Very few American cars can have the term “legend” attached to them. Yes there are those that have a history; but usually it’s one filled with sales figures, design modifications, or even a somewhat checkered and dubious past. Rare is the machine that can be called legendary, part of American history. There is one however that has a legend attached to it and after a nearly 40-year absence, that legendary car has returned.
The 1960’s in America were a tumultuous time to say the least. Americans were divided over issues ranging from Civil Rights to the Vietnam War. Young people were tuning out, getting stoned, and taking over buildings on campus, while the older generation wondered just what the hell was going on. America seemed a chaotic, turbulent, and confusing place to live. Amidst all this though there was something all Americans could look to with pride thanks in large part to a group of men zooming around Cocoa Beach Florida in cars that seemed to match their lifestyle perfectly.
On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard became the first American in space. After his return he was treated to ticker tape parades and all manner of accolades. Among those accolades were the keys to a new Chevrolet Corvette (Shepard had owned Corvettes since he entered the space program in 1957). It wasn’t long before the others among the original group of astronauts wanted in on the fun. Seizing the marketing opportunity a local Florida car dealer arranged special ($1 a year) leases for the Mercury astronauts, six of the seven took up the offer while John Glenn opted for a more family friendly Chevy station wagon.
It was these Corvettes that could be seen racing up and down A1A in Cocoa Beach with astronauts behind the wheel, creating stories that became legends. Most often those Corvettes were Stingrays, and many of those convertibles. The tradition continued into the 1970’s with NASA astronauts driving a Stingray around Cocoa Beach at night while training at the Kennedy Space Center during the day.
Tom Wolfe's 1979 bestselling book, "The Right Stuff,” recounted the beginnings of America's space program. The book's success sparked a revival of interest in the original Mercury 7 space heroes—and their Corvette adventures.
In 1976 the Stingray so loved by America’s astronauts was put to rest by Chevrolet. Corvettes could still be had, but the iconic Stingray was shelved.
On January 13, 2013, however Chevrolet unveiled the 2014 Stingray and a legend was reborn.
When told we would have a week to ourselves with the new Stingray convertible, we didn’t know what to expect. After researching it and living within a stone’s throw of Cocoa Beach, we knew that above all a road trip was in order.
The new Stingray shares only two parts with the previous-generation Corvette. It incorporates an all-new frame structure and chassis, a new powertrain and supporting technologies and completely new exterior and interior designs. After driving the Stingray it is easy to see that indeed Chevy has all the right stuff in this machine. From the interior seating, to the dash layout, to even the sound system, everything seems in perfect balance and harmony.
We tried to contrast the Stingray up to other sports cars we have driven recently; the Porsche Boxster, the Scion FR-S, the Subaru BRZ, but none can compare. The Porsche was a great car to drive and fast, but it seems almost a bit too refined in comparison. The FR-S and BRZ are fine cars as well; none however are a Corvette Stingray.
The new LT1 V-8 powerplant delivering 455 hp (up to 460 with the addition of the tuned performance exhaust) and 460 lb.-ft of torque, make the Stingray a growling cheetah. With a 0-60 time hovering around 4 seconds unleashing the power on the road is nothing less than an exhilarating experience. With a five-position Driver Mode Selector offering Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport, and Track modes that change up to 12 vehicle attributes there is little the Stingray can’t do. It’s loud, fast and more fun than anything else we’ve driven away from a race track.
Normally a convertible version is a bit heavier and stiffer owing to the lack of a hard roof; not so with the Stingray. Both the coupe and soft top models now share an aluminum frame that is 57-percent stiffer and 99-pounds lighter than the steel frame it replaces.
In an effort to give an honest assessment, we tried to find flaws, we really did. However in the end we honestly could not. Perhaps we were jaded by the legacy, the raw power and sound from the performance tuned exhaust, the heads up display showing speed and lateral G-force, the view as we looked out over the carbon fiber hood, the Napa leather seats, or the unique suede accents and carbon fiber and aluminum trim in the interior; in the end what we found was pure motoring perfection. That it seems is what GM was trying to build with this new model.
“Stingray is one of the hallowed names in automotive history,” said Ed Welburn, GM vice president of global design. “We knew we couldn’t use the Stingray name unless the new car truly lived up to the legacy.”
GM believes in this new model so much that the Bowling Green, Ky. assembly plant where the new Corvette Stingray is built underwent a $131-million upgrade, including approximately $52 million for a new body shop to manufacture the aluminum frame in-house for the first time.
Fortunately the Florida weather in January warmed to the point that the top came down, and a perpetual smile stayed on our face. We took that road trip, top down, to the Space Coast where the Stingrays of old once prowled. From the Kennedy Space Center to A1A along Cocoa Beach the Stingray turned heads. But it also gave us a sense of the days when spacemen raced up and down these same roads, creating legendary stories involving cars that became American icons along with the men who drove them.
Chevrolet has shown that with the new reborn Stingray, the legend is still very much alive. Like their older siblings, the new Stingray still has all the right stuff. And with a price that is nowhere near the moon.
The 2014 Corvette Stingray (convertible)
MSRP $ 53,800
MSRP (as tested with the 3LT Preferred Equipment Group) $73,525
Engine: 6.2L LT1 V-8. 455 hp and 460 lb.-ft. torque and 460 hp / 465 lb.-ft. with available performance exhaust
Transmissions: All-new seven-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Match technology or six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission (as tested)
Mileage: EPA-estimated 17 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, 20 combined.
Mileage (as tested): 22 under mixed conditions.
Front: 18-inch x 8.5-inch
Rear: 19-inch x 10-inch
Front: 19-inch x 8.5-inch (with Z51)
Rear: 20-inch x 10-inch (with Z51)
Wheelbase (in ): 106.7
Overall length (in): 176.9
Overall width (in): 73.9
Overall height (in): 48.6 (coupe) 48.6 (convertible)
Curb weight (lb): 3298 (coupe) 3362 (convertible)
Weight distribution :(% front / rear): 50/50
Seating capacity: 2
Headroom (in): 38
Legroom (in): 43
Shoulder room (in): 55
Hip room: 54
Bumper to Bumper 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain: 5 years/100,000