If nothing else, we've been way impressed by the staggering amount of design and engineering that went into the 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray. That goes double for the cabin, which went through a complete redo—twice.
Here's how it all went down. As with the development of the exterior, covered in our initial article in this series on the Stingray, a request went out worldwide to all of GM's design studios for a global sketch blitz. By the fall of 2009, hundreds of concept renderings poured in, and from these the design team, headed up by Helen Emsley (formerly of GM's color and trim studio), pared them down to just a few compelling themes. Each of these in turn was made into a half-scale model for further review.
"It's a very iterative process," explains Ryan Vaughan, Lead Interior Designer, referring to the repeating rounds of analysis and refinement. Trained at the Pratt Institute in New York City, with more than a dozen years of experience working on a variety of GM cars, Vaughan's formative years included some direct contact with a midyear.
"My father has had a 1966 Corvette big-block convertible since before I was born," Vaughan notes. "The beauty and history of that car had a huge influence on me as a kid, so to be lucky enough to work on creating a new performance cars is a huge thrill."
While all this background gave him a running head start on the new Stingray interior, it still wouldn't be a cake walk. Even after the design team meticulously worked through several stages of refinement, something still wasn't quite right with the treatment.
When it was presented to Ed Welburn, GM Vice President of Global Design, right before the end of 2009, the designers figured they could all kick back and enjoy their holiday vacation, knowing they had made some significant headway. Well, Welburn wasn't satisfied. "He told us, 'You can do better-start over,'" Vaughan recalls with a wince.
Undeterred, the designers forged ahead. After a tepid celebration of the New Year, they redoubled their efforts on the interior, and by spring of 2010, yet another one had been painstakingly crafted. This time, Welburn approved. His unstinting demand for excellence was evidently all to the good, as the innovations and layout of the cabin are remarkable, as we'll see.
How does it differ from previous ones? "It's more expressive, dynamic—and driver oriented," Vaughan enthuses. The latter aspect is a recurring and dominant theme. Before elaborating on this emphasis, we should take a brief look back at the missteps of earlier Corvette interiors for some stark comparisons.
Owners of even average stature will likely acknowledge the cramped cockpit and over-large steering wheel of the C1. Nor can anyone dispute that the '63 model's split window impeded rear visibility (even as it became a collector's item). And of course, a common occurrence on all midyear Sting Rays was the driver "beaking" the right-front corner, due to the lack of visibility there. The C3 suffered from an array of problems, the interior being the least of them, but one special edition in 1979 featured a relentlessly hideous monochrome that extended the disco-era upholstery colors onto the door panels and dashboard.
We could go on and on about the C4's winking electronic instrument panel, or the C5's leaky seals and frail seats. More recently, complaints have been voiced about the so-so quality of the C6's interior, especially the lack of lateral support in the seats.
In the new Corvette Stingray, however, all of these cabin complaints are now just a distant—albeit painful—memory. Indeed, Tadge Juechter (Chief Engineer/Vehicle Line Director for Corvette) feels that the new interior design is the most upgraded area of the car. Looking at it overall, the layout steps away from the symmetrical dual-cockpit setup seen on the '63 Sting Ray, and instead creates a more driver-oriented environment. Getting more specific, the passenger side has separate climate controls, and the lack of a mechanical parking- brake handle creates more console room in the shifter area.
Even so, prioritizing the driver's needs in service of those twin masters of comfort and performance requires far more than merely putting in a smaller 14.1-inch rim, adding more bolster support, or making sure the lines of sight are clear. Let alone addressing issues such as meeting federal safety standards, keeping manufacturing costs palatable, and creating a compelling style. The level of engineering involved is both comprehensive and considerable, demanding as much effort and expertise as the exterior and aerodynamics—or perhaps more, since it hits you where you live.
All things considered, it should not come as a surprise that that the inside actually precedes the exterior in terms of the design timeline. "We have to nail down interior design earlier for a safety evaluation," explains Vaughan.
Even though interior development is a half-step ahead, it still has to be done in concert with the adjacent body shapers. "We're right across the hall from them," Vaughan notes. That's important because, "The overall design effort needs to be a cohesive whole...with a good vision of where we want to go."
In this case, the goal was in part to win over other sports-car owners to the Corvette camp. Achieving that would require some time away from sketch pads and clay models. As part of their work on the C7, "All designers [drove] the C6 on the racetrack," Vaughan says. "When all their concentration is on driving the car, it becomes really clear that designers have to enable that."
In addition to factoring in road-course realities, various computer tools were employed to analyze ergonomics. That process used to involve a dummy named "Oscar," but it's been replaced by RAMSIS, basically a digital mannequin. A wide variety of functions can be assessed with RAMSIS, including spatial parameters for arm and leg clearance, pedal and steering-wheel adjustment, and posture-contingent pressure areas.
Also used is a virtual-reality enclosure, called a VR cave, which involves wearing a pair of goggles that display simulations of the interior, akin to a sophisticated version of a 3D movie. In essence, these technologies provide a far more precise way to evaluate the cabin than the old-school "butt test."
The combination of driver focus with computer-designed ergonomics converged on the instrument cluster as well. Although mechanical units are employed for the Stingray's speedo, fuel gauge, and engine-temp display, at the center is a high-def screen with three customizable modes: Touring, Sport, and Track. Obviously, having a large and legible tach readout that's located front and center is essential for performance driving.
What was the most difficult aspect of creating a new cabin design? "The seats were a huge challenge," Vaughan admits. "It was double the work, in a really tight package." That's because two seat options are available—GT and Competition Sport, the latter furnishing more-pronounced side supports.
Both have a light yet strong magnesium (instead of steel) frame and a hard-shell molded-polymer back. That's one of the few molded components in the cabin, however, as the interior designers decided to go for a custom-fabricated look by using a cut-and-sew "wrapped" approach that entailed fitting and hand-stretching materials on a substrate. The Corvette's interior designers found this an added challenge, as they had to work closely with an outside supplier to ensure the stitching and seams aligned properly. "It's tough to get right," Vaughan allows.
Moreover, "There's nothing fake about the interior materials," he adds. "The aluminum is real aluminum, the carbon fiber is real carbon fiber, and the leather is real leather." During final assembly in Bowling Green, line workers can fine-tune certain components as well, such as adjusting the position of the armrests on the door panel before locking them in place.
All of which means the C7 clearly qualifies as a "handcrafted production car." And one with a compelling cabin treatment that any Corvette enthusiast will find to be not merely comfortable, but also functionally optimized for performance duty. vette