The Frankenstein “Holden” test mule that birthed Chevy’s C8 Corvette

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corvette blackjack mule front GM

Now that the 2020 Corvette Stingray has emerged for the enjoyment of reviewers, testers, and cash customers, Chevrolet is giving its deepest, darkest closet a clean sweep. One sideshow at the Spring Mountain Raceway Motorsports Park launch site near Pahrump, Nevada, and not far from the alien focal point Area 51, was an intrepid C8 prototype code-named Blackjack.

Ace spy photographer and pilot Chris Doane nabbed this quarry five years ago, though we didn’t know its code name at the time. Like most rough experimental vehicles, the Blackjack was a hodgepodge of spare parts stitched together to study ride, handling, cooling, and packaging issues that surface when the engine is relocated several feet to the rear. The truly essential accessory was a large tarp suitable for hiding the Blackjack from prying eyes as the beat of helicopter blades closed in. Several mockups were also built for testing at GM’s Milford, Michigan, proving grounds.

The rear half of the Blackjack’s bodywork was pirated from Holden’s Commodore-based Ute, which was Down Under’s version of a Chevy El Camino. The Ute’s front sheetmetal survived largely intact with a C7 passenger cabin behind it. Holden badgework remained as a lame attempt to fool the unsuspecting. Most of the chassis consisted of milled aluminum castings and extrusions to provide suitable structural simulation. Like the C8, there’s coil-sprung suspension at each corner.

corvette blackjack mule rear wing
GM
corvette blackjack mule front three-quarter
GM

corvette blackjack mule front three-quarter
GM

A Chevrolet small-block V-8 engine was bolted directly to a ZF manual transaxle. The wooden vertical members supporting the rear wing were hollow to route cooling air to the mid-mounted powertrain. The flat orientation of that aero add-on suggests there was no need to increase rear wheel loading at speed.

By leaving the Holden badging in place, GM intended to suggest the Blackjack was undergoing testing for foreign markets. However, the week of February 17, 2020, GM announced it was dropping its Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand and pulling out of Thailand. (GM stopped making cars in Australia as of 2017.) According to AutoNews, the Holden brand will continue into 2021 so it’s likely that some right-hand-drive Corvettes, among those manufactured at Bowling Green for British and other across-the-pond markets, will be delivered to Australia. AutoNews also suggests that niche sales could continue without the Holden dealer structure. GM won’t deliver to Japan for another year.

We’re happy GM wants to spread the Corvette brand across the globe so that the C8 enjoys a long, fruitful life and a C9 successor with even better performance. The C8 as we know it wouldn’t be here without Blackjack.

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