The title of Chief Corvette Engineer is not to be taken lightly. After all, this title has historically been reserved for some of the most renowned automotive engineers that the industry has ever seen. When one considers that this title was originally held by Corvette luminary Zora Arkus-Duntov, it is quite easy to see how high this bar has been set.
David Hill was only the third individual to hold the title of Corvette Chief Engineer, preceded only by Zora Arkus-Duntov and Dave McLellan. During his 13-plus year tenure as Chief, Hill oversaw the Corvette’s coming of age, as the iconic American sports car reached new heights in power, performance, and sophistication.
From Cadillacs to Corvettes
David Hill’s career as an engineer began in 1965, after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Technological University. It was at this time that Hill was hired by Cadillac, for work in the manufacturer’s engine lab. Once there, he was quickly appointed to the role of Senior Project Engineer, which he held until 1973.
In 1973, Hill became a staff project engineer for Cadillac’s engine design and release sector, a role he held until being promoted to General Supervisor of the Cadillac body and chassis lab in 1976. Then, in 1978, Hill took on the role of Staff Engineer for Cadillac development, a role which he held for three years.
By 1982, Hill again found himself in a new role, this time as Cadillac staff engineer for emissions and transmissions. However, within only a few months, Hill was promoted to Chief Engineer for the Cadillac Allante. This position would later expand in scope, finding him as Chief Engineer for the Cadillac DeVille and Concours in 1988. Then, in 1992, Hill was named Engineering Program Manager for Cadillac.
As Hill successfully climbed the ladder at Cadillac, Dave McLellan was preparing for retirement from his role as Chief Corvette Engineer. Top-brass at General Motors knew that this position would need to be filled in short order, and David Hill was deemed to be the man for the job.
Taking The Corvette To Extremes
Upon McLellan’s retirement, efforts toward the design and development of a next-generation Corvette had amounted to little more than a few simple sketched renderings. While David Hill knew that time was of the essence when preparing for the Corvette’s next iteration, he also realized that he must meanwhile keep the C4 relevant. In order to do so, numerous special edition C4s were released throughout the generation’s final years, such as the 1995 Pace Car Replica and 1996 Grand Sport.
When the C5 Corvette was finally released in 1997, it was unlike any Corvette prior. The C5 featured a hydroformed frame, refined suspension, and an all-new LS1 powerplant. The fifth-generation Corvette had also been engineered in a manner that drastically reduced the number of individual parts used in its production, thereby bolstering manufacturing efficiency.
For all intents and purposes, Hill’s new C5 Corvette was a smash hit with consumers, and proved to be just what GM had been looking for to drive sales. “The C5 upgraded all the things Corvettes were good at and fixed all the things they were lousy at,” said Hill
Hill’s next milestone moment came with the release of the C5 Z06, which was capable of dishing out the significant power for which many performance enthusiasts had been clamoring. This was a development that had taken root in Hill’s close collaborative efforts with Corvette Racing. Upon its release in 2001, the Z06 produced an impressive 385 HP and 385 lb-ft of torque.
As time passed, and the C5 Corvette was continually improved upon from year to year, Hill began to dream of what the Corvette’s sixth-generation could become. As planning for the C6 Corvette commenced, Hill began to work through a list of 100 areas of potential improvement that he and his team had unearthed during C5 development, known as “dissatisfiers.” Hill became fixated on producing the perfect Corvette, and saw rectifying of each of these dissatisfiers as a way to do so.
Hill brought in members of the Corvette Race Team to assist in C6 design efforts, most notably in the area of aerodynamics. This resulted in the C6 taking on a sleeker, more refined appearance, which also significantly bolstered its performance attributes. Fitted with an LS2 powerplant, the base C6 Corvette was capable of rendering equivalent performance to the prior generation’s Z06 offering.
Regarding the C6’s design, Hill said, “We had really stretched to upgrade the C5 each year. We wanted to stretch again and annihilate the compromises we had been living with. We went at the new one with the idea of ‘more exciting’ but with a surprising amount of refinement that people wouldn’t believe possible at Corvette’s performance level. We wanted once again to exceed expectations, even if not in a clean-sheet way. But we knew customer expectations would be really high, and we set out to beat ‘em all.”
Much like the C5, the Corvette C6 proved to be an instant classic, captivating the minds of performance buffs and Corvette enthusiasts the world over.
An Unrelenting Pursuit of Perfection
In 2006, David Hill retired from GM, relinquishing his role as Corvette Chief Engineer in the process. In a true testament to his impact on the Corvette line, Hill was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame, within months of his retirement. This was an accolade that had been rightly earned, as Hill had served as the driving force behind the Corvette’s march toward unparalleled performance, and next level sophistication.
David Hill will always be remembered as the man that made the corvette back into a real performance car again, instead of the 165HP 350 in the 1975 base model corvette