cunningham was to be given several sets of aluminum heads for his Corvette Le Mans assault, but none were installed.

When Duntov started planning his Lightweight Sting Rays in early 1962 to battle Shelby’s Cobras, the SBC had 327-cubic-inches. Duntov insisted on an all-aluminum 327, reasoning that the heavy-duty parts from the L84 Fuelie would be more than enough for his racing engine. Unlike the previous aluminum engines, steel cylinder liners were pressed into the block. After each block was machined, it was water-tested for leaks. If leaks couldn’t be fixed with welding they were scrapped.

The most significant change to the basic block was that the main bearing webs were thicker and four-bolt main bearing caps were used. The earlier aluminum SBCs were not delivering any significant power increases, so it was decided that more cubic inches were needed. A 4.00-inch stroke yielded 402-cubic-inches. However, experimentation showed that the engine was happier with a 3.75-inch stroke that yielded 377-cubic-inches. Notches had to be made into the insides of the block for connecting rod clearance.

Numerous cylinder head designs were considered. The wildest was a hemi head design with two spark plugs per cylinder. The hemispherical combustion chamber allowed for larger 2.20-inch intake and 1.72 exhaust valves. The intake system was a Rochester constant-flow fuel-injection unit. This was Duntov’s preferred engine for his Lightweight but never was developed or tested. Engineers expected 600-horsepower from the 402-cubic-inch configuration.

The Mark II big-block with its unique “porcupine” semi-hemi heads was in development, so engineers designed and cast similar sets of aluminum heads for the SBC. Initial tests showed that they did not flow as well as the standard wedge combustion chamber heads, so the concept was dropped. If the heads had been developed they could have been a game-changer and made it into production cars.

Twelve aluminum 377 blocks were successfully machined and designated “A” to “L”. When John Mecum took delivery of three Grand Sport Corvettes as part of his Nassau invasion, the cars had aluminum 377s with four 58-mm Webers. After the Grand Sports stomped the Cobras at Nassau, the cars were bought and sold at a brisk pace.

Engineers learned that the aluminum 377s were good for short races, such as Nassau, but not durable for long races, such as Sebring. When Penske raced Grand Sport #005 at Sebring in 1964, his car was powered by a steel version of the 377 and performed very well.

Several of the engines were sent to Jim Hall and installed into his Chaparrals. Hall was instructed to install the engines and not to change anything except for timing and settings for the Webers. The engines were plugged in, raced, and returned to Chevrolet for evaluation.

The inscription of the transmission is unusual and indicates that it was likely to have been a specially built unit. “W.O.26310” could have meant “Work Order”. “TRANS #7-B” could have meant the second rebuild of transmission #7. Also note that the bolts on the case side plate are aircraft safety wired. A special team at Chevrolet built all of the 377 engines, the safety wiring was likely a deterrent to tampering.

As the engines were raced, eventually nearly everything either failed or upon examination was soon to fail. For instance, when one engine threw a rod, engineers used a new process for making rods called, Vacuum-Induction Melt steel to insure no impurities in the raw forging. When bolts were magnafluxed and showed signs of stress, all bolts were then over-designed. Rocker-arm lube was another issue and there were electrical problems with the early-transistorized regulators and ignition amplifiers.

Note the serial number on the back of the block casting, “0240983” and the casting date, “8-20-63”. This “could” have been one of the engines used in the 1963 Nassau assault in early December 1963 that stomped on the Cobras.

Exhaust headers were showing signs of cracking at the ports due to metallurgical problems. This was fixed by using a different welding process. Camshaft gears were failing when dry-sump oil systems were installed. Excessive stress and wear on the camshaft drive gear caused the distributor to retard the timing; causing a drop-off in power.

Privateers raced all of the Grand Sports and many changes were made to the cars. One of the previous owners of the Simeone 377 built this expanded capacity oil pan. Original versions of the engines used as many stock performance parts as possible

The perceived advantage of the all-aluminum SBC was weight; the complete engine weighed 150-pounds less than a cast iron version, however, the aluminum engines didn’t make quite as much power. Because durability was such a serious issue, in the early years, development work went into durability.

Eventually, the aluminum SBC reached optimum development, priced itself out of racing, and didn’t contribute any parts that went into production engines. Close to the end, there was talk of an overhead-cam kit for the SBC, but no action was taken. The amount of money spent on the program was an accounting nightmare for sure. At best, all the problem-solving saved years of development time for the all-aluminum Can-Am block and the ZL1. In a sense, the all-aluminum SBC was a prehistoric ZL1, domed by the basic “bread and butter” design of the original SBC. – Scott

Reproductions of this post’s lead illustration of the All-Aluminum 377 Small-Block Chevy and the Grand Sport #005 are available as 11″ x 17″ prints, signed and numbered by the artist, CLICK HERE!

And for fans of the 1963 Grand Sport Corvette, we have LOTS of Grand Sport Corvette prints CLICK HERE!


Duntov Files, Part 5 E-Book: Car Life July 1969 Wildest Corvette Test Yet, Big-Blocks



Dateline: 3-19-21 – You can download the PDF E-Booklet HERE I have a good-sized collection of Corvette books, sales brochures, magazines, and saved Corvette articles. I also have a set of fourteen reprinted Corvette road tests by Road & Track that run from June 1954-to-June 1969. I am scanning these old articles and making e-booklets out of them, free of charge. It is the easiest, simplest way of sharing this timeless Corvette information. You can access the collection by going to… http://www.corvettereport.com/corvette-e-booklettes/

There will be many more to come.

Back in the days of the Old Republic, there were no “Corvette-only” magazines, except for “Corvette News”, but you have to buy a Corvette to get those. The best we could get was occasional road tests and feature stories highlighting the latest custom Corvettes, some Corvette race cars, Corvette Styling Department, and Engineering Department cars. When it came to showing off Chevrolet’s latest, greatest “go-fast” hardware, Zora Arkus-Duntov was always the ring-leader; a genuine PT Barnum, with a thick Russian accent. Zora loved the attention and the magazine and racer guys loved him, too.

Car Life” magazine went out of publication by the end of the 1960s. The July 1969 issue screamed “CORVETTE!” with the cover story, “Wildest CORVETTE Test Yet – Every Body Style, Every Engine, Every Transmission, Every Rear Ratio, Every Major Accessory”. The cover story was a 16-page; mother-load of 1969 Corvette information covering everything from the ZQ3 350/300 small-block to the mighty ZL-1 all-aluminum 427 that powered Zora’s latest mule Corvette for suspension, drive-train, and brakes “testing”.

I was in the 9th grade then and this was an absolute feast for me! Enjoy a heap’n, help’n! – Scott

You can download the PDF E-Booklet HERE.

Check out the entire E-Booklet Collection, HERE.

Duntov Was There Before Harley Earl Conceived the Corvette Photo Essay E-Book

Harley Earl, the man that “invented” automobile styling, created an American Legend! Zora Arkus-Duntov was ready to make the car an American Racing Legend

To download Mike Waal’s PDF Watkins Glen Corvette Origin e-book, CLICK HERE.

Dateline: 3-4-21, PDF book by Mike Waal Emigrant Zora Arkus-Duntov wasn’t at the very first racing event in Watkins Glen in rural, bucolic New York. But he was there for the second in 1949. “Sports Car Racing” was totally new in America, or at least in an organized way, thanks to the dedication to the founders of the Sports Car Club of America, the SCCA. The cars that raced there were considered exotic and were “state of the art” for their time.

There’s Zora behind the wheel of his, then “modern” Allard race car. Note the coil springs on top of the cast-iron straight axle.

So the future Corvette Chief Engineer was there almost from the beginning. Zora never saw a race he didn’t want to drive it. By the time he was hired on May 1, 1953, he was effectively the only man for the job to quickly whip the start-up Chevy sports car into shape. By the time the 1956 Daytona Beach Time Trials, and the 1956 12 Hours of Sebring class win over Europe’s finest, people started taking the Corvette seriously. By the end of the 1950s, Corvettes were the dominant force in SCCA racing. And the adventure hasn’t stopped.

But it all began somewhere and Mike Waal from Maryland is the man that has stitched together a written chronology of events and a fascinating pictorial documentation of what quickly became an annual event. And the future Corvette would become a player in sports car racing.

To download Mike Waal’s PDF Watkins Glen Corvette Origin e-book, CLICK HERE.

Mike also makes his case of identifying the most likely spot where Harley Earl, Master of Ceremonies for the 1951 Watkins Glen, “International Sports Car Grand Prix of Watkins Glen, September 14-15, 1951.

It is very likely that this is where “conception” of what would be the Corvette when Earl decided that, “Chevy needs a sports car.” Not long after the event, work on Earl’s “Opel” concept car began. “Opel” was renamed, “Corvette” and made its debut in January 1953 at the GM Motorama event in New York City. Duntov was looking for employment at a large American automobile manufacturer. When he saw the “Corvette” at the Motorama, like legions of car lovers, he fell in love with Earl’s beautiful Chevy sports car, and knew immediately, he wanted to work at Chevrolet, specifically on the Corvette. The rest is history.

To download Mike Waal’s PDF Watkins Glen Corvette Origin e-book, CLICK HERE.

Earl was truly a visionary industrial designer; one of the greats of the 20th century and beyond; and Duntov was there, ready to report for duty.

This is a beautiful, well-done presentation of sports car racing history that will deepen your appreciation for the early history of the Corvette. Enjoy.

Thanks, Mike! Scott

To download Mike Waal’s PDF Watkins Glen Corvette Origin e-book, CLICK HERE

The Duntov Files E-Book, Pt. 4: Time Machines, 1963 Grand Sport vs 1989 Trans-Am Corvette

How did Zora Arkus Duntov’s tube-frame 1963 Grand Sport stack up against a 1989 tube-frame Trans-Am Corvette?

Dateline 2.16.21, Story by Paul Van Valkenburgh, Photos by Mark Harmer – To download the free PDF E-book, CLICK HEREOf all of the five original 1963 Grand Sport Corvettes, GS #002, known today as the “Wintersteen Grand Sport” is the only Grand Sport to have big-block, 427 L88 power. Sports car racing was evolving so fast that by 1965/1966 the Grand Sport was obsolete, despite copious amounts of horsepower and torque. Like all of the Grand Sport Corvettes, after George Wintersteen was done racing the car, it was bought and sold many times.

Today, the car resides at The Simeone Museum, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Occasionally the car is brought out into Simeone’s two-acre courtyard for their monthly Saturday “Demonstration Days”. If you are in the Philly area, check Simeone’s schedule to see when you can see, hear, and smell a classic American beast race car.

Late in 1989 Corvette Quarterly (formerly “Corvette News”) arranged a special event. Grand Sport #002 was brought together at Sebring International Raceway for a side-by-side comparison test with the then “state-of-the-art” tube chassis Trans-Am C4 Corvette. Twenty-six-years separate the two cars, they are both tube-frame cars with replica bodies and powered by Chevrolet engines. But that’s where the similarity ends, and the difference is startling.

The Grand Sport’s lap time was 1.34.22 and the Trans-Am Corvette’s lap time was 1.22.45. Technologies across the board all added up to a much-improved race car. Enjoy the comparison. – Scott

Here are the PDF download links to all 3 of the Duntov Files…

Duntov Files, Pt. 1

Duntov Files, Pt. 2

Duntov Files, Pt. 3

Duntov Files. Pt. 4

The Duntov Files E-Book, Pt. 3: Corvette News June/July 1975 “The Marque of Zora”

An insightful interview with Zora Arkus-Duntov interview just before he retired.

Dateline: 2.2.21 – To download this PDF E-Book, CLICK HEREA few months ago at one of our Highlands Corvette Club (Lake Placid FL) monthly Corvette car shows a fellow came up to the sign-in table where I was working and he had a box with several dozen issues of Corvette News from the 1970s.

The June/July 1975 issue had what might have been one of Duntov’s last interviews before retiring as Corvette Chief Engineer. The article starts out, “As we entered his office at Chevrolet Engineering, Zora greeting us warmly…”

What followed is an insightful, warm, eight-page interview with the Godfather of Corvettes.

Enjoy and feel free to share with your Corvette friends. – Scott

Here are the PDF download links to all 4 of the Duntov Files, as of 2.16.21.

Duntov Files, Pt. 1

Duntov Files, Pt. 2

Duntov Files, Pt. 3

Duntov Files. Pt. 4

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 5 or 5: Tadge Juechter

Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter delivered the C7 Corvette, the C7 Z06, the C7 Grand Sport, the C7 ZR1, and soon the 2020 mid-engine C8 Corvette.

Dateline 1.29.21, Images: Graphics by the Author, Image from GM Archives – All five Corvette chief engineers contributed mightily and in their own unique ways. But only Tadge Juechter has the distinction of having done hard engineering on five generations of Corvettes. When Juechter went to work in 1993 as chief engineer Dave Hill’s right-hand-man, there were two objectives; keep the then-current C4 fresh and interesting; and design and develop the most revolutionary Corvette to that date, the C5. After Hill’s retirement, Tom Wallace was Vehicle Line Engineer (VLE) and chief engineer for the Corvette. Wallace accessed that because of Juechter’s 15 years of experience, he was the right man for the chief engineer position. Wallace stayed on as VLE and eventually took an early retirement offer.

While Juechter didn’t have the racing background that Hill and Wallace had, he was raised in a Porsche household and liked to tinker around with mechanical things. As a young teenager growing up in Chappaqua, New York in the ‘70s, Juechter built a prehistoric mountain bike with a full front and rear suspension. His folks even gave him their wrecked Cadillac to take apart.

During Juechter’s college years at Stanford, he worked two summers on a GM assembly line, an experience not to his liking. Juechter graduated with degrees in aerospace and mechanical engineering and had no intention of working for GM. Then in 1978 a friend asked Juechter to tag along to a GM interview and ended up interviewing as well; and was offered a job. The late ‘70s and ’80 was a challenging time for the American car industry, but at least Juechter had a solid job. In the car business, if your ambition is upper management, an MBA is a must-have degree. Juechter earned his MBA from Stanford GSB in 1986.

By the time Juechter interviewed with Hill for the position of Assistant Chief Engineer, he was aware of the aging Corvette and impressed with the in-the-works C5. The C4’s plastic interior was a major bone of contention with Juechter. Hill was impressed and Juechter got the job. The jump from the early ‘80s designed C4 to the C5 was revolutionary. The creation of the Corvette Racing Team was the beginning of the deliberate merger of Chevrolet engineering and Corvette racecar engineering that was poured into the C5 Z06. Early on, Chevrolet general manager Jim Perkins wanted an inexpensive Corvette that would appeal to racers; this became the ’99 Hardtop and the Hardtop became the C5 Z06. While the C6 was an evolved version of the C5, no one was expecting the 505-horsepower 427 Z06 with an aluminum frame and dry-sump oil system.

From 2005 to 2008 sales averaged 36,816 cars per year. In 2006 Tom Wallace was Corvette VLE and chief engineer. While Wallace was a racer, his Corvette experience was a little thin. When Wallace learned that Juechter and his team were working on a mid-engine prototype, he knew that Juechter was the brains behind the Corvette. Juechter was promoted to chief engineer, North American Corvette.

Juechter has said that he was shocked when given orders to make the C6 ZR1; the goal was to build the best possible Corvette for $100,000. A big-block was briefly considered but rejected because of its weight. All-Wheel-Drive was not possible on the C6’s platform. The Z06 was to be the track car and the ZR1 would be GM’s halo, Grand Touring supercar.

Then the economy stalled out and the in-the-works C7 was put on hold indefinitely. Wallace took GM’s early retirement offer, leaving the Corvette all to Juechter. When GM slammed into bankruptcy in June 2009, for a time it looked like it was curtains for GM. But it turned out that the government auditor that was looking into the Corvette was a car enthusiast and knew about the pending C7. Upon examining the books, it was discovered that the Corvette was one the few GM car lines that was making money. Juechter’s team was told to get busy on the C7. The Corvette and the Bowling Green assembly plant were spared.

By the time you read this, the C8 will have made its debut and will be the most revolutionary Corvette ever. Previously, the C5 had that honor because of its all-new engine and drivetrain, and its hydroformed perimeter frame and backbone center section. The C6 and C7 generations are both evolutionary versions of the C5. The C5 and C6 are Hill’s Corvettes; the C7 and C8 are Juechter’s Corvettes. As of this writing, we know the basics of the C8, but none of the hard details. So lets look a Juechter’s C7.

A big part of Juechter’s job as VLE is to make sure there’s a Corvette for everyone with a variety of price points, and a base car that offers outstanding visual and performance value. Juechter said, “It helps having worked on the C5 and C6 because you know where a lot of the land mines are.” With horsepower ever increasing, it’s critical that the car be made easier to drive. The base C7 has 455-net horsepower; way more than any big-block ever had; yet the C7 is a car that is easy to live with. The 755-horsepower 2019 ZR1 is absolutely astonishing; it can perform on par with exotic sports cars, yet be a comfortable, usable GT machine. Electronic suspension, steering, braking, rev-matching, paddle-shift 8-speed automatic and fuel management are responsible for a balance of extreme power and civility. Imagine trying to drive a Greenwood widebody racer on the street.

When the C7 was unveiled, fans were stunned to learn that the base model had an aluminum frame and that later the Z06 and ZR1 would be available as a coupe or convertible and with an 8-speed manual or automatic transmission. Another first was achieved; the 8-speed automatic was quicker than the manual version.

Corvette interiors have often been a bone of contention with critics and the C6 took big hits for its interior. To get C7’s interior spot-on, Juechter made sure designers had set-of-the-pants experiences of life inside a 1-G cockpit; to know what it feels like having skin pressing on hard objects. He also made surer there were no distracting infotainment systems; just important information for spirited driving. The C7 has received rave reviews for its interior.

Concerning the C7 ZR1, initially there were no plans to make the car, as designers didn’t think they could do more beyond the Z06. But after a few years, plus aero input from the Corvette racing team, a new plan emerged to make the ZR1 the most powerful, stable, advanced front-engine Corvette ever offered. Many speculated that Chevrolet might build the front engine and mid-engine Corvettes side-by-side, but that will not be the case. C7 production will end in summer 2019 and the last C7 will be a black Z06 that will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Steven Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

While Juechter was an integral part of the C5 and C6, those were Hill’s Corvettes. Even though Juechter guided the C7, the C5, C6, and C7 all have Hill’s Corvette DNA. The C8, on the other hand, is Juechter’s Corvette. People expect more of everything today, and everything is riding on the mid-engine C8. – Scott

This concludes my Corvette Chiefs Series. Below are links to parts 1-to-4. Enjoy

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 1 – Zora Arkus-Duntov

Corvette Chiefs, Pt.2 – Dave McLellan

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 3 – Dave Hill

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 4 – Tom Wallace

The above articles originally were published in Vette magazine as part of my Illustrated Corvette Series monthly column.


Bill Tower’s Sebring 2019 Corvette Racing Seminar, Pt 1

With Special Guests; Gary and Robin Pratt, and Ron Fellows

Dateline: 12-24-20 – This story was first published in the June 2019 issue of Vette Vues Magazine 

Note: There was a major earthquake in the Corvette Community on December 16, 2020 when CorvetteBlogger.com and several other Corvette and road racing sites reported that Pratt & Miller was purchased by the Oshkosh Corporation for $115 Million. Along with the buyout there was a major shakeup of key players in the Corvette Racing Team. In March 2019 Bill Tower presented his third Corvette Racing Seminar on the Friday of the 12 Hours of Sebring weekend.

Gary Pratt is a man of few words, so it was an honor to have him there. His wife, Robin Pratt was on hand, and Ron Fellows was his usual engaging, live-wire self. As Gary and Robin are now out of the Corvette race car building and managing business, the 2019 event offers some perspective on life inside the Corvette Racing Team. Here is Pt. 1 or 2.

An extraordinary thing happened last year for the Corvette Racing Team. Road Atlanta was the final race of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship season and it was a real nail-biter. Antonio Garcia is an outstanding team driver, very methodical, technical, and rarely makes mistakes. But mistakes happen. The team and spectators were shocked when Garcia’s No. 3 C7.R smacked the wall. It wasn’t a bad crash and Garcia was able to drive into the pits.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

The Corvette Racing pit team is arguably the best. In five-minutes and 36-seconds the pit crew replaced the front fender, nose, and engine floor; and sent Garcia back out on the track in hunt for another championship. When the checker flag came down, the Corvette Racing Team won its 13th IMSA Team Championship and 12th Driver Championship in 20 years of racing! And here’s the kicker; for the 2018 racing season, the Corvette Racing Team did not come in 1st place in a single race.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

How could that happen? Modern factory-backed racing is a team sport; it’s all about teamwork; as tight, efficient, and professional as any other team professional sports team. In October 2018 in the days after the Road Atlanta success, Bill Tower and I were talking about a theme for his 2019 Corvette Racing History Seminar on the Friday of the 2019 12 Hours of Sebring event. I said, “Bill, the Corvette Racing Team just won its 13 Championship in 20 years without winning a single race. Do you know anyone at Pratt & Miller that would be willing to talk about the team’s amazing 20 years of racing?” Bill responded, “Sure, I know Gary Pratt, I’ll call him to see if he’d like to be our guest.” And that’s how the event got started. But it got even better. Not only was Gary Pratt willing to be a guest speaker, Bill got Gary’s wife Robin Pratt (the Mama Bear of the team) and Ron Fellows. What’a score!

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Tower is good friends with Steve Hurley, owner of Stingray Chevrolet, in Plant City, Florida. Stingray Chevrolet has become one of the regional Corvette centers. Other Chevrolet dealers send their tough warranty work to Stingray. The dealership is beautiful and in addition to displaying the new Chevy vehicles, Hurley has numerous classic Corvettes, Camaros, and even a late model COPO drag racing Camaro.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Ron Fellows needs no introduction to the Corvette world. Fellows was part of the development team for the first Pratt & Miller C5-R in 1998-1999. He scored the first C5-R win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2000. Fellows then took the ALMS GTS Championship in 2002, 2003, and 2004. He was also part of the Corvette Racing Team’s six consecutive ALMS GT1 manufacturers championship for Chevrolet. To celebrate Ron’s accomplishments, in 2007 Chevrolet offered the Ron Fellows: Z06 Special Edition. This is a true collectible Corvette, as only 399 cars were built and each one was signed by Fellows on the leather-covered armrest. In 2008 Fellows opened the Ron Fellows: Performance Driving School in Pahrump, Nevada.

Gary Pratt is the Senior Vice President of Pratt & Miller Engineering. The company is involved in Motorsports, Defense, Mobility, and Innovation Industries. They are the driving force behind the Corvette Racing Team. In addition to the team’s 13 Championships, they have eight Le Mans class wins to their credit. Robin Pratt is the company’s official Ambassador, aka “Mama Bear”. Robin looks after the drivers and crew and handles the promotion of the team.

After Steve Hurley introduced everyone, Bill Tower got the seminar going.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Bill Tower: Twenty years of Corvette Racing. Let’s peal the onion back to see how we got here. But first I want to honor Gary and Robyn. After I started working for Chevrolet I was working on the big-block program that we were having problems with. The basic engine could make lots of power, but it was breaking everything. One of my first racing assignments was to work with Smokey Yunick. Not many got along with Smokey, and I certainly didn’t. We were working on a project using ceramic cylinder walls, but we had trouble honing the things. Finally, I got a set done and Smokey had my engine on the dyno and I asked, “What did you do?” Smokey said, “It’s my shop and I’ll do what I want, or get out!” We got the ceramic walls to work, but they were too expensive.

I was drag racing a Top Fueler on my own time and after I got out of that, I was assigned to work on some NASCAR projects with Papa Joe Hendricks in the early ‘70s. Because of the gas crunch, we were working on aero for the racecars. That was a lot of fun for me. Smokey used to tell us that the underside tells the topside what to do. He knew that the air that flowed under the car was more important than the air that flows over the car.

Steve Hurley Gary, with over 100 wins with the three Corvette Racing generation car (the C5-R, C6.R, and C7.R), plus eight Le Mans class wins, that’s very impressive.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Gary Pratt: Well it seems like just yesterday, 22 years ago, that we started with the silver and black car and a very small team. Sportsman racing was in an upheaval and we didn’t know where we fit in. Ron and GM were great. We were hoping for at least a three-year deal, but Jim Miller was a long-term thinker. We made a lot of mistakes but learned from them.

We started picking up some engineers and now we have over 175. I’m basically surrounded by people that are much smarter than I am; we have a great team. At Sebring, the talk was that Corvettes are fast, but they’re not reliable. Well, we changed all that. We also built a lot of friendships. Ron, how did you get started driving for us?

Ron Fellows: The first test was in the fall of ’97 and we couldn’t get out of our way! In the beginning, the rules were all over the place. We prepared all of ’98 and were ready for Daytona in ’99 and came in 2nd. Sebring was tough to win and we didn’t get that 1st place win until ’02. By then Corvette’s strength was durability and reliability.

Illustration by DrawingDatebase.com

Gary Pratt: We had all kinds of problems. You know, it’s all about not making mistakes and having great personnel. There was a time in my life when I wanted to be a racecar driver, but instead, I got into building racecars. To bring things up to the latest car, the addition of Chevrolet engineers is what has kept up in our 5th year with the C7.R. It has all worked out great.

Steve Hurley Tell us about the transition from the C5 to the C6 platform.

Gary Pratt: We didn’t do as much wind tunnel testing with the C5 as we did with the C6. We started to have a continuity of the crew. So today we have some crew members that have worked on our cars for over 20 years. That really helps, but we have to keep the guys up to date.

Steve Hurley Robin, please share with us when you knew the team was something really special.

Illustration by K. Scott Teeters

Robin Pratt: Steve, it was at our first Sebring race. I told GM that we needed a poster, but they weren’t getting it done. Ron’s uncle was a printer, so we got him to print the poster and I paid for the poster myself. We were the only team at the race that year with a poster and we gave them all out; the fans loved it, and it showed us we were on to something. So, Sebring is my favorites race. But it hasn’t always been easy, lots of times we got out butts kicked, but we were always gentlemen about it.

When we had our first win at Texas Motor Speedway in September 2000, it was SO hot. It was 118-degrees at the track and even hotter on the track and in the car. Plus we didn’t have air conditioning in the cars yet. Ron came in for a driver change and when he got out he was wobbling! I thought he needed to go to the hospital, but he wouldn’t go. So we took off his uniform and poured cold water over him. (Ron is nodding his head and the crowd is chuckling; Ron said, “I was sitting there in my underwear!”). We just put the hose over his head and gave him Gatorade and bananas. Ron got back in the car and won the race. Very heroic! The Vipers didn’t like that very much.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Ron Fellows: At our 100th win event we all worked very hard. What I miss the most about not driving is the people. Gary and Robin have a natural charisma that draws people to them. It took us two years to get that first win at Texas, but the team was dedicated. One of the engineers told me, “Ron, the ambient air temperature at the track is 118-degrees and out on the track it is 168!” This was long before we had driver cooling. It was so hot it hurt to breathe. At one point I got a good lead because one of the Viper drivers passed out. At first, we weren’t going to do the race in Texas, but we talked the team into it.

Gary Pratt: We were running two cars in long endurance races. Andy Pilgrim was also driving in that hot race. Andy is a hot weather guy and when we did the same cooling thing to him he said, “What are you doing?”

Then in 2001, we had Dale Earnhardt and his son, Dale Jr. drive for us at the Daytona Rolex 24 race. It was fantastic. Jr. was just 19 or 20-years old, just another kid with his hat on backward and not much road racing experience. Dale “The Intimidator” pushed really hard in practice. One time the car skidded out and all four tires blew out.

Photo by Richard Prince

But Dale and Dale Jr. were part of the team and got up to speed with turning right and left a lot. Dale flew in his own guys to work in the shop and be part of the team. Everyone knows what he was like on the track, but he was also a great jokester.

Bill Tower: When Dale signed on, because of his celebrity status, he drew a big crowd. Gary and Robin, you were very patient with all that, and were there any fun times with Dale?

Gary Pratt: Well, one time we were giving out tee shirts. Dale and Dale Jr. were just hanging out with the guys; they were really part of the team; no pressure; no attitude. Their attitude was you’re only as good as your last race. Well, twenty years later, we’re still here.

We have a photo of Dale on the high bank with a BIG smile on his face. You can imagine him thinking, “I’m having a lot of fun!” We’ll all remember him forever. Dale Sr. and Andy Pilgrim got along great; both very low-key guys. No one took credit; it was all the team. Dale was the kind of guy you felt like you knew for twenty years after five minutes.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Bill Tower: Andy is such a talent. He could “get” what the car was doing and relate it back to the mechanics.

Gary Pratt: Ron was faster in qualifying. Andy was a very patient driver, not quite as fast. He liked to save the tires and finish.

Ron Fellows: Looking back, Andy and I were the senior members. Gary wanted to hire drivers in their mid-30s who would be team players.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Gary Pratt: When we hired Ron, he was testing for GTP Cadillac and for Corvette. Ron felt the Corvettes were more fun.

Bill Tower: I loved the Cadillac racing. Did you feel you had more business stability with the Cadillac?

Gary Pratt: We had no contract with Cadillac; it was race-to-race. The Cadillac people wanted to win the very first race. The Corvette people saw Corvette Racing as more long-term.

Bill Tower: I thought the Corvette program put a lot into the Cadillac.

Photo by K. Scott Teeters

Gary Pratt: We didn’t have much to do with the Cadillac program. Our small shop only had 6,500 square-feet and we had one track driver that would set up the tent. Everyone just wanted to help. – Scott

To read and enjoy Pt. 2 of this story, CLICK HERE.


Corvette Chiefs, Pt 3 Dave Hill

Dave Hill, Cadillac-Man Saves the C5 Corvette

Dateline: 8-11-20 – This story was originally published in the now-defunct Vette magazine, August 2019 issue. Story, Illustrations & Graphics by K. Scott Teeters) On November 18, 1992 when it was announced that Cadillac Engineering Program Manager David C. “Dave” Hill would become the new Corvette Chief of Engineering, the Corvette community asked, “Why is a Cadillac man taking over the Corvette and what can he bring to the brand?” Hill was the right man for the job, at the right time, and he brought a lot!

In the early ‘90s GM was in financial trouble. The company had lost its way in the ‘80s and in 1989 when Jim Perkins came back from Toyota to become the general manager for Chevrolet, he said he didn’t recognize the place. Moral was low and infighting was rampant. To stop the financial hemorrhaging, every car line was being looked at, and once again, Corvette was on the chopping block.

Thanks to Dave McLellan, the C5 was in the planning stage but only “on paper”. Perkins was Corvette’s “corporate angel”. He argued with GM brass that “Corvette” was one of the best-known automotive names in the world. He told them, “… if you don’t have enough confidence to trust my judgment that we can make money on this car, then I shouldn’t be here.” Perkins won the argument, but with McLellan ready to take early retirement, he needed a new Corvette chief with the know-how for profitability, performance, and quality.

Hill graduated in 1965 from Michigan Technology University with a degree in engineering and went right to work for Cadillac in their engine power development lab. From there, Hill worked his way through many departments. In 1970 he earned his Masters Degree in Engineering from the University of Michigan. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s at Cadillac, Hill was a Senior Project Engineer; Staff Project Engineer; Body and Chassis General Supervisor; Development, Emissions, and Transmission Staff Engineer; and Chief Engineer for the Allante, DeVille, and Concours models. In May 1992 Hill was promoted to Engineering Program Manager for Cadillac. Hill was deeply versed in GM’s premiere car line.

During Hill’s tenure, Cadillacs weren’t the performance cars they are today, but don’t conclude that Hill was into cushy Caddys; he was into sports cars and racing. Hill owned a 1948 MGTB, a 1970 350/350 Corvette Coupe, and from 1968 to 1972 he raced a Lotus Super 7 in SCCA competition.

Like McLellan, Hill had two objectives; first, keep the C4 fresh, and second, design and develop a totally new Corvette. Sales for 1991-to-1996 Corvettes averaged around 20,000 units; a big drop from 1984 when 51,547 Corvettes were sold. Everyone knew the C4 needed to be replaced. From ’93 to ’96 Hill and his team made small improvements and special editions to keep things interesting. In 1993 the 40th Anniversary Package was offered. The ’93 ZR-1 got a power boost from 375-to-405-horsepower. In 1995 the Indy 500 Pace Car Replica, was limited to 527 units. The 1996 lineup had two special editions; the Collector Edition (5,412 units built) and the Grand Sport (1,000 units built; 810 coupes and 190 convertibles).

The transition from the C4 to the C5 Corvette was the most radical of all generational transitions. Typically, when we think “radical,” we think “mid-engine”, “double-overhead-cam” or “turbocharging”. The C5 wasn’t any of that; it was better. In one fell swoop, the basic Corvette had the following; a hydro-formed perimeter frame with a wishbone backbone center spine, an all-new all-aluminum fuel-injected engine (the LS1), connecting the engine and new transaxle was a torque tube; the suspension and brakes were mostly aluminum, slim and lightweight; and an all-new slippery body and lush interior. The entire structure of the car was locked in together with each component designed as a stress-member and was designed to be a convertible. The design was so efficient it had over 1200 fewer parts. This was a Corvette like no previous model had ever been. It was the most radical Corvette to date and the basic structure concept is still used in the C7. The mid-engine C8 will be here soon and if Chevrolet decides to offer front and rear-engine configurations, a C9 will likely use the C5/C6/C7 concept, possibly in carbon fiber.

Sales of the 1997 Corvette didn’t look good, coming in at 9,752. It wasn’t that buyers didn’t like the new car, Corvette plant manager Wil Cooksey made sure that as cars were being built, all problems and process issues were solved and implemented. In 1998 the convertible was released and sales hit 31,084; the best since 1987. C5 sales never went below 30,000 and the best year was 2002 with 35,767; the best year since 1986. Customers were very happy with their C5s with its vastly improved structure that allowed the suspension to be calibrated like never before.

When the C5 was still on the drawing board, a “Billy Bob” strippo model was considered but not explored. Not long after the C5 was released, that concept was flushed out and the result was the ’99 Hardtop model. There wasn’t much of a savings as the Hardtop was only $394 less than the coupe. Sales only hit 4,031 in ’99 and 2,090 in ’00. But engineers learned something interesting. By bolting on and bonding the hardtop, the overall structure was 12-percent stiffer. This was that “something extra” that a performance model could use. The C5 Z06 was genius. With the more powerful 385-horsepower LS6, upgraded brakes, suspension, wheels and tires, a new Corvette legend was forged.

Hill had another ace up his sleeve that brought racing glory to Corvette and impacted the C6. In the fall of 1998, a factory-backed racing team was approved and the cars were christened, “C5-R”. Racecar builders Pratt & Miller were contracted to build the race cars. Hill used Pratt & Miller as his defacto racing engineering team. The Corvette Racing Team became world-class champions, won 1st and 2nd at Le Mans in 2001, 2002, and 2004, as well as every race in 2004!

By 1999 Hill’s engineers informed him that they had done everything they could with the C5 platform. To take the car to the next level, they would have to start the C6. While the C5 and C6 structure is similar, the C6 is all-new; with no important carryover parts. But what no one was expecting was that the Z06 would get a 100-horsepower bump, plus have an aluminum frame. No one was asking for this, but that’s what they got. The C6 Z06 was the most brutish Corvette ever offered.

Hill once said, “My favorite Corvette is the next one.” Mr. Cadillac insisted on three key things; state of the art performance and technology; passionate design; and tremendous value. In an interview with c6registry.com, Hill said, “Being involved with Corvette brings out the best in all of us who have the privilege of working on it. It represents the best that GM has to offer; along with the best America has to offer. The Corvette is very personal. We’re not talking about transportation here; we’re talking about a product that changes someone’s lifestyle, and that causes us to be enthusiastic about our duty.” Hill retired on January 1, 2006, and was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2006. – Scott

PS – Be sure to catch all 5 parts of my Corvette Chiefs Series

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 1 – Zora Arkus-Duntov

Corvette Chiefs, Pt.2 – Dave McLellan

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 3 – Dave Hill

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 4 – Tom Wallace

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 5 – Tadge Juechter



Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 2 of 5 – Dave McLellan

Dave McLellan, Heir to Duntov’s Engineering Throne

(Dateline: 7-3-20 – This story was originally published in the now-defunct Vette magazine, July 2019 issue. Story, Illustrations & Graphics by K. Scott Teeters) – When Dave McLellan took over as Corvette’s new chief engineer on January 1, 1975, it was a whole new world. The prevailing trends went from performance cars to safer cars with reduced emissions. Not even Duntov could have made a difference in the ‘70s. But as performance went down, Corvette sales went way up! The sales department was happy, but the Corvette was really getting old. Dave McLellan was an unknown to the Corvette community and many wondered what he would bring to the brand. It turned out; he brought a lot!

McLellan was a car guy. He rebuilt his family’s Frazer and entered the Fisher Body Craftsmen’s Guild Model Contest. Upon graduation from Wayne State University in Detroit with a degree in mechanical engineering, GM hired Hill on July 1, 1959. Thought the ‘60s Hill worked at the Milford Proving Ground on noise and acoustics issues with GM tank treads, Buick brakes, and tuned resonators for mufflers. Hill was also going to night school to get his Master’s Degree in engineering mechanics. In 1967 Hill was part of the group that planned and operated the 67-acre Black Lake where ride, handling, and crashworthiness tests are performed.

Chevrolet engineering brought in Hill to work on the 1970-1/2 Camaro and Z28. Hill wanted to move into management so he took a yearlong sabbatical and attended MIT Alfred. P. Sloan School of Management. The school emphasizes innovation in practice and research. In July 1974 Hill was Zora Arkus-Duntov’s part-time assistant, training for taking over the position in 1975.

While Hill didn’t have Duntov’s racing experience, he owned several Porsches and understood racing sports cars. As Duntov was leaving, he told Hill, “Dave, you must do mid-engine Corvette.” Little did they know that it would finally happen forty-five years later.

When Duntov took control of Corvette engineering in 1956, he had to boost sales and make the Corvette a performance car and a capable racecar. When Hill took control, Corvettes were never selling better, but the platform design was nearly fifteen-years-old. Hill had to keep the car fresh, hit the new requirements, and maintain performance; all with a limited budget.

Management figured that the Corvette had a captive audience, so they didn’t have to spend money to change anything. Fortunately, that lame notion was overruled. The 1978 glass fastback and the 1980 front and rear bumper covers were excellent updates. Another major issue was quality control. The St. Louis assembly plant made three other cars and often workers were unfamiliar with the specialties of the Corvette. This issue didn’t get fixed until the plant was moved to the Corvette-only Bowling Green facility.

McLellan knew that the C3 needed to be replaced, as the chassis was designed around 1960! For a brief period, it looked like the mid-engine Aerovette would become the C4, but Chevrolet decided to abandon all mid-engine programs. The all-new C4 began to take shape in Jerry Palmer’s Chevrolet Studio Three in 1978. When the C4 debuted in December 1982, it received rave reviews, despite the fact that suspension engineers later admitted that they over-did-it with the stiff suspension. By 1985 the suspension was softened and the 150-mph Corvette won Car and Driver’s “Fastest Car in America” award and began the total domination of Corvettes in the SCCA Escort Showroom Stock racing series from 1985-to-1987. Porsche bought a Corvette to take apart to find why the car was unbeatable. By the end of 1987, SCCA kicked out all of the Corvettes for being too fast! McLellan followed up with the Corvette Challenge factory-build racecars.

McLellan’s personal style was more suited to the intricacies of modern electronic computer-controlled performance cars than Duntov’s. Where Duntov’s enthusiasm was effervescent, McLellan was laid-back, approachable, but not shy with the automotive press. After the successful rollout of the C4, McLellan took on four very serious performance projects for the Corvette; The Callaway Twin Turbo option, the ZR-1 performance model, the LT-5 Lotus/Mercury Marine performance engine, and the mid-engine CERV-III. Let’s look at all four projects.

“Supercars” were the rage and by 1985 Porsche had their 959 and Ferrari was about to unleash their F40. To have something to offer while McLellan was starting his ZR-1 project, a deal was made with Reeves Callaway to build brand-new Corvettes with a Callaway Twin Turbo package. The cars had 345-horsepower (stock Corvettes had 240) and from 1987-to-1991 RPO B2K was the only non-installed official RPO Corvette option ever offered.

The ZR-1 super-Vette had two components. The first was its Lotus-engineered, all-aluminum, double-overhead-cam engine built by Mercury Marine. McLellan’s engineers set down the size parameters and horsepower objective; Lotus did the rest. McLellan turned to the best manufacturer of all-aluminum, performance marine engines in the country, Mercury marine. The end result was the beautiful jewel-like LT-5, an engine that is still respected today. The second component was the widening of the ZR-1’s body to cover the enormous P315/35ZR17 rear tires and beef up the car’s drivetrain and suspension.

The 1990 CERV-III Corvette was McLellan’s vision of Duntov’s mid-engine Corvette, with electronic steroids. The car had a carbon fiber Lotus-style backbone chassis, four-wheel steering, active suspension, a transverse, 650-horsepower twin-turbocharged LT-5 ZR-1 engine and a dry-sump oil system, and a four-speed transaxle. This was the final design that started out as the Indy Corvette in 1986 and had a top speed of 225-mph. And lastly, the CERV-III was designed to be manufactured.

Photo: GM Archives

When McLellan was part of the 1992 “Decision Makers” three-man internal Chevrolet design group, gathered to evaluate the direction of the C5, McLellan chose the CERV-III concept over the front-engine “Momentum Architecture” and the stiffer/lighter restyled C4. But the CERV-III was deemed too expensive for the market. The “Momentum Architecture” with its backbone structure, a transaxle, and an all-aluminum engine with design elements from the LT-5, lives on today in the C7.

McLellan oversaw the three-year, 1990-to-1992 mid-cycle refresh. The process started in 1990 with an all-new dash; 1991 saw new front and rear bumper covers; and in 1992 the 245-horsepower L98 was replaced with the 300-horsepower LT1.

In 1990 McLellan won the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Edward N. Cole Award for Automotive Engineering Innovation. In 1991 GM was offering early retirement packages, allowing 53-year old employees to receive the same benefits as those retiring at 62. McLellan took the offer and stayed on as a consultant while GM looked for a suitable replacement. McLellan was fortunate enough to be in his consulting position on July 2, 1992, when he was on hand to see the one-millionth Corvette roll off the Bowling Green assembly line. What a thrill for a car that McLellan had given so much to and a car that was so often on the line for its survival.

Finally, on November 18, 1992, the new chief of Corvette engineering was Dave Hill. Since then, McLellan has been a much sought after automotive consultant, he wrote and illustrated “Corvette From the Inside” and he’s a frequent and revered guest of honor at all of the top Corvette events. In 1999 McLellan was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame. McLellan goes down in the Corvette history books as the second of the five great Corvette chief engineers. – Scott

PS – Be sure to catch all 5 parts of my Corvette Chiefs Series

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 1 – Zora Arkus-Duntov

Corvette Chiefs, Pt.2 – Dave McLellan

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 3 – Dave Hill

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 4 – Tom Wallace

Corvette Chiefs, Pt. 5 – Tadge Juechter






Jim Perkins Tribute: R.I.P. Corvette Corporate Angel

Jim Perkins: The Man That Saved the Modern Corvette

(Note: this story was originally published in the March 2019 issue of Vette Vues Magazine) – The Corvette is the most unlikely of all cars for a company such as General Motors to produce. GM is all about producing huge volumes of cars and trucks. When the Corvette came out as a late offering in June 1953, only 300 cars were hand-assembled. Engineers and builders were literally designing as they were building the cars. Sales jumped to 3,640 for 1954 and tanked to just 700 in 1955. Harley Earl restyled the Corvette for 1956 and sales went up to 3,467 units and then 6,339 for 1957. Meanwhile Ford sold 16,155 T-Birds in 1955, 15,631 in 1956, and 21,380 in 1957! They were killing the Corvette then went to a four-seater configuration, leaving Chevrolet the two-seater sports car market all to themselves. Corvette sales didn’t hit 10,000 units until 1960; not much in the big picture of GM!

Photo Credit: Motor Trend Magazine

The long knives were out for the Corvette inside GM. There were many that didn’t understand the Corvette, didn’t like it, and wanted it dead! What saved the Corvette were its corporate angels; Art and Color Section VP, Harley Earl; Chevrolet general manager, Ed Cole; Senior VP of Design, Bill Mitchell; Zora Arkus-Duntov; and Mauri Rose. The common denominator with all of these men is that they are “car guys”. Bill Mitchell was famous for boasting, “I’ve got gasoline in my veins!” Aside from Duntov and Rose, these men had corporate clout; they could lean on and make things happen.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend Magazine
While general manager of Chevrolet, Jim Perkins was famous for handing out pins with the Chevy bow-tie and the work “Pride” beneath it.

In 1960, after some college attendance at Baylor University and three years in the Navy, Jim Perkins took a job at a Chevrolet warehouse, sorting parts while he finished his degree. Little did Perkins know that thirty years later, he too would become a corporate angel for the Corvette.

Perkins was a Depression Era kid from Waco, Texas. When World War II broke out Perkins’ dad tried to enlist in the military but was told he was “too old”. This was a time when men did whatever they had to do to put food on the table. Being mechanically inclined, Perkins’ dad started fixing cars, then buying, and selling cars. Perkins spent a lot of time with his dad and at the age of 14, he got an after school job at a local Texaco service station. Perkins quickly developed a reputation as a very good Chevy mechanic. Perkins fixed and sold a series of cars and finally got a hot ’52 Oldsmobile. But when the ’55 Chevy came out, he sold his Olds and made enough for a new Chevy. From here forward, Perkins was a Chevy car guy!

Photo Credit: Motor Trend Magazine

After graduating from high school, Perkins took courses at Baylor then served three years in the Navy. After his discharge from the Navy, he took a low-level job, sorting parts at a Chevrolet warehouse, while completing his college courses. With his Navy experience and eventual degree, Perkins quickly rose through the ranks at Chevrolet in Sales & Service. In the mid-‘70s, he landed a peach-of-a-job working for then GM president, Pete Estes. That’s where Perkins learned the ropes of GM corporate life.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend Magazine

After a few years working for Estes, Perkins was transferred to Buick. Detroit was struggling to come out of the 1970s recession and how to deal with the success of Japanese cars. Perkins was working under Lloyd Reuss and it was a good relationship. “Just In Time” production was a new concept and Perkins was doing many of the management tasks that Lloyd normally would have done, and he loved it! The first two years they set records; then management changed.

The new top guy at Buick was Don Hackworth and it wasn’t a good mix for Perkins. The two men almost immediately started butting heads. On a plane coming back from a business meeting, Perkins asked Hackworth what they could do to have a better working relationship. Hackworth suggested a “foreign assignment” for Perkins. That was IT for Perkins. What Hackworth didn’t know was that Toyota was wooing Perkins for an executive position. The timing was perfect

Photo Credit: Motor Trend Magazine
Right to Left: Jim Perkins, General Chuck Yeager and AJ Foyt

When Perkins came into Toyota with his “GM top-down” management style, he was nearly stopped in his tracks. The Japanese car companies were all using the “Consensus Process”; which starts from the bottom (assembly workers) and goes up from there. Perkins quickly learned that while the process takes longer, the execution is like a rocket ship; everyone is onboard and you get better solutions.

A year later, Toyota made Perkins Group V.P. for Sales, Marketing, Distribution, Product Planning, and New Ventures. Around this time Japanese car companies announced that they were taking on the luxury car segment of Mercedes and BMW. Mr. Toyoda wanted to prove to the world that they could build world-class luxury automobiles. Toyota formed Lexus and Perkins was a key player.

Then, an extraordinary thing happened; GM wanted Perkins back! Typically at GM, once you leave, that’s it. Perkins learned from his former boss, Lloyd Reuss, that then-GM president Bob Stemple (another car guy!) wanted to talk to Perkins about coming back. When the two men talked, Perkins told Stemple, “There are two jobs I would come back for; president of GM, or general manager of Chevrolet.” Stemple’s reply was, “Well, that’s a little lofty.” Stemple and Perkins continued their conversation for a time before Stemple called Perkins. “OK, big boy, it’s time to put up of shut up. We’ll make you general manager of Chevrolet.”

It had been twenty-nine years since car guy mechanic Jim Perkins started sorting parts in a Chevrolet warehouse. In May 1989 Perkins was made general manager of Chevrolet. He’s always been a Chevy-guy, and now he was running the division. But when Perkins got back, he was in for a shock. Perkins said in a 2014 interview with Motor Trend, “I didn’t recognize Chevrolet when I got back. It had lost its pride. There was so much infighting among sales, marketing, product planning, distribution, you name it. Everywhere you looked was a silo with its own management, and that’s the kiss of death.”

Photo Credit: DigitalCorvettes.com
The CERV IV was really a C5 in drag. Under the stretched body was a full C5 frame and suspension. This is the car that convinced GM management to go ahead with the C5.

TCE” Total Customer Enthusiasm had to start at the top, meaning that managers with bad attitudes had to go. Using Toyota’s “Consensus Process” concept, Perkins invited his people to write to him about the problems they faced and possible solutions. Perkins got 1900 letters, read them all, distilled them into to-do lists, and formed employee councils to come up with working plans. A lot got fixed, workers felt their experience mattered and the organization was much happier. The same concept was also applied to the dealer networks.

By 1990 the nation’s economy was moving into another recession and things were not good inside GM. All car lines were being closely reviewed and Corvette sales were in a downward direction. Once again, the car was on the chopping block. According to Corvette designer, John Cafaro, by 1992 the Corvette almost died. People in the company didn’t understand the car and no one wanted to champion the car. Former GM executive Ralph Kramer said, “Many GM insiders considered the Corvette to be a non-essential product in the GM/Chevrolet stable. The thought that the Corvette would NOT just be in the Chevy stable of cars, but instead the main character; the stud-horse; the Secretariat; was totally remote to the Corvette-haters; but how could it not be otherwise?” (Today, the Corvette is THE flagship of GM)

GM’s Mid-size Car Division managed Joe Spielman (also a car guy and Corvette fan) created a task group called, “The Decision Makers”. The group consisted of himself, Carlisle Davis, John Cafaro, and Dave McLellan. The team’s objective was to create a path for the future of the Corvette. They came up with three directions; First: A production version of the 1990 mid-engine CERV-III; Second: The Momentum Architecture, featuring an evolutionary body style, a stiff backbone-type chassis, and a transaxle; and Third: the “Stiffer and Lighter” design which was a lighter and improved C4. The team chose the “Momentum Architecture”. The problem was funding.

In November 1992 Dave Hill took over as Corvette’s chief engineer and had a big problem on his hands; how to prove the concept of the Momentum Architecture when he had no budget. Corvette manager Russ McLean went the Perkins and explained that the Corvette team needed funding for another CERV Corvette (Corporate Engineering Research Vehicle) to prove the viability of the Momentum Architecture concept. Perkins managed to pull $1.2 Million from another budget to allow Hill’s team to build what is arguably the stealthiest R&D Corvette ever, the CERV IV.

Photo Credit: Mecum Auctions
This is the 1995 Indy 500 Corvette Pace Car that Jim Perkins drove to start the 1995 Indy 500.

The CERV IV was essentially a C5 structure wearing a C4 body. A keen eye would have noticed that it looked like a “l-o-n-g” C4 Corvette, but when the car was on public roads, no one noticed. When Hill took executives for a ride, they all said, “This is like no Corvette we ever felt!” Hill proved to GM’s president, Jack Smith, that his team could reinvent the Corvette, as well as the building process. The $1.2 Million that corporate angel Perkins was able to secure for the CERV IV saved the Corvette! It was something that ONLY Jim Perkins could have done.

In 1996, at age 61, Perkins retired from Chevrolet. In his seven years as Chevrolet’s general manager he rekindled Chevy’s 1960’s-style pride; improved Chevy’s truck production; strengthened Chevy’s role in product development and design; helped his people come to grips with downsizing and reorganization, supervised the Chevrolet Racing Team that won five NASCAR Championships and had six Indy Car victories; and got to drive the pace car at the Indy 500 three times in 1990, 1993, and 1995 (in a Corvette).

Photo Credit: GM Archives
While it doesn’t look like it, the C5 is the most radical new production Corvette ever offered, thanks to its new hydro-formed perimeter frame, center spine structure, all-aluminum LS1 engine, and transaxle.

In the 2014 Motor Trend interview, Perkins said this about driving the Indy pace car, “You come out of turn four when you’re going to turn them loose, you know you have to make the left turn into the pits, you look down the track, and it looks like everything is closing in on you with all the people and color and movement. You swear you’re going through the eye of a needle. My God, it is such a tremendous, tremendous experience.”

Retirement from Chevrolet only lasted three months when Perkins accepted an offer from Rick Hendricks to take over his company after he came down with leukemia. Perkins stayed on as the CEO and later COO. Perkins said of his time at Hendricks Motorsports, “If ever anything has been rewarding, it has been seeing this company do what it has done. I have no regrets. It’s been a blast, a great, great, great ride.” In 1999 Jim Perkins was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame in the GM-Chevrolet Category.

Photo Credit: National Corvette Museum
Jim Perkins was inducted into the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

Jim Perkins was a poor kid from depression-era Waco, Texas that liked to work on Chevys. He was described as a “wily, free-speaking, cowboy boot-wearing Texan.” Perkins died on December 28, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jim Perkins was 83 years-of-age. Perkins had an exemplary career and most importantly to the Corvette community, saved the Corvette. – Scott