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Corvette Squeak & Rattle Exorcist

Corvette Squeak & Rattle Exorcist

When I met Walt Banacki back in January, I did not know the depth of his automotive experience.  Walt is a retired Chevrolet Engineer who was introduced to me by David Rhinehart, a fellow Camaro fan.  Over the course of the past five months, I have met with Walt a dozen times.  Each visit brings forward more history.  The latest crosses over to my early days at Chevrolet.

Related articles:  1977-Return Of The Camaro Z28; Chevrolet Engineer Still A Car Guy at 94; 1977 Chevrolet Caprice: Engineering The Quietest Car In The World

Walt spent the last twenty years of his 46 year GM career solving the acoustical noises in various Chevrolet vehicles.  His first big project was on the all-new 1977 Chevrolet Caprice.  With that project, he was challenged to turn the Caprice into the quietest car in the world.  Based on management feedback and accolades from the automotive press, he was quite successful.  

1984 Corvette Issues

As I was completing my first meeting with Walt, he mentioned: “remind me to tell you the story about the squeak and rattle assignment I got on the 1984 Corvette.”  Wait…what?

When I started at Chevrolet in late 1984, I was working in the Chevrolet Customer Assistance Center.  We received phone calls and letters from Chevrolet customers about everything from product questions to vehicle problems.  The new C4 Corvette had been on the market for about six months when I started on the phones.

Sadly, that first year for the new Corvette was rough.  Between the awful 700R4 automatic transmission and the body squeaks and rattles, these owners were upset.  Rightfully so, many of them paid a premium to buy those first cars.  Moderately equipped Corvettes had window sticker prices around $25,000, but dealers were selling at $10,000 above that price.

In fairness, the 1984 Corvette was an awesome handling car.  Engineers spent a lot of time at the Milford Proving Ground test track dialing in the handling.  Unfortunately, roads in the real world were not as smooth, so the tight, heavily sprung car was brutal.  That suspension set-up with poor build quality made the car prone to squeaks and rattles.  

To Chevrolet’s credit, they jumped on the problem to provide those customers with some relief.

Squeak And Rattle Exorcist

The Corvette Chief Engineer, Dave McLellan, assigned the body noise problem to Walt Banacki.  His quiet touch made to the Caprice was about to be applied to the Corvette. 

Walt identified and was able to get 231 changes implemented into the 1985 model year cars.  The first page of six found in the 1985 Corvette Squeak & Rattle Report can be found below, with the full report found HERE.

first page of a 6 page report listing the squeak and rattle repairs

Was his work effective?  Rich Ceppos from Car & Driver magazine had this to say in the December 1984 magazine:

“Recognizing that early 1984 Corvettes were rattletraps, the development group put Walt Banacki on the case full time to eliminate them. Banacki is the squeak-and-rattle exorcist who tamed the first downsized GM full-size cars.  By the time he was done with the 1985 Corvette, 200 small structural changes had been proposed to cure everything from fender flutter to dash chirp.”

“Corvette Quiet” Field Manual

Getting those changes made to cars in production was important, but over 51,000 1984 Corvettes were in the hands of picky customers.  Half of those cars had the Z51 Performance Handling Package, which proved even more harsh and rattle prone than the standard cars.  Many of those customers were looking for repairs and/or repurchase of their cars.

Considering the price premium these customers paid for the first C4 Corvettes, repurchase by Chevrolet was not desirable.

Any time I answered a call from a Corvette customer, I was braced for abuse.  I empathized with them and wanted to help them get their cars right.  In early 1985 I attended a meeting with a Corvette engineer.  He wanted to assure us that field fixes were available, and that we could confidently arrange repairs for these owners.

That engineer brought a thick notebook to the meeting, fanning through the 104 pages of noise corrections.  Thankfully, Chevrolet Dealers were given the information needed to take care of our customers, and most of them worked hard to make our customers happy.

Corvette Quiet Repair Manual cover

Worlds Collide

When I met with Walt last week, he pulled out the “Corvette Quiet” manual.  It was incredible to see this book again 40 years later!  Looking back, I think it was Walt who attended that meeting, but can’t be certain.  Once thing is certain, that engineer was pretty proud of the fixes that were assembled for the dealers. 

Two sample pages from the manual are shown below:

drawing of repair procedure

drawing of repair process, page 35

I think it was pretty cool that I was able to enjoy the fruits of Walt’s great work, even though I did not know it was Walt at the time. I suppose that made the conversation last week that much more fun.  

Still Wanted After Retirement

After completing the Corvette rattle assignment, Walt went on to work with the other GM divisions on common squeak and rattle processes.  Right after he retired in 1994, he was contacted by an engineer from GM-Holden, an Australian subsidiary of General Motors.  

Walt mentored the Holden engineer years prior, and the Holden team needed his help.  They paid to have Walt and his family come to Australia for three weeks to teach the engineers on squeak and rattle corrections.  Not too shabby for retirement work!

Final Thoughts & Questions

These past five months visiting Walt have been a dream for me.  Hearing about his various assignments has been fun, since I recognized a number of the people he mentioned.  This 1984 Corvette assignment hit very close to home, as this was one of my big customer challenges when joining Chevrolet in 1984.

It’s pretty rare to get a history lesson from someone who lived that history 40-50 years ago.  I am a lucky guy getting to learn this from Walt. He not only has a great memory of these events, he kept the files.  I hope you enjoy these stories as well.  Please let me know if you have any added thoughts or questions. 

You can reach me via email (wct.billtaylor@gmail.com) or in the comments below.

Want to learn more about me?  Check out Who’s Your Nanny?

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