Zora Arkus-Duntov retired as Corvette chief engineer in
1975, David R. McLellan was offered the job. He'd have
been excused had he said "Thanks, but no thanks." Zora's
elegant imprint was on every Corvette since 1955. Dave
worked with the master. He knew Duntov would be a tough
act to follow. He also knew GM's enormous effort in the
70s to meet ever more stringent emissions, safety and
fuel economy bogies could bring the Corvette to its knees.
Almost 25 years later, the Corvette's world-class stature
speaks volumes about the vision and quiet leadership Dave
brought to a perilous program in the mid-70s.
in Munising, Michigan, and a graduate of Wayne State University,
he started at GM July 1, 1959. He was assigned to the
Milford Proving Grounds.
1975, he succeeded Duntov as only the second chief engineer
in Corvette history. He inherited a beast of a car --
overweight, throttled by emissions hardware -- which would
get worse before it got better. For awhile in the late
'70s and early '80s, Corvette performance was an oxymoron.
But Dave's low-key, laid-back style hid an intense bull-dog
determination to find within the maze of regulation a
path to greater glory for the Corvette. He outdid himself. The
all-new 1984 car was state-of-the art in aerodynamics,
emissions control, weight savings, electronics. Almost
a decade after assuming the mantel, Dave had the Corvette
headed back to the heights.
a page out of Zora's book, he began helping Corvette road
racers fashion winning programs. To him, the race track
was an extension of the proving grounds. With lieutenants
like Doug Robinson, John Heinricy, Jim Minneker and Scott
Allmon on the front lines, Dave directed a Corvette endurance
racing juggernaut so powerful that it was finally dismissed
from SCCA competition. In the hands of racing legends
like Kim Baker, Tommy Morrison, Dick Guldstrand, Doug
Rippie and John Powell, Corvettes won 19 of 19 SCCA endurance
races in '85, '86 and '87.
to be deterred, Dave and Chevy's Frank Ellis worked with
Powell to launch the million-dollar Corvette Challenge
series in '88. A fabulous showcase for Corvette's performance,
it was also a convenient venue for final development work
on McLellan's most prized baby -- the ZR-1.
Corvette's first overhead cam engine and bodywork so subtly
altered it could easily be confused with the standard
Vette, the ZR-1 was introduced to the world automotive
press at the 1989 Geneva Auto Show. It was a stunning
debut. Almost 15 years after McLellan took over an orphan
car line seemingly unsuited for the modern world, the
Corvette was universally acknowledged once again as King
of the Hill.
July 2,1992, a smiling McLellan stood by as the one-millionth
Corvette was driven off the Bowling Green assembly line.
For the quiet kid from Detroit, it was a magnificent moment.
Thanks to Dave, the plastic-bodied two-seater born in
secret almost 40 years earlier had endured to excite and
enthuse still more generations.
also to Dave, the next generation Corvette (what has become
known as the C5) had passed concept initiation before
his retirement, on its way to eventual start-up as a 1997
model. In many ways, the C5 was deja vu for McLellan.
If external forces almost derailed the Corvette in the
'70s, internal forces made development of the C5 a tumultuous
exercise. Awash in red ink, GM second-guessed itself routinely
in the late '80s. As always, the Corvette was a prime
cost containment target. The C5 program would emerge as
the best Vette yet.
as an advocate for pushing the envelope, Dave McLellan
wanted to make the Corvette the best possible statement
for American technology. Beyond the shadow of doubt, he
accomplished such. And one of the major reasons: Dave
McLellan. Innovator, educator, Corvette legend, the quiet