Rochester Hills man recognized for efforts to save Corvette from extinction

Russ McLean held many different positions in his career at General Motors, but none may be as historically significant as his time in the mid-1990s working on the Corvette team.

With GM in transition, the company had decided to shut down Corvette production to focus on other more popular models.

“They told me to let the car die,” McLean, of Rochester Hills, said. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Russ McLean, of Rochester Hills, looks at the engine of his 1958 Corvette Friday, Feb. 27. McLean was part of a group at General Motors which worked behind the scenes to keep the Corvette alive in the mid-1990s. Photo by Tim Thompson – Of The Oakland Press

McLean recognizes the decision to discontinue the iconic sports car was strictly business and intended to strengthen the company financially.

“They weren’t thinking about five years ahead, they were thinking about survival today,” he said.

Bob Bubnis, editor of America’s Sportscar, a publication of the National Corvette Museum, confirmed the company considered ending the Corvette on multiple occasions.

“The people up top were saying ‘let’s let it die,’ ” Bubnis said. “Lots of key people who loved Corvettes kept the program going.

McLean and others worked diligently in the shadows, risking careers and pensions, on what would later become the C5 model Corvette.

“We had to make sure whatever we did didn’t get too much attention,” McLean said, adding the group created new designs and concepts while working around cost cuts.

The group’s clandestine activity is documented in the 1998 book “All Corvettes Are Red.”

Once the plans did see the light of day, they were well received, and the company chose to go forward with the new model, McLean said. The car was released in 1997.

For his effort, McLean is being inducted into the Corvette Museum Hall of Fame in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“My job was to let the Corvette die, but together we did all we could do to improve the C4 and keep the C5 viable,” he told the museum. “I’m very happy to be representing all of those people in the Corvette Hall of Fame.”

McLean plans to loan personal relics to the museum when he is inducted on Labor Day weekend. He plans to share a 2008 feature story from a Corvette enthusiast magazine and different awards he earned during his career.

Built in 1998, the National Corvette Museum is a 115,000-square-foot showcase featuring more than 80 Corvettes on display.

The museum made headlines last year after a giant sinkhole swallowed several of the cherished cars. It has since been repaired and the museum marked the one-year anniversary of the incident earlier this month.

Russ McLean, of Rochester Hills, with his 1958 Corvette. McLean is being inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame in Kentucky later this year. Photo by Tim Thompson – Of The Oakland Press

McLean’s first Corvette, purchased in 1962, was a red 1960 model with a black top. He’s owned three of the model, and his current car is the rare 1958 RPO 684, which was built to be a racecar.

“I would have had more, but I got married in 1963,” he joked. “She enjoys (Corvettes), too, but probably not as much as me.”

McLean and wife, Linda, have twin daughters and have lived in Rochester Hills since 1992.

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick is also among the class of three inductees.

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Posted: 02/27/15, 9:12 AM EST