Part “concept design,” part “movie star” and totally polarizing.
The fever pitch of anticipation and speculation over the C7 Corvette was like blood in the water for a pool of sharks. The frenzy began in mid-2007 with reports of a possible mid-engine C7 … based on “what,” no one was sure. From there, nearly every possible “what if” concept was pinned on the C7. Unlike the olden days of “future Corvettes,” computer-generated images only added to the confusion because some looked like real prototype cars!
Then in February 2009, Chevrolet blew everyone out of the water at the Chicago Auto Show with the Corvette Stingray Concept car. Plus, once again, a Corvette would be a movie star, playing good-guy “Sideswipe” in the film Transformers II. There’s no mistaking the car for anything but a Corvette. It screams “CORVETTE.” And like previous Corvette concept cars, the Stingray had a swirl of controversy. When covering this car for my monthly column, The Illustrated Corvette Series, I reached out to Chief Corvette Designer Tom Peters, but first I had to emphatically assure him that I wasn’t going to try to pump him for any C7 scraps. He nipped that in the bud right away by saying that the Corvette Stingray Concept was NOT the C7, period! What we see here is strictly a “concept car.” Peters explained that designers are always coming up with ideas on paper or a computer screen. Models are often made, but sometimes a fullsize, functional car must be built to try out concepts in 3D reality. Designers are kept pretty busy, but after things settled down with the C6, a window of opportunity opened up for the designers to have some “what if” fun.
The two elements that seem to polarize fans are the front and rear gills and the split rear window. Tom Peters and his design team borrowed styling cues going back to the ’59 Stingray Racer. The split-window that’s been called “the Original American Idol” is most obvious. The front and rear fender humps are a blend of C3 Shark styling with a hint of the C2 Sting Ray look. The roof has a more pronounced double-hump shape from the C5 and C6. The side cove air extractors and hood bulge, although more exaggerated, are right off the C6. The concept car is 3.1 inches longer, 5 inches lower and 6.6 inches wider than a stock C6. Most subtle of all is the crispness of the surface plane changes. Chief of GM Styling legend Bill Mitchell was famous for his “crisp, pressed suit” approach to styling. The theory being that a successful man always wears a freshly pressed suit. “Crisp” is a very good adjective to describe the overall look that Peters and his team created. Little did we know then that the C7 would be even crisper.
The Corvette Stingray Concept car is a “wish list” of features built with existing and hand-fabricated parts. The wish list for the body includes composite materials; however the actual concept car is all fiberglass because it’s so easy to fabricate, while the chassis structure is a production C6. With the clamshell hood up, the first thing one sees is the very sexy-looking, Formula 1-inspired bell-crank suspension with bright red coilover shocks. The rear suspension is stock C6 with modified wishbones and ZR1 disc brakes. It must be fun going through the Corvette parts bin to build cars such as this. The wheel/tire combo on the car is enormous. Up front the car is shod with 275/30R20 tires on 20x9.5 wheels. The back end is wearing 355/30R21 tires on 21x13 wheels.
The car’s engine helped fuel some of the Stingray Concept’s wild speculation. While the engine cover says “Hybrid Stingray,” under the cover is a stock LS3. What “Hybrid” suggested wasn’t a Volt-like hybrid system, but rather a collection of technologies, including cylinder deactivation and possibly electric/battery assist for around town driving. Since 2009 there have been several astonishing supercars with various hybrid systems that deliver eye-popping performance with nosebleed prices. “Hybrid” doesn’t mean Prius anymore. The Stingray Concept’s automatic transmission in the car is straight off the C6 assembly line.
The car’s interior shows us that the Corvette designers were listening to the complaints about the C6’s interior. Just after the C6 came out, several other high-end performance cars arrived with gorgeous interiors that made the Corvette’s cabin look dull in comparison. Designers obviously used the Stingray Concept’s interior as an exercise for creating a stunningly beautiful interior—lessons clearly carried over into the C7. The dual cockpit layout features seats with substantial side bolsters, lots of carbon fiber and chrome trim with interesting LED lighting, navigation system and media connectivity.
If the Stingray Concept was ever wind tunnel tested, it wasn’t reported in the press. Heavily planed surfaces can be very tricky to get aerodynamically right. As the car wasn’t a design development car, it was never driven over 80 mph. And with stylized tires with hand-cut treads no one really wants to “see what this baby will do.” Aside from the production parts, everything else is untested; that’s why it’s considered a “concept car.” Some have mistakenly assumed that the egg-crate grille came from the current Camaro. The initial design sketches for the Corvette Stingray Concept were worked out before the retro Camaro was created.
The 2009 Stingray Concept currently stands as the last, all-out Corvette concept car. Given that in the old days Chevrolet used to dish up sometimes several concept, experimental and one-off show cars a year, seven years is a good long dry spell for these most unique, one-of-a-kind Corvettes. Perhaps Chevrolet has been spending its Corvette brain trust capital on the upcoming mid-engine Zora. And once again, we are at the precipice, and we’ll just have to wait.
K. Scott Teeters has been a contributing artist and writer with Vette magazine since 1976. You can follow his work at www.illustratedcorvetteseries.com
Check out the rest of the final installment of our Trend Setting series: