LAS VEGAS -- Evading helicopter surveillance and channeling the spirit of the "godfather of the Corvette" were business as usual for GM engineers developing the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, code-named C8 because it's the eighth-generation of the sports car.
The first mid-engined production car in Corvette history, the new Stingray had near-mythic status before it ever turned a wheel, and has won nearly every major new car award since it debuted in 2019. The first production models will arrive at dealers in late February or early March.
Chevrolet engineers and designers wanted to make a mid-engine 'Vette since at least 1960, when legendary engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov led creation of Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle No. 1, or CERV I. Zora, a brilliant engineer and racing driver who transformed the 1950s Corvette from a car that was lovely but slow into America's great sports car, wanted to move the engine from the nose to behind the passenger compartment. Called mid-engined, that arrangement lets cars use more power than the traditional front-engine layout because the engine's weight over the rear wheels keeps the tires from spinning when the driver floors it.
"We could add horsepower, but we weren't making the car faster," chief engineer Ed Piatek said of front-engine Corvettes.
Through the decades, GM engineers and designers created one proposal after another for mid-engine 'Vettes. None made it to production.
After a saga like that, it's no surprise the 2020 Corvette Stingray generated stories of its own.
'Nothing to see here. I'm just an Australian pickup.'
Plans to build a mid-engine Corvette were closely held even within GM. Around 2014, the team built a card-access only room inside an already-secure corner of GM's tech center for the first prototype. Code name Blackjack, the two-seater hid the C8's chassis and suspension under what appeared to be the body of the Holden Ute, a sporty car-based pickup made by GM's Australian brand.
"It was a convenient shape to hide a mid-engine layout," C8 lead development engineer Mike Petrucci said.
The only actual Holden parts on Blackjack are the brand's chrome badge, headlights, outside mirrors and taillights, but the ruse worked. The one-of-a-kind "mule," as development vehicles are sometimes called, served for two years of development drives -- frequently at night, so not even other GM engineers would see it -- at GM's proving grounds in Milford and Yuma, Arizona.