Cars

First Mid-Engine Corvette Prototype Was an Australian Mini-Truck

Once you’ve designed a car in the virtual world there comes a time when the rubber needs to hit the road. For the 2020 C8 Corvette, Popular Mechanics reports that this is the first prototype used to go from computer to actual, physical testing. Known as Blackjack, it’s the first mid-engine Corvette prototype that Chevrolet built for the C8.

It’s a strange-looking, cobbled assortment of Holden bits and pieces with some C7 Corvette panels cludged together. Built inside GM’s Advanced Vehicle Integration campus in Warren, Michigan, dubbed The Lair, it started the proof of concept in 2013 for what would become the 2020 Corvette. 

One Chance To Get C8 Corvette Right

“Computer models get us in the ballpark, but we have to build the hardware so we can learn,” Tadge Juechter, Corvette executive chief engineer told Popular Mechanics. “We knew we only had one chance to get this right.”

The use of a Holden front end is curious because among the defunct GM subsidiary’s product lineup was an El Camino-like sedan pickup called a “Ute” in Australia. From a distance, Blackjack has the proportions of a Ute, so the Holden front end was a means to obfuscate those who might lay eyes on the odd duck.

Whatever GM’s intentions for being discovered by unknowing observers, Blackjack’s purpose was not only to test but to keep those tests as secret as possible. Chevy engineers used Blackjack to develop and refine the mid-engine C8 Corvette layout. The basic platform and suspension were created and refined on Blackjack.

“If you talk to people at GM their memory of this car is that it’s the car nobody would let them see,” said Alex MacDonald, Corvette vehicle performance manager. Testing had to be so secret that there were spotters to alert test drivers to the presence of helicopters so that they could hurry back to hide in The Lair until the coast was clear.

C8 Corvette Testing

Having to start from nowhere, the engineers built this crude prototype starting with a Porsche PDK transmission. They built out the suspension pieces around the transaxle, but when it came time for creating the front and rear structure to hang all of this onto, they milled that from billet aluminum. What started as a 7,000-lb hunk of billet aluminum became a 400-lb vehicle structure.

The engineering team built a number of prototypes as they refined components and ideas. Feasibility of production was always a priority, but for the series of prototypes that were ultimately built all of the pieces had to work before producing them became a priority. 

12 C8 Corvette Prototypes Built

In all 12 prototypes were created. Early prototypes used C7 cabins to jumpstart testing. Eventually, production simulated parts were assembled into what would appear to be an actual C8 Corvette. Besides all of the components working properly, they also need to be able to be assembled on a production line, and be serviceable out on the mean streets. “You’re taking a pile of parts and turning them into a Corvette,” says Corvette lead development engineer Mike Petrucci.

Credit: Chevrolet

The testing continues right now since production won’t actually start until the end of this year. Engineers fine-tune what they’ve spent years defining and refining. At some point they’ll have to call it finished, but not yet.