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How Ducati influenced the 2020 Corvette's design

Roadshow logo Roadshow 11/12/2019 Chris Paukert

a red car driving on a road: The new Corvette's mid-engined layout forced GM design to take the LT2 V8's appearance more seriously. Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The new Corvette's mid-engined layout forced GM design to take the LT2 V8's appearance more seriously. Nick Miotke/Roadshow
© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

Despite giving often scintillating performance, modern engines tend to be visually unremarkable lumps. Pop the hood on nearly any new car, and you'll be greeted by little more than a plastic shroud and a seemingly random nest of wires and hoses. The more you spend, the more automakers tend to dress up their engines, but most still look anonymous. By shifting the 2020 Chevy Corvette Stingray to a mid-engined architecture, General Motors knew it had to take more time and effort to spruce up the aesthetics of the C8's all-new small-block V8. After all, the LT2 wouldn't be hidden up front beneath a clamshell hood, it'd be on ready display in the rear window, as well as on view every time someone opened the rear trunk. 

That's where Tom Peters and his team comes in. GM's soft-spoken exterior design director was passionate about making the 490-plus horsepower V8 look like a jewel, with the surrounding Corvette itself being the setting. According to Jordan Lee, GM's chief engineer of small-block engines, when Peters summoned the LT2 engine engineers to his studio, the design team's workspace was littered with images of exotic cars' engine bays, and they had even wheeled Ducati motorcycles into the studio in the quest for inspiration.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a road: A Ducati 959 Panigale was among the C8 design team's inspirations. Ducati© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. A Ducati 959 Panigale was among the C8 design team's inspirations. Ducati

"Engine beautification and under-hood beautification became a priority on this vehicle because it is unique," said Paul Arnone, senior creative designer, in a telephone interview with Roadshow. "It's our first big, mid-engined Corvette coming out, and it was very important to General Motors. We just wanted every part of this vehicle to look designed." 

"We wanted to approach this from the aspect where we weren't covering our sins by putting a big, honking plastic cover over our engine, we wanted to scale back on the plastic and show more of the engine," said Guy Samuels, creative designer. "Our leadership referred to it [the LT2] as an 'honest design' so from a benchmark standpoint, we used Ducati motorcycles. Motorcycles are as honest as you can possibly get when you talk about mechanicals." A pair of Ducati Panigale models -- an 899 and a 959 -- were brought into the studio at different points in the design process.

a red car going down the road: The new Corvette's mid-engined layout forced GM design to take the LT2 V8's appearance more seriously.© Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The new Corvette's mid-engined layout forced GM design to take the LT2 V8's appearance more seriously.

GM designers not only benchmarked Ducati motorcycles, they had photos of Bugatti engines on hand, and they looked closely at Ferrari engine bays, too. "[We] looked at their under-hood componentry, their bolts, their paint, how they executed certain finishes on plastic," said Kirk Bennion, lead exterior designer. "We wanted to replicate that, or even do it better, because Ferrari has a high standard, and if we could at least achieve that level of quality in our fit and finish under-hood-wise, that would just elevate this product so much more." 

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The C8 design team didn't just look beyond GM products for inspiration, they turned inward, too. A photographer was dispatched to Corvette racing partner Pratt and Miller to take copious photos of the forthcoming C8 R race car's engine bay. Bennion and his team scoped out the effects of heat, time and weather on the different under-hood materials employed in the race car, noting the different shades of titanium and so on. "We wanted to make sure that when they [the materials] weather, when they patina, that it'll look as good as it did rolling off [the production line], just have a little different flavor to it," said Samuels.

There were struggles along the way. According to Paul Arnone, senior creative designer, there was "fighting [with] both platform and powertrain [teams] on routing of harnesses and other plumbing," with design's goal of tucking such items out of sight and under cross braces, all in an effort to avoid "arbitrary routings just going over a nicely designed under-hood property." Additionally, Peters' team had to push for nice-looking exhaust shields for the headers. Bennion remarked that early parts came in and looked like they were "hammer-formed over a tree stump," so the team took extra time and effort in order to get a less wrinkly appearance with smooth surface transitions. 

a close up of an engine: The Corvette's 6.2-liter LT2 small-block pumps out 490-plus hp, and it looks pretty good doing it, too. Chevrolet© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. The Corvette's 6.2-liter LT2 small-block pumps out 490-plus hp, and it looks pretty good doing it, too. Chevrolet

A big part of winning the overall battle for an attractive-looking engine was early access to the Corvette powertrain team so that they could get the tooling specified properly. "It's kind of a trend now, and it'll just help us develop better products for our customers," said Bennion.

There's even an optional Engine Appearance Package on 2020 Corvette Stingray order sheets, including carbon fiber louvers above the exhaust manifolds, along with a pair of LED light bars to illuminate the power plant -- an idea not dissimilar to what Audi pioneered with the first R8.

C8 'Vette models come standard with Edge Red rocker covers that feature the model's iconic crossed-flags emblem. GM designers call this color "Venthan Red" internally in honor of Ezhilventhan Sivanesan, the calibration engineer who came up with the color. The main engine cover is charcoal black, but optionally available finished in red or titanium silver. While the designers wouldn't confirm specifics, they did hint that future C8 Corvette variants will likely get unique engine colors and finishes, too. 

a red car: Reuss' "Tonawanda Pride" badge was a late addition. Chevrolet© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Reuss' "Tonawanda Pride" badge was a late addition. Chevrolet

Despite all of their careful planning, there was still one last-minute change that was impressed upon the design team by GM's upper management: A retro-style Tonawanda badge was added as the result of an 11th-hour request from none other than GM President Mark Reuss. Tonawanda, New York is the home of the C8's small-block LT2 engine production, and Reuss is not only a GM exec, he's a bit of a marque historian who also owns a number of classic GM cars himself. Reuss thought it only right that the new V8 should wear a cam cover badge similar to the "pride" plates that 1960s V8s used to come with.  

If you haven't already placed an order for a mid-engine 2020 Chevy Corvette of your own, you're going to be waiting a while. On Oct. 2, during the Corvette Stingray Convertible's reveal event, GM confirmed it already had 37,000 preorders for the new C8 coupe, and thanks to production delays related to a protracted UAW strike, production is months behind schedule. The latest timelines call for C8 production to commence sometime in February, when production was originally supposed to start this year. 

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