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1992 Sting Ray III Concept, AKA: “The California Corvette”

Trend Setting, Part 16: A look back at Chevrolet’s experimental, prototype, concept car, and show car Corvettes

K. Scott Teeters Feb 17, 2016
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Designing the “next Corvette” is a never-ending job for the elite Corvette Design Department. The late ’80s and early ’90s were some of the worst economic times GM had ever experienced to that date. The money-crunch forced GM’s new president, Bob Stemple, to put the C5 project on hold. No one was sure of when the next Corvette would hit the road.

Vice President of Design Chuck Jordan, known as the “Chrome Cobra,” wanted a different viewpoint for the next Corvette. The design question was, “What would a California Corvette look like?” John Schinella was in charge of Chevrolet’s California-based studio, Advanced Concept Center, and was hot off the success of the 1989 California Camaro. Schinella said, “We had a choice of doing a truck project or a Corvette. You can imagine how difficult that decision was.” After the structure and drivetrain placements were determined, sketches were made, presented, debated, and finalized. The completed shape had to look “new,” yet had to have traditional Corvette styling elements. The curves and front fender budges were reminiscent of the Mako Shark II cars of the mid-’60s. Once the shape was completed, a prototype was built.

1992 Sting Ray Concept Illustration 2/6
1992 Sting Ray Concept Side View Front 3/6

Vice President of Design Chuck Jordan, known as the “Chrome Cobra,” wanted a different viewpoint for the next Corvette. The design question was, “What would a California Corvette look like?” John Schinella was in charge of Chevrolet’s California-based studio, Advanced Concept Center, and was hot off the success of the 1989 California Camaro. Schinella said, “We had a choice of doing a truck project or a Corvette. You can imagine how difficult that decision was.” After the structure and drivetrain placements were determined, sketches were made, presented, debated, and finalized. The completed shape had to look “new,” yet had to have traditional Corvette styling elements. The curves and front fender budges were reminiscent of the Mako Shark II cars of the mid-’60s. Once the shape was completed, a prototype was built.

“Active suspension” was all the buzz in Detroit and the Sting Ray III used a system with four optical sensors that shined white lights from the undercarriage that fed information to a computer that adjusted the damping of the car’s coilover shock suspension. The Sting Ray III also had all-wheel steering. The cast-aluminum wheels had a turbine-like design with an unusual three-lug design (probably not a good idea) and were shod with Z-rated 35-series tires.

1992 Sting Ray Concept Side View 4/6

With the heavy side framerails gone, interior access was much improved and the interior width was wide enough so that the armrests were part of the seats and not molded into the door panels. From the driver’s seat the view was fighter jet-like with the tachometer and speedometer straight ahead and curved pods to the right and left with all controls in arm’s reach. The center console curved up and into the center of the dash. And typical of most show cars, the seats were fixed and the steering wheel and pedals were adjustable.

The Sting Ray III was loaded with cutting-edge hardware and was well received by the general public and press at the 1992 Detroit International Auto Show. However, the Detroit-based design groups were less than thrilled with the car.

1992 Sting Ray Concept Headlights 5/6

What didn’t help the Sting Ray III was the V-6 engine, which to many seemed like a step backwards, even though it was a high-output V-6. Sometimes with concept cars, bits and pieces of the overall look are later used on future designs. The only unique design element that eventually made it into a production Corvette was the fixed headlight system that arrived on the 2005 C6 Corvette. While the design parameters called for a roadster, the Sting Ray III might have faired better if it had been a coupe with a C2 Sting Ray-style roofline—since the car was called “Sting Ray III.” The classic split-window design element could have been a throwback to the original. More subtle yet was the Sting Ray III’s overall soft, rounded curves and lack of hard creases and folds, except for the surface transitions of the car’s nose and front spoiler. The “soft curves” look and elliptical taillights were obviously used on the C5. But the Sting Ray III, as presented, never came close to production.

But a good design is never wasted. The basic shape became the Cavalier convertible, which was about as far away from the heart and soul of a Corvette as Chevy could get. I’m sure that’s not what John Schinella and his Advanced Concepts Center team had in mind.

1992 Corvette Sting Ray Side Concept 6/6

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