Tadge Juechter didn't blink as the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray blitzed through a series of tight kinks on a California back road. One wild-eyed journalist after another was putting the coupe through its paces for the launch of the seventh-generation car, and Juechter was stuck in the right seat. No worries for the fifty-six-year-old engineer, for he had total trust in his machine. And make no mistake, the C7 is Juechter's machine. Only the fifth chief engineer in the Corvette's sixty-one-year history, he's likely to go down in the books as the one who got it right. For that he is Automobile Magazine's 2014 Man of the Year.
Corvette critics can be harsh, and those complaints are rarely unfounded. Some will contend that Chevy's engineers should not be applauded for simply fixing all the stuff that was wrong in previous versions. But Juechter's team did far more than finally bolt in decent seats: the C7 is a top-to-bottom reimagining of what the Corvette could and should be. The car is full of thoughtful engineering, from the seven-speed manual with rev matching that is engaged by using paddles to sensors that know when the tires are properly heated.
The Stingray is also a clear manifestation of what happens when a postbankruptcy General Motors gets out of its own way and allows an effective leader to oversee a dedicated team. "People probably think that everybody at GM rallies around the Corvette, but it's not like that," Juechter says. "The corporation is structured around mainstream vehicles, and the Corvette is idiosyncratic, which makes some people uncomfortable. Getting the right support is a constant negotiation." Juechter should know -- he's been with the company since 1977 and has worked almost exclusively with Corvettes for the last twenty years, starting under then-chief Dave Hill. "It helps having worked on the C5 and C6," he jokes, "because you know where a lot of the land mines are."
Born in Laredo, Texas, as part of an Air Force family who frequently moved, he earned degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering and an MBA at Stanford. Working for GM for two summers in college convinced him of one thing: he didn't want to work at GM. Today, he considers the term "GM lifer" a badge of honor.
Juechter certainly knew the importance of the C7's interior. "We put the interior designers on the track so they could understand what it's like to live in a 1-g environment, to have skin pushing on hard objects," he says. Distracting infotainment systems like Cadillac's Cue were also ixnayed.
Juechter is the most eloquent engineer we've ever met (and as an active runner, in the best shape, too), and he can be passionate about the Corvette in the way of a protective father. When former Automobile technical editor Don Sherman posited in our June 2010 issue that the C7 would have a "probable turbocharged V-6," Juechter took to a Corvette owners' gathering, angrily waving a copy of the magazine and saying, "Don't believe any of what you read -- most of it will be wrong."
The 2014 Stingray's accolades aside, his team's work is hardly over, as they're in the throes of creating more powerful iterations of the Corvette. However, we'll refrain from conjecture about the next Z06 -- or the Z07. We don't want to get yelled at again.
Tadge Juechter's masterpiece, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, is Automobile Magazine's 2014 Automobile of the Year. Click here to read the full story.