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
Dateline: 1-20-20, Illustrations & graphics by K. Scott Teeters – The C6 Corvette was a much-improved C5 and was well-received upon release. Fans liked the crisp new look, the new interior (for a while), and the extra grunt. Since the successful arrival of the performance Z06 model in 2001, every new generation Corvette is expected to have a Z06. Within minutes of the C6’s debut, the next question was, “Where’s the Z06?” The following year when the C6 Z06 was unleashed, there was an unanticipated surprise; an aluminum chassis.
This wasn’t on anyone’s wish list and was a total surprise. It wasn’t even on Zora Arkus-Duntov’s Christmas list! Weighing in at just 3,132-pounds, you have to go back to 1964 to find a lighter Corvette (3,125-pounds). Powered by the mighty 427 LS7 engine with 505 net-horsepower, with C5-R suspension technology, the C6 Z06 was better suited for the track, although many learned how to drive the new beast successfully on the street. The C6 Z06’s aluminum chassis had no trouble handling 638-horsepower in the ZR1 configuration. Bravo Corvette chassis engineers!
When Tadge Juechter’s C7 Corvette debuted, fans were stunned to learn that the base model C7 was built an even better version of the Z06’s aluminum chassis. But wait, there’s more! The same new aluminum chassis would be used for the coupe AND convertible Corvette. This was a major breakthrough and bespeaks of advanced engineering. Here’s how Juechter’s team did it.
Juechter’s objective was to build a modern performance car that delivered enhanced driving experience, more efficiency that yielded more performance. Every element had to contribute to the overall performance and there would be nothing fake. That explains everything that we see on the C7 Corvette, but what’s unseen is even more amazing.
As we learned from the C5 with its hydroformed side rails, stiffness matters. Juechter is on record stating that while hydroforming was an engineering game-changer, the downside is that parts have a uniform thickness; even in areas where it isn’t needed. Hydroformed parts cannot be tailored for areas that need greater or less strength. Enter the Genesis Software Program.
This is almost computer magic. Engineers first determine the overall block space they want; length, width, and height. Then they determine where they want to place the major components; engine, transmission, suspension assemblies, cabin parts, etc. This creates negative spaces where the structure needs to be to hold everything together. The Genesis Program then synthesizes an optimum structure so that engineers can then take the load design and break it down into parts that can be fabricated and joined together. Afterward, dynamic stress and crash testing is performed and parts modified to meet predetermined objectives.
The C7’s hydroformed aluminum frame rails were optimized for the best the aluminum industry could offer, in terms of tensile strength, lightweight, and materials-joining technology. New aluminum metallurgy and aluminum fastening technologies allow engineers to augment the hydroformed frame with 7000-Series aluminum extrusions designed for specific areas; such as engine/front suspension assembly, transaxle/rear suspension assembly mounting points and frontal collision areas.
Careful consideration to the placement of major components was also critical. Juechter’s team felt that the C6 was slightly nose-heavy. Components were adjusted so that the C7 is now rear-biased, allowing more load on the rear wheels for better traction at launch; like a racecar. The front wheels were moved forward 1-inch making the wheelbase 106.7-inches. This is the longest wheelbase Corvette ever made. The shortest was the C4, measuring 96.2-inches. Moving the wheels forward also allowed for more space under the hood for the new LT1 engine and various auxiliary systems. This also preserved “crash space” in the front.
Offering an aluminum frame for the coupe and convertible was a big challenge for the team. But because the basic frame structure is so strong, it didn’t need additional roof structure via a fixed roof. The net result is that not only can the Z06 and ZR1 have lift-off rood panels, but both can also be offered as a convertible. This was unimaginable for the C5 Z06, C6 Z06, and the C6 ZR1. According to Ed Moss, the C7 structural engineer group manager, his engineering team tailored sixteen different thicknesses of various grades of aluminum from 11-mm to 2-mm. The completed C7 aluminum frame is 100-pounds lighter than the C6’s steel frame and is 60-percent stiffer. Juechter said that engineers consider the C7’s aluminum chassis to be the most beautiful part of the C7. Perhaps someday Chevrolet will offer a transparent carbon fiber body option.
The C7 frame was also designed for aerodynamic efficiency. In the past, engineers tended to only consider how air passed over and under a performance car. The C7 literally breathes. Spaces under the car’s skin and in between the chassis structure were designed for the internal ducting for engine cooling, brakes, transmission, and differential cooling, and venting. Other spaces allowed for electrical and plumbing fixtures for coolant, fuel, and air conditioning ducting.
The C7 design team worked closely with the Corvette Racing Team on airflow management because even racecars are concerned about fuel consumption, as well as top speed dynamics and stability. Two of the most obvious ducting and venting features is the air extractor on the hood, and the NACA ducts on the top of the rear fenders.
Taking a lesson from the C6.R Corvette racecars, the C7’s radiator is tilted forward. One-third of the air that passes through the radiator is vented out of the hood. The hood louvers are angled so that the exiting air flows tightly over the car creating additional downforce to the nose of the car; thus eliminating the dreaded nose lift.
Heat exchangers (radiators) for the transmission were placed in the back, close to the transaxle with air ducted through the NACA duct feeding into the heat exchangers and then vented out through vents next to the taillights. This is just another example of how every element on the C7 has a defined purpose.
All of the foundational work that went into the C7’s chassis laid down a structure what was easily adaptable to the $2,780 Z51 suspension option that included; performance brakes with slotted rotors; dry-sump oil system; suspension upgrades; special wheels and tires; electronic limited-slip differential with a cooler, performance gearing, and an aero package. The Z51 was for drivers that wanted to use more of the C7 460-horsepower and explore the pleasures of the C7’s superior structure.
The 2015 Z06 with its supercharged 650-horsepower LT4 engine, wide-body, suspension, and tire enhancements work wonderfully with the C7’s basic structure. The same can be said for the 755-horsepower ZR1; the basic structure is up to the task. Arguably, the most interesting use of available C7 components is the Grand Sport. It has the aggressive-looking Z06 body and suspension parts that take using the base model’s 460-horsepower to a whole new level.
I will now go out on a limb. At the C7 ZR1 debut in 2018, Juechter said that his engineers had taken the C7 as far as they could with the ZR1. Are they working on a C9 Corvette to sell alongside the mid-engine C8? If so, will it be built on a carbon fiber chassis? When it comes to Corvettes, things always evolve upward. – Scott
After a very long wait, the 2019 ZR1 delivers the goods!
Image: GM Archives
Dateline: 4-30-18 –Years ago, a good friend gave me a book about race car driving. Inside the cover Joe wrote, “The insanity of speed is only understood by those that cautiously extract it.” With a two-run average speed of 212-mph, the new ZR1 has entered the Insane Zone for production automobiles.
The 2019 ZR1 will go down as one of the all-time great Corvettes.- Scott
AMAZING! The fully loaded, first C7 Grand Sport Corvette goes for only $170,000!
Dateline – 4-8.16: This is arguably the collectible Corvette buy of the decade.
Here are the details:
Lot #3003 – The winning bidder will receive the first retail production 2017 Corvette Grand Sport Collector Edition VIN #001.
The latest member of the Corvette lineup, the 2017 Grand Sport carries on the racing spirit of the original 1963 model, combining the power of the legendary LT1 6.2-liter engine with a Continue reading “
2017 Grand Sport Corvette #001 Auctions Off at Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach Auction, for ONLY $170,000″ →
Let’s hope there’s a retest with a Z06 that’s running right! – Video
Dateline: 10.1.15 –Watch and listen to this car and it’s hard to believe this is a factory-built street car. Factory Corvettes haven’t “sounded” this good since the days of the ’65-’69 big-blocks with side pipes. While in the beginning the car “sounds” awesome, something wasn’t right with this particular Z06. You hear are few sour exhaust notes then hear Pobst say, “This is REALLY not running right AT ALL!” The car grips and brakes great, but the LT4 was not delivering. Let’s try this again, Chevrolet.
Bum test car aside, with absolutely nothing to apologize for or make “yea, but…” arguments over while splitting hairs, you have to wonder, “Where is all this going???” I don’t think this will be the Corvette’s high-water-mark as far as power is concerned. Continue reading “
Randy Pobst Flogs the Pants Off a 2015 Z06 Corvette – Video” →
The “First” 2016 C7.R Z06 Corvette #001 brings in the BIG BUCKS – Video
Dateline: 9.26.15 –Barrett-Jackson knows how to put on a show. The roster for the 3 day auction fest in Vegas was packed with beauties… and the girls were nice too. But seriously folks, the car and truck eye candy was a treat and #001 2016 Special Edition C7.R Z06 Corvette was saved for later on the last day. With “first and last” cars becoming highly collectible in the Corvette community and with so many models and special editions having been produced, we’ll no doubt see many more of these.
Ever since 1999 when the first all-out, factory-backed, long-term Corvette racing team unleashed the C5-R, adding the suffix “R” after the generation designates “racer.” So far we have the C5-R, C6.R, and the current C7.R. Continue reading “
2016 Special Edition C7.R Z06 Corvette #001 Sells for $500,000 at Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Auction!” →
After what was without a doubt the longest, most tortuous buildup for a new generation Corvette ever, Chevrolet finally unleashed the 2014 C7 Corvette at the Detroit Auto Show on January 13, 2013.It was exhausting and I thought that Tadge Juechter, Tom Peters, and Ed Welburn would never stop talking. Finally, in a “TA-DA!” style, the red C7 came up and over a ramp, making it look like the car leapt on stage. It turned out that the spy photos and computer generated illustrations were close… but not quite on the mark. No, what we saw was better. But, I expected this, as the same thing happened before the C6 arrived – only we weren’t all on the torture rack for months on end.
This was the fifth new generation Corvette arrival I have seen, and it’s never easy.The ‘68 C3 wasn’t “Mako Shark” enough for many. The ‘84 C4 seemed too straight-lined and slab-like. The ‘97 C5 was called “too round” by some. The ‘05 C6 seemed like a crisped up C5 and was deemed a “C5.5” by a few. When it comes to Corvettes, you just can’t make everyone happy. However, each new generation, except for the C3, dished up stacks of impressive mechanical improvements, each taking the new generation to a new and higher level of performance. Continue reading “Illustrated Corvette Series No. 193 – 2014 C7 Corvette Arrives!”→
If this is the C7 Corvette, is it revving you up, or stalling you out?
Be sure to take our informal survey at the end of this post.
We’re now about 3-1/2 months from FINALLY knowing what the next generation C7 Corvette will look like and what kinds of mechanical improvements Chevrolet has in store. I have no doubt that the new C7 will run like a bear, but don’t expect anything revolutionary, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the C6 platform is already pretty stout. I’m hoping that the base C7 uses the all-aluminum chassis design of the C6 Z06.
What’s got a lot of Corvette fans holding their breath is the car’s styling. In November ‘11 Jalopnik.com set the Corvette world on fire with their computer generated illustrations that were NOT well received by the Corvette community. GM cried “FOUL! That’s NOT the Corvette!” and Jalopnik said, “Yes, it is, STUFF IT!” Even before the Jalopnik flap there was a lot of jib-jab from GM people that the the next Vette would be a “world car” and designed for a “younger generation.” We also heard that the new Corvette would not be “your grandfather’s Vette.” (OUCH!)
What it comes down to is this. GM will do what it wants to do and we can love it or leave it. It’s no secret that Corvette sales have been dismal the last few years, but it’s not because the car is dismal! Quite the contrary. The Corvette product planners have done a spectacular job of availing to customers a truly “boutique” Corvette. Continue reading “C7 Update: Is This the Upcoming C7 or a Camaro Fastback?”→
Good for the Chevy Volt, ah, not so good for GM’s halo Corvette
When the Chevy Volt concept car came out at the North American International Auto Show in 2007 it was a genuine attention grabber. Even a died-in-wool Corvette fan like me said, “Hey, pretty cool!” Between the big diameter wheels, the chopped and channeled look, and the promise of 50-plus mpg, it looked like Detroit was serious about taking the lead away from the Toyota Prius.
But when the production Volt came out, enthusiasts said, “Ahh… Excuse us, but what happened?” Of course, fans of the Prius “larva school of styling” cheered, but were not electrified buy the Volt. And why would they? At over $40,000, the car cost $12,00 to $10,000 more than the Prius. It looks like a Malibu variant. The Malibu is a nice car, but it’s just a “nice” car. Even the Motor Trend Car of the year didn’t help the Volt. But by October 2011, the Volt was getting many buyers charged up with sales, as only 3,895 Volts had been shipped. GM had projected 10,000 Volts for ‘11.
Breaking news and information for Corvette friends and fans around the globe!
* Driver Report: Corvette RacingTeam driver Oliver Gavin’s report on the team’s 2nd and 3rd place wins at the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring race. CLICK HERE.
* Driver Report: Corvette Racing team driver,Jan Magnussen weighs in on the 2012 Sebring ALMS race. “We all expected the 12 Hours of Sebring to be one amazing battle, but even I didn’t think we’d end up with three cars from three different makes fighting it out on the final lap.” CLICK HERE.