GM stylists really pushed the envelope during the early design-sketch phase, creating forw
Summing up the significance of the sensational new Stingray doesn't come easy. Clichés such as "evolutionary" or even "transformational" just don't cut it. They can't convey the scope and depth of the design and engineering efforts expended on its behalf. We won't go so far as to overstate the seventh-gen Corvette as "revolutionary" or a "paradigm shift." After all, it still follows the familiar formula of a bellicose V-8 up front putting its prodigious power to the rear wheels. It's the same configuration we've come to know and love—only more so, emphatically.
Since a single phrase fails to capture the new Corvette, over the next several issues we'll be devoting a considerable number of words to delineate various elements of its design and engineering—everything from aerodynamics to suspension, interior features to driving dynamics, and so forth. It's a substantial undertaking, but minor in comparison with the massive design and R&D programs that went into the car.
We've already covered both the Detroit debut and engine configuration of the 2014 Stingray in previous articles, but they only scratched the surface. So in this installment we'll be focusing on that surface specifically, and the forces converging to form the car's startling new body shape. Since certain elements are the subject of some controversy among both Corvette loyalists and detractors, we broached this feedback with Chevrolet's design department to hear how it's being handled back at HQ.
To get these insider perspectives, we went to a key source: Kirk Bennion, Exterior Design Manager for both the Corvette and the fifth-generation Camaro. While he's quick to acknowledge that it takes a village of designers to create a new car, his background and contributions to the Corvette are both substantial and varied. Besides crafting shapes for a vast portfolio of GM vehicles from the start of his career there in 1984, he's handled the Corvette specifically since 2005.
Here's an exterior-studio image illustrating the surface highlighting phase midway through
While Bennion's formal training includes a degree in industrial design, along with a minor in graphic design, he's also grassroots car guy. He enjoyed a five-year stint in SCCA amateur road racing, and he serves as a driving instructor for the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. So he's no armchair director, but rather both a wheelman and commander for the design studio's captain, Tom Peters. Bennion not only has a sharp eye for contours, but also the calloused hands to make those lines flow and perform.
Ditto for the design team in general, as they've all gone through Ron Fellows' Corvette Driving School and have a three-day ZR1 certification. In doing so, "They learn that what we do with the exterior design is really influential to the car, and especially influential to the car on the track," Bennion notes. "We're designing the slippery exterior, we're managing the lift, we're providing brake cooling, we're providing trans cooling. So we have a very important role. To experience the degree of speed, and the stress you're putting the car under at speed, contributes to our finding design solutions that are both functional and beautiful."
How long ago did Chevrolet begin working on the new C7? Looking at the overall design efforts, "We don't just start and stop the ideas," he says. In other words, there are multiple timelines for various design concepts. But he does point to a fundamental change in a seemingly prosaic yet critical component back in 2008: the radiator.
Rather than the "bottom breather" configuration of earlier Corvette models, experience on the track dictated a change in the orientation of the radiator to lean it forward. Along with a functional extractor in the hood, the new layout not only improves cooling, but also reduces both drag and lift. (This change would prove to be the first of many modifications born from the heat of competition.)
Early in the development process, this scale model was one of only a few selected for full
"In the last seven to eight years, we've seen many more amateur high-performance driving events," Bennion notes. "We will continue to make the Corvette interior and exterior more track capable right out of the box."