Project Blackjack: GM’s top-secret redesign of its mid-engine Corvette was disguised in an Australian pickup truck

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The eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette started its life as a Frankenstein test vehicle that parts of the previous generation sports car and Australian-made pickup called the Holden Ute, codenamed internally as “Blackjack.” That included exterior features of the pickup.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

LAS VEGAS – General Motors took unprecedented steps in an attempt to hide the development of the redesigned mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette that arrives in dealerships as early as next week. 

Codenamed the “Blackjack” prototype, the eighth-generation Corvette started its life as a test vehicle with parts from earlier models and an Australian-made pickup called the Holden Ute — all to hide the fact that Chevy was developing its first mid-engine Corvette. 

“This is the first time we ever did anything like that,” said Mike Petrucci, lead Corvette development engineer, regarding using the exterior styling of the pickup to hide the engine design. “We were trying to not make it clear that we were working on a mid-engine car.”

Automakers commonly camouflage vehicles as their testing them ahead of their official debuts, but it’s typically with heavy black cladding and white and black paint to hide the appearance of the vehicle.

Discussions of a mid-engine Corvette had been around for decades and now that GM was actually going to make it a reality, the automaker wanted to hide the plans for as long as possible.

Automakers such as GM commonly camouflage vehicles as their testing them ahead of their official debuts with heavy black cladding and white and black paint to hide the appearance of the vehicle.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Petrucci, speaking at a media event ahead of the 2020 Corvette going on sale, said the roughly dozen engineers who worked on the initial prototype also conducted time drills to cover the prototype in the event of spy photographers in helicopters capturing photos of the vehicle.

GM also had a special “lair” to house Blackjack at its Michigan proving grounds and did a lot of testing with the vehicle at night. Blackjack, which also included custom-made parts, was initially built by hand in 2014.

“It’s a big piece of our history,” Petrucci said, adding Blackjack likely will be added to the automaker’s expansive historical vehicle collection at the GM Heritage Center in Michigan.

Blackjack was used for about two years, according to Petrucci. He said engineers logged thousands of miles in the vehicle before building more traditional prototypes that took on design characteristics of the actual vehicle, which GM started production of this month at a plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

GM, according to Petrucci, learned a lot about the driving dynamics of a mid-engine vehicle from Blackjack that carried over into the production vehicle.

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