Dave McLellan was always known as a quite innovator. When he was offered the position of Chief Engineer for the Corvette division in 1975 because Zora Arkus-Duntov was retiring it would have been easy for him to say, “No thank you.”
In 1975 Chevy and their flagship Corvette were caught smack dab in the middle of increasing fuel and emissions regulations from the Government and decreasing horsepower in their engines. It seemed with each new model year in the seventies that some ponies were lost while some more restrictions were added. But this did not deter McLellan and he proudly took on the job and proved to help the Corvette leap huge hurdles along the way.
Though the first few years of McLellan’s leadership were tumultuous at best a little less than a decade later he seemed to hit on all cylinders with the super car. In 1984 the all new C4 Corvette came out and it redefined the way the world would once again see the Corvette. The new design was state of the art in almost every department including electronics, emissions control, weight savings, and of course in aerodynamics.
Following the path that was blazed by his successor and mentor Duntov, McLellan began to work hand in hand with many of the Corvette racers of the time. His work with the Corvette Racing program proved to be very effective; in fact almost too effective. After the Corvettes dominated the 1985, 1986, and 1987 SCCA endurance races winning all 19 in that time span, the SCCA abruptly dismissed the Vette from further SCCA action.
This however did not set back the soft spoken genius and McLellan then set out with Chevy’s own Frank Ellis and they developed a series in 1988 called the Corvette Challenge. This was not only the perfect place for McLellan to showcase the Corvette as a whole but it also gave him the perfect sounding board for his new project that he had coming up called the ZR1.
When the ZR1 hit the showrooms in 1990 there was a buzz like never before. The Super-Vette featured the first overhead cam engine used by Corvette and although the body styling was not that dissimilar to a regular Vette the ZR1 was a smashing success. Dubbed the “King of the Road” McLellan’s new baby had brought Corvette to the forefront of sports cars not only in America, but in the entire world.
In 1992 when the one millionth Corvette rolled of the assembly line McLellan was right there with a huge smile on his face. And smile he should have as he was responsible for taking a car that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and helped mold it into a mainstay that is still going strong today.
Before he retired he put his fingerprints all over the next generation of the Corvette in the C5 and saw the car go to full concept before it was debuted in 1997. In 1999 this quite legend was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame were he sits with other legends such as Duntov, Mitchell, and more. Though he may not have said a while lot of words, his work with the Corvette has then and still does speak volumes.