After what was without a doubt the longest, most tortuous buildup for a new-generation Corvette ever, Chevrolet finally unleashed the ’14 C7 in Detroit on January 13, 2013. Following an extensive introduction from Tadge Juechter, Tom Peters, and Ed Welburn, a red C7 came up and over a ramp, almost appearing to leap onto the stage. It turned out that the spy photos and computer generated illustrations were close, but not quite on the mark. No, what we saw in Detroit was better. The same thing happened when the C6 arrived, though in that case we hadn’t been on the torture rack for months on end.
This was the fifth new-generation Corvette arrival I’d seen, and it’s never easy. The ’68 C3 wasn’t “Mako Shark” enough for many. The ’84 C4 seemed too rectilinear and slab-sided. The ’97 C5 was called “too round” by some. The ’05 C6 seemed like a crisped-up C5 and was deemed a “C5.5” by a few. When it comes to Corvettes, you just can’t make everyone happy. However, each new generation, save for the C3, dished up stacks of impressive mechanical improvements, taking the Corvette to an ever-higher level of performance.
What’s not in question is that the Corvette engineers did a magnificent job with the C7. Styling, on the other hand, is a subjective thing. Designing a new Corvette body shape is the hardest job in Detroit. No other car has as much heritage and history to carry forward. The new design has to look fresh, while still looking like a Corvette. It’s not an easy task. It was smart of Chevrolet to unleash the ’14 edition in January 2013. Production C7s won’t be available until the fall, which leaves around nine months for the faithful to warm up to the new look—taillights and all. Still, if the rear fascia is ever redesigned, it’s clear few will miss the current Camaro-inspired panel. Some traditions shouldn’t die.
But the C7 is far more than just a set of taillights. Never before has so much racing tech been put into a new Corvette. Now I know why Doug Fehan was so enthusiastic about the C7 when he appeared at the Legends of Corvette Racing event at the Simeone Museum in November 2012. The C6.Rs have been a phenomenal success on the race track, and their multiyear development process has eradicated most of the shortcomings of the C6 platform. Many of these solutions were applied to the C7. Only two minor parts are carryovers: a latch and an air filter. Everything else is totally new, to the extent that it would be impossible to address everything here. But let’s break down the basics into five areas: body, frame, suspension, engine, and interior.
I have drawn every Corvette to date, and this is the most complex shape ever. Aside from the badges and name plates, there’s nothing on the car that does not have a purpose. The single, center grille opening feeds air to the forward-slanted radiator and front brakes. The vented hood reduces overall lift and releases a third of the heat from the radiator. The side vents extract hot air from the engine, and the intakes on the tops of the rear fenders direct cool air to the transmission and differential coolers. The center channel on the carbon-fiber roof panels draws more air to the functional rear spoiler. In the Z51 configuration, the C7 has less lift than a C6 ZR1. The exposed headlights feature high-intensity discharge, and the taillights are LED units with outboard cooling vents on both sides.
We all know how impressive the C6 Z06 and ZR1’s hydroformed aluminum frames are. The base-model C7 now has an aluminum frame made from five sections of hydroformed, cast, and extruded alloy. Overall, the new structure is 99 pounds lighter and features a 57 percent increase in stiffness, making the car itself 60 percent stiffer than the fixed-roof C6 Z06. Every component has been designed to be lighter and provide more structural rigidity. The new frame is truly an engineering work of art.
This approach carries over to the C7’s suspension. The aluminum control arms, links, knuckles, and attachment points are all lighter and stiffer than their predecessors. The same goes for the front and rear cradles, which are now constructed from hollow-cast aluminum. Bilstein shocks and Brembo brakes are now standard. The base brakes are slightly smaller and lighter, but they have 35 percent more swept area. The Z51 option will have 1-inch-larger (diameter) front rotors. Overall, the base Corvette is said to stop 11 feet shorter than the C6, making its performance comparable to the ZR1’s. The support structure for the steering-mount points features a 500 percent improvement over the C6—a direct result of experience gained in the racing program. And the narrower Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat rubber was designed by the same team that provided the tires for the C6.Rs.
What’s under the hood is always of prime interest to Corvette fans. While Chevrolet curiously brought back the LT1 nomenclature, this is no C4 motor. As great as the previous LS engines were, the new LT1 is better. Displacement remains the same as the C6’s LS3, at 376 cid, but overall the engine is 4 inches shorter and weighs 40 pounds less. Direct injection has finally arrived on the Corvette, along with variable timing, a stratospheric 11.5:1 compression, standard dual-mode exhaust, and cylinder deactivation that allows the LT1 to loaf along as a V-4 while cruising. Horsepower and torque are both estimated at 450. While this is only a 14hp increase over the NPP-equipped LS3, the LT1’s torque curve is on par with the C6 Z06’s 427ci LS7 from 1,000 to 4,000 rpm. It’s connected to an all-new seven-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Match. This powertrain should create a unique and exhilarating driving experience, especially for a base-model performance car.
Demeaning the C6’s cabin became something of a sport for the automotive press shortly after the C6 appeared. Fortunately the Corvette design team was paying attention. A retro, dual-cockpit layout, a la the C2, was ruled out early on. Instead, the C7 interior was created as a “driver-oriented environment.” Of course, the seats are the biggest news. Two designs will be available: The GT seats have improved lateral support, and are designed for everyday use and long-distance travel. The Competition Sport seats are snugger, with large side bolsters and special belt contours to accommodate five-point racing harnesses. Both are lighter and use magnesium frames; they’re also heated and cooled. Other standard features include a head-up windshield display, an 8-inch dash screen with a digital speedo, and an analog tachometer. At 14.1 inches in diameter, the steering wheel is the smallest ever made by Chevrolet. No molded plastic is exposed, and everything is wrapped in soft-touch materials, with real aluminum trim and optional carbon fiber. The parking brake is now electronic, freeing up some center-console space.
Which brings us to the name—Stingray. Had GM’s bankruptcy not put the C7 on hold for a time, the car might have had a chance at being a ’13 model, which would have been ideal from a marketing perspective. Imagine: the 60th Anniversary of the Corvette, plus the 50th Anniversary of the Sting Ray, and a new-generation Corvette. Sadly, it wasn’t in the cards. GM VP of Global Design Ed Welburn is a big fan of Bill Mitchell’s ’59 Stingray Racer and was the force behind the car’s restoration several years back. Welburn held back on christening the C7 “Stingray” until the last moment. He wanted to see the finished car before bestowing upon it what is arguably Detroit’s most iconic moniker. So, is the latest Corvette worthy of the Stingray name? After much consideration, I would say, “Yes!”