Tadge Juechter: The Modern Age’s Zora Arkus-Duntov
Juechter helped lead Corvette out of the darkness before being named to the top job in 2006.
Soft-spoken might cringe at the comparison, but it seems proper to consider him godfather of the modern Chevrolet Corvette, much as Zora Arkus-Duntov was the engineer responsible for the '57 Corvette SS, the five mid-engine concepts that came as a result of the SS's 12 Hours of Sebring failure, and of the 1963-67 C2 Corvette.
Like Arkus-Duntov, who became Corvette's chief engineer in 1967, Juechter helped lead Corvette out of the darkness before being named to the top job in 2006. Juechter joined General Motors in 1977 and has been part of "Corvette Academy" since 1993. He served as total vehicle engineer on the C5, which launched in the 1997 model year, and was instrumental in developing the C5 Z06. Juechter became Corvette's assistant chief engineer in 1999, a position he held through the C6's development and launch.
While Duntov could claim responsibility for those mid-engine concepts and the C2 and C3 Corvettes, Juechter is responsible for helping hone the front-engine Corvette to its best-ever balance of straight-line performance and tight handling characteristics, through the C5, C6, and C7, before giving in to realizing Duntov's dream of moving the engine behind the seats.
Juechter smirks when asked whether Bob Lutz, who first rejoined GM in 2001, was the driving force behind the production mid-engine Corvette, though he doesn't give up more details on the decision process. Given the timing discussed below, we'd guess this car was the result of brainstorming from engineers and executives like Dave Hill, then Corvette's chief engineer, his assistant Juechter, and maybe current GM president Mark Reuss.
Here is an inside look at Tadge Juechter's thought process in leading the 2020 C8 Chevrolet Corvette's design and engineering, based on outtakes from a one-on-one discussion with the author at a presentation of the new car.
TJ: It's about 15 years ago when we started talking seriously about doing a mid-engine car. And the question was always, we built this body of knowledge on doing excellent front-engine cars and it has some really good strengths. Fifty-fifty weight distribution. Very benign handling on the track. Its value proposition was great. People are still shocked to this day about the size of the trunk …
So, there's a lot of bandwidth in the car. It's a really good daily driver. It's a really good long-distance tourer. It's also a good track weapon. We've got that bandwidth that we've engineered into the car. You guys know about the performance and value. The V-8 sound quality. The whole aspect of it. And our equity built up over the longest running car nameplate in the world, 66 years.
AM: Then why move the engine back?
TJ: We had gotten some feedback from people who are into sports cars but wouldn't consider a Corvette. They'd say, 'You guys haven't changed it in 40 years. Every time I pull up behind one, I see four round taillights, the big rubber back-end, and you guys never changed it.' And so we argue back and say, 'What about a Porsche 911? It hasn't changed at all.' They're, 'Well, that's a classic. They don't need to change it. You do.'
AM: Conversely, we always think of Porsche as unwilling to give up the inferior rear-engine characteristics of the 911, and some of us prefer the mid-engine Cayman for its superior polar moment of inertia. But Porsche won't give the Cayman the engine performance advantage, because the 911 is its icon.
TJ: We're going right smack with all the Cayman attributes, and that was a benchmark car from packaging efficiency and everything. The directness. The way the car handles. The responsiveness, except for we're going to be up at 911 performance levels and beyond. So that's the formula a little bit in a nutshell.
[Zora] was passionate about this. He built his own purpose-built cars. He tried to get General Motors to move, and the bottom line was, [early '70s chairman and CEO Richard] Gerstenberg said, 'We build Corvettes. The numbers are [up to] 40,000 per year. Why do you insist that we abandon this successful design and forge ahead on a new design?' Well, that could be said of today. … So basically, we're doing what Zora wanted to do in the 1960s.
AM: Why give up the manual transmission option?
TJ: The transmission is from Tremec [which has supplied most all of GM's manual gearboxes in recent years] … who had recently bought a company called Hoerbiger [a Belgian company specializing in sports car DCTs] who did all the hardest parts of a DCT, the control system for Getrag and others. Tremec purchased that company and integrated them in so they could do the DCT business. [Tremec is supplying the new Corvette a bespoke eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.] The manual transmission business obviously has not got a bright future.
AM: We're sorry to hear that, but yes, we know.
TJ: I am, too. I've never bought anything but a manual transmission.