Killed the Corvette? He Said NO! The Russ McLean Story

Believe it or not folks, there was once the possibility of no more Corvettes. According to Hemmings Daily, “A management change brought with it a new order from GM’s board of directors: Stop development on the Corvette and let it sunset.”

As consumers, enthusiasts, and drivers all we can say to that board of directors is “Boooo!” Luckily, there was someone with a broader vision to speak not only for all of us but for the future of Corvette.

His name is Russ McLean, and this year he was rightfully inducted into the National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame.

As the Corvette Program Manager in the 1990s, McLean took a stand and decided not to follow orders when he was told to let the Corvette die. Regretfully, Corvette was losing money at a rate of $1,000 per car. The video tells the story of McLean’s efforts to keep the “Thrill of the Ride” alive and take it to new heights.

According to GM Authority and no news to us, the Corvette C4 generation was a dark time for the vehicle. It was an unprofitable venture for General Motors despite the ZR1 trim. McLean took a stand to the executives who wanted to kill the Corvette after the C4. He understood the history behind Corvette and simply would not and did not allow it to happen.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.44.12 AMAt a time when GM was suffering from financial difficulties and continuous reorganization, McLean decided to isolate the Corvette team.

He established a stable organizational structure independent from GM’s unreliable structure.

In doing so, he was able to make the necessary changes to improve the Corvette’s quality and reduce overall costs. McLean led Corvette to make a profit within his first year running the program.

Once the fourth generation Corvette was stable, McLean focused on developing the C5, which at the time, GM had already approved.

McLean stated, “As a manager, I believe in doing the right things rather than doing things right. The Corvette was always the innovation leader for General Motors and the world, and that innovation flowed into so many other cars. So, when somebody told me to let that icon die, I just couldn’t let that happen – it was not the right thing to do.”

From then on, McLean worked almost “incognito.” He kept the Corvette platform team running in silence, not asking permission for anything they did and avoiding contact and communication with his boss and GM management, Hemmings Daily added.

After rounding up funds from wherever possible, McLean and his team built a test vehicle and invited executives to drive it. The car was not only deemed worthy of production, but the new Corvette C5 would go on to become Motor Trend’s 1998 Car of the Year, according to GM Authority.

McLean’s triumph did not come without repercussions. In his evaluations, it was stated that he was not a team player and did not follow directions. “Yes, I lost out on promotions after that,” Mc Lean added. He left the Corvette team in 1996 and GM entirely in 2001.

It is only appropriate that Russ McLean is officially inducted into the National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame. According to GM Authority, the Corvette C5 was even more important than some may think. The C5 platform set the blueprints for the C6 and the 2015 C7 Sting Ray that was to follow in the coming decade.

There is no question that America’s favorite sports car still exists because of the tenacity of a man who would not give up on a great concept and a great car. We will reserve our thoughts to the GM’s management team of the time, and will close by simply saying “Thank You Mr. McLean and Godspeed!”Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.43.47 AM

About the author

Luz Boyer

Luz was born in Panama City, Panama. Upon arriving in the U.S., she discovered a passion for cars and pursued a career as an Automotive Technician. She was a GM technician for eight years before she started teaching automotive technology, is a Bureau of Auto Repair Certified Smog Instructor, and a true Corvette enthusiast.
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