In a secluded suburban Detroit studio a few weeks before the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible's unveiling at the Geneva auto show, Tom Peters, design director for Chevrolet performance cars, is talking about the all-new convertible Stingray so expressively that we almost wonder if maybe this is the first time he's seen all the bits of the car together in one place. It isn't, of course, but GM design's front man for some of the company's most expressive recent models (Chevrolet Camaro, Cadillac XLR) outwardly doesn't project as the excitable type. It's a good thing, too, as Peters was also the guy who led the design of (and endlessly took the heat for) the Pontiac Aztek.
Today, Peters is getting pretty worked up while detailing for us why the 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible looks the way it does, and explaining why it was so important to consider not only the Corvette's past but also the current landscape of automotive design when interpreting a convertible version of the new seventh-generation Corvette.
All About Sculpture
"From a design perspective, [a car's styling] is all about sculpture," Peters says. "It's just a picture until sculptors get ahold of it." He runs his hand along the almost imperceptibly disappearing taper of a line in the upper front-quarter panel. This isn't stuff you'll catch in a photo. You have to be nose-to-composite body panel with the car to see the transition from visible crease to nothingness. There are lines and reliefs like this in several places on the 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible's body, sometimes nearly invisible yet inexplicably contributing to your overall visual impression.
That's no mistake, says Peters. In today's design world, it's that subtle region between math-generated lines on a computer monitor — very much a vital part of the contemporary design process, he concurs — and the gentle last scrape of a sculptor's tool in a full-size clay model. The two design modalities (digital and analog) intermix completely in today's design world, he says, adding without regret, "What you see here today is all math-generated."
And the process vacillates nearly endlessly between the two methods. Whether it's a sculpted model being scanned to input as design data or that data then being used to carve out a clay model that's then worked by GM's sculptor/designers, "It doesn't matter," Peters says. "It's the magic that comes through."
Restate in a Modern Way
As he gazes on the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible with us, Peters says it would be untrue if anyone said the car's undeniably more exotic (and more angular) lines weren't in some way influenced by contemporary sports cars such as Ferrari or the Nissan GT-R. But at the same time, the new-age interpretation of a 60-year-old heritage nonetheless "is what the Corvette customer expects.
"But to grow and be healthy, you have to attract new customers, too." He says the new 2014 Corvette Stingray acknowledges the Corvettes that have come before, but doesn't blithely rely on the heritage play. He says the new Stingray, coupe or convertible, restates Corvette design in a modern way. The subtle insets at the forward edge of the hood scoops (functional, if you don't already know) are an almost whimsical play on the same areas of the Corvettes of the 1970s, Peters points out. Not an outright rehash of those lines, just a nod to their place in time, their part of an era. This approach served well, he thinks, when styling some elements of the current 2013 Chevrolet Camaro.
It's meshing modern sensibilities with the sensuality and elegance that should be the foundation styling elements for a sports car, Peters says. This is the kind of stuff designers and much more profound aesthetes than we will argue for years regarding the new Corvette's styling, so we stay out of it and move on to ask Peters which Corvette is better, the coupe or the convertible.
Top or No Top: Take Your Pick
Peters, who also led the design team for the outgoing sixth-generation Chevy Corvette, says he couldn't wait to get started on the convertible version of the all-new Corvette. He seems to think of the two as wholly separate cars, more like the Corvettes of earlier generations, although there are very few actual differences in the bodywork of the 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe and convertible. The coupe's fixed rear-quarter windows are gone, as are the air intakes (for the transmission cooler) atop each rear quarter panel. The convertible has the flying buttresses (GM designers prefer the term "nacelles") behind the seats' headrests. Apart from that, you won't find other visual or mechanical differences between hardtop and soft top versions of the new 2014 Stingray.
Don't ask Peters to pick a favorite, either. The Stingray coupe and convertible are "two wonderfully expressive Corvette statements," he unapologetically summarizes. And to further evade the question of whether one body style is preferable to the other, he adds: "I don't think we lost anything going from coupe to convertible."
Peters is particularly impressed, however, with the sleek profile of the new fabric top. Stylists and engineers worked closely with the top's supplier to assure the structural "hoops" that run transversely across the top are nearly invisible. Indeed, the minimalist three-ply top (although it has a glass rear window and a thick new sound-absorption layer) appears nearly flat. Peters says he believes the convertible actually appears to be lower than the coupe, although the coupe and convertible share an identical windshield rake and 48.6-inch height. To his eye, he adds, the Stingray convertible also looks lower when the top is up.
A folding hardtop (for a decade now the rage for European convertibles) was never considered for the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible, Peters says flatly. A fabric top "is much more of a statement than a folding hardtop. A cloth roof is natural, elegant... integrated."
Read our story on the 2014 Corvette Convertible from the 2013 Geneva Auto Show here.