Remember the beefed-up Commodore Ute from a few years ago? It was a C8 mule

The 2020 Chevrolet C8 Corvette is still generating a lot of hype as more details about its performance and availability continue to surface. But GM just unveiled a very unexpected fact: the mid-engined sports car started life as a Holden Ute. Sounds unbelievable, right? Well, GM didn’t have a choice. Here’s why.

The Perfect Development Mule

Did you know that the Chevy C8 Corvette started life as a Holden Ute?
- image 850615
GM turned to Holden and converted a Commodore-based Ute model

When creating new-generation models, automakers usually use the outgoing model as a test bed. They drop new engines under the hood, stuff new technology into the cabin, and make adjustments to the body. Of course, mules are usually camouflaged to mask the modifications made to the exterior.

So why didn’t GM use the C7 Corvette to develop the C8? Well, the switch from a front- to mid-engined configuration made things complicated. Far too complicated and expensive to modify a C7 to accept a mid-mounted engine.

“Before, we could disguise development work by tweaking a current car. You can’t do that with mid-engine proportions, so we decided to make it look like a ute,” Tadge Juechter, executive chief engineer for the Corvette program, told Popular Mechanics.

Did you know that the Chevy C8 Corvette started life as a Holden Ute?
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At the rear, Chevy added a big wing and a new bumper with a race-inspired diffuser

So GM turned to Holden and converted a Commodore-based Ute model. The reason behind this is simple: the Ute’s bed had enough room for the 6.2-liter V-8 engine. Of course, GM made extensive modifications to the rear section. The bed became taller and Chevy also designed a special cover for the engine. It also grafted the cabin from the C7 Corvette, most likely in an attempt to simulate the top of a proper mid-engined car.

If you don’t remember the mule from when it was first spotted during tests that took place five years ago, then know that it also featured significantly wider fenders and wider wheels for a footprint closer to the final design of the C8 Corvette. At the rear, Chevy added a big wing and a new bumper with a race-inspired diffuser. This led various outlets to believe that Holden was working on a beefed-up Ute, a final edition before the Commodore went into the history books. However, some made the correct assumption that GM was testing a mid-engined sports car, most likely a successor to the C7 Corvette.

A puzzle made from various parts

Did you know that the Chevy C8 Corvette started life as a Holden Ute?
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The engine was probably a very early version of the new 6.2-liter V-8 found in the C8 Corvette

Called Blackjack by the development team, the mid-engined Holden Ute was created in the U.S. The car was put together at a secret garage called The Lair at GM’s vehicle facility at Warren in Michigan from various parts, either hand-made or sourced from other cars.

While the front fascia was a familiar sight and looked a lot like the previous-generation Commodore, the Ute’s bed was heavily modified, while the roof came from the C7 Corvette. The interior was fully custom and looked more like a race car rather than a Corvette. It had nothing in common with the C8 Corvette since its design was far from completed in 2014, when the C7 was basically brand-new.

Did you know that the Chevy C8 Corvette started life as a Holden Ute?
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Put together in 2013, Blackjack was used for research and development until 2016

The engine was probably a very early version of the new 6.2-liter V-8 found in the C8 Corvette. The transmission, however, was something else. Chevy hadn’t yet develop the dual-clutch in the C8 Corvette and it opted to use a PDK from a Porsche. Also a dual-clutch unit, the PDK was probably the closest thing to what Chevy wanted in the C8. This is actually proof that GM wanted the best for the eight-generation Corvette, as the PDK is largely regarded as one of the best and quickest shifting transmission on the market.

Put together in 2013, Blackjack was used for research and development until 2016. That’s when Chevrolet found a way to switch to prototypes based on the C7 Corvette. A year later we started seeing early C8 Corvette prototypes.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray drivetrain specifications
Type: LT2 6.2L V8 VVT with direct injection and Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation)
Bore & stroke (in / mm): 4.06 x 3.62 / 103.25 x 92
Block Material: A319-T7 cast aluminum with cast-in iron cylinder liners and nodular main bearing caps
Oiling System: Dry sump-type (7.5-qt. capacity); includes oil-spray piston cooling
Oil Type: Dexos 2 0W40 synthetic
Cylinder Head Material: 319-T7 cast aluminum
Combustion Chamber volume: 59cc
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Valvetrain: Overhead valve, two valves per cylinder; dual-equal variable valve timing.
Valve Size (in / mm): 2.13 / 54 hollow (intake) & 1.59 / 40.4 sodium filled (exhaust)
Fuel Delivery: Direct injection with Active Fuel Management: Max pressure: 2,175 psi (15 Mpa / 150 bar)
Firing Order: 1-8-7-2-6-5-4-3 (all cylinders); 1-7-6-4 (with deactivation)
Throttle body: 87mm single bore (electronic)
ECU: GM E99 (32-bit processing)
Horsepower (hp / kW @ rpm): SAE-certified to 495 / 369 @ 6450 rpm (with performance exhaust)
Torque (lb.-ft./ Nm @ rpm): SAE-certified to 470 / 637 @ 5150 rpm (with performance exhaust)

The Commodore is dead, long live the Corvette

2016 Holden Commodore VFII High Resolution Exterior
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The Blackjack prototype sparks somewhat of a romantic drama for the history books. Although the Commodore name lives on, the fifth-generation model is just a rebadged Opel Insignia. Production of the unique, Australian-made Commodore ended in 2017, when Holden put an end to all of its Australian production facilities. The Blackjack was part of that generation. This means that the final-generation Commodore helped develop the new-generation Corvette. One nameplate was sacrificed for the other. Australia’s price for its sacrifice is the C8 Corvette itself, which will be offered Down Under in 2020.

Further reading

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