Last week I had the privilege of attending a media event put on by GM to introduce the C7 Corvette. It was held in New York City on W 42nd street, which meant a train ride into Grand Central Station for me. Besides the actual C7 (and a sample of each generation Corvette from C1 onward, in attendance were Tom Peters and Tadge Juechter. Tom is the chief designer for the Corvette program and Tadge is the chief engineer. For a gearhead in general, and Corvette nut in particular, (years ago I owned a pristine '69 roadster) this was an amazing opportunity to talk with the guys that conceived, designed and built the new Corvette.
Having seen the Jalopnik coverage of the Detroit Auto Show and the C7's public unveiling a scant three days prior, I had a few questions in mind for Tom. He has been involved with Corvette since the C5, and suggested we start at the front of the car and work our way around. He detailed the nuances of the sculpted hood and front clip design, and how the car's low & wide stance was reminiscent of a fighter jet. Noticing the 20" front wheels on the Stingray, I asked about the trend of putting bigger and bigger wheels on cars, and was there pushback from engineering because of it. He laughed and said "Of course, we wanted the visually exciting proportion of larger wheels while they wanted to reduce unsprung mass and control NVH characteristics." I then made some lame remark about the headlights being somewhat similar to the Ferrari 458, and that it seemed LED lighting had become the new black.
The C7 maintains the long hood/short deck proportions of the previous car, but with added details such as body sculpting that extends from the fender throughout the door. I asked Tom about all the wild renderings seen on the Internet in the last few years showing the car to be heavily retro-inspired, and had they actually considered doing a retro Vette? He told me "Retro has been done to death at this point, but we had to include some elements that tie the car to its heritage" and at that point he motioned towards one of the other display cars, a beautiful '66 big block coupe. As if in anticipation of my next question, he said "No, we never considered a split window for the new car, but the fender vents and wheel arches from the C2 are evident in the new design." Directly behind the fender vent is a stylized stingray emblem, and Tom pointed out that the Stingray name had not been used since the early C3s. The car's blacked-out A-pillar was done to give the impression of a wrap-around windshield and not visually break up the car's greenhouse. I then asked about the vents in the top of the quarter panel, to which Tom replied they were air intakes for the electronic differential and transaxle heat exchangers (later I found out this is part of the Z51 performance package).
Walking around the platform to the back of the car, I couldn't resist, and asked in a very tongue-in-cheek way "Tom, what did you DO to the round taillights? How can a Corvette not have round taillights?" Again he laughed, and said "I hear that a lot, in fact I've gotten hate mail over it. We tried round taillights, but it just didn't work with the overall design - same with the ovoid design from the C5." There is an obvious similarity to the Camaro's taillights, but the Corvette's are concave with LED illumination. "We wanted to show a family resemblance, but at the same time move the design forward and that meant a change from the round shape on the old car." The vent exits from the heat exchangers, he pointed out are just outboard of the taillights. The other eye-catching feature from the rear clip is the four tailpipes grouped together.
In between my chat with Tom and Tadge I managed to take full advantage of the open bar and buffet lunch service, and happily munched on chicken marsala, ziti and salad. Had I known lunch was going to be provided, I might have opted out of the $11 panini sandwich I bought in the lobby at Grand Central Station. Live and learn. The intermission also gave me an opportunity to have a closer look at the collection of Corvettes assembled around the C7. There was a pair of '53s, a '66, a '70, an '87, an '05 and a 2012. Essentially, a Corvette time warp contained in one room.
My conversation with Tadge centered on the powertrain and areas of improvement over the C6. Seeing as the C7 is the first application of the new Gen V small block, my first question was what prompted them to stick with an OHV configuration. He told me "It came down to packaging, weight, and complexity. OHC heads would have been much bigger and the engine compartment is already quite snug. Also, the weight would have been adversely affected not to mention the increase in parts count. Switching to an OHC motor would have changed the character of the car, whereas with the OHV the torque builds almost off idle while an OHC engine would place the curve higher up in the power band. Spinning the engine at higher rpms to make power would negatively affect fuel economy as well." I then asked at what point might GM consider an OHC layout, and he said "When we can no longer get any more out of the pushrod engine." When asked if there was more power available in the 6.2 without resorting to forced induction, Tadge told me there is, but it's a matter of balancing engine efficiency and power output in a production standard engine.
I had read about the C7 having an aluminum chassis, and asked what the weight was compared to the C6. He told me the weight they saved by going to an alloy frame and composite hood/roof was offset by the increased weight of required safety equipment and upgraded interior. The performance tops the C6 due to not only the extra power, but also the new 7-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Matching. The new gearbox has three overdrive cogs with fourth gear being 1:1 and 7th being a super tall .42:1. He said they expected the car to earn a 30mpg highway rating from the EPA. This new transmission also has the 1st to 4th gear skip-shift program from the older car, done in the name of Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Sitting in the car later on, I found the shift gate to be quite narrow which makes me think there might be a bit of a learning curve involved to avoid inadvertent 2nd to 5th gear upshifts. Considering the success of the Z06 and ZR1 programs, I asked Tadge if there would be follow-on programs for higher-performance versions. He smiled and said "I can't talk about that." I take that as a good sign.