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Detroit Auto Show: The Corvette Stingray, old and new

January 14, 2013|By David Undercoffler

DETROIT -- When General Motors built the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette, it sought to combine 60 years of history with the best of today’s performance, technology and design.

And so the company also resurrected a long-dormant and storied name from Corvette’s history: Stingray. The name Sting Ray -- two words back then -- debuted on the second-generation model in 1963, a car that would set a high standard for every subsequent Corvette.

Reviving the name will no doubt invite a heated debate about whether the new model lives up to the first one. This was not lost on Ed Welburn, General Motors’ vice president for global design.

"My favorite car is a '63 split-window Sting Ray Corvette," Welburn said. "It’s an easy answer. For an awful lot of designers, it is the Corvette. Every Corvette since then has been inspired by, influenced by that car."

PHOTOS: Seven generations of Corvettes

The 1963 Sting Ray came to market with technologies that even road-going Ferraris of the day lacked, including fuel-injection and an independent rear suspension.

But it also had a unique style derived from its namesake. Though the 1963 model in particular is revered for its rare split rear window -- that cosmetic feature alone can raise the price up to 50% more on the classics market -- the entire second generation of Corvettes is considered a high-water mark of design, not just for 'Vettes but all sports cars.

Values for second-generation Corvette Sting Rays range from about $30,000 for a basic 1964 model to more than $800,000 for a 1967 model with a 7.0-liter, 435 horsepower V-8. 

 As Welburn’s labored over what would become the 2014 Stingray, it became clear that it had a lot in common with the original Sting Rays.

"It’s the undulating surfaces, the hard creases, the roofline -- the way it’s pointed in the front, the way the body tapers," Welburn said. "There’s a sense of Stingray about it that I really, really liked. I think others were feeling the same way."

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Welburn says he was approached with the idea of giving this new Corvette a special name to distinguish it as complete transformation from its sixth-generation predecessor. He welcomed the idea. After a heated internal debate over Sting Ray from the second generation Corvette or Stingray from the third generation, the 2014 Corvette Stingray was born.

Despite similar aesthetics, a quick look at the spec sheet demonstrates just how far the Corvette has come. The base engine on the original 1963 Corvette Sting Ray was a 5.4-liter (327 cubic inch) V-8 that made 250 horsepower. Power eventually climbed at the end of the life span -- perhaps too short -- of the second-generation Corvette. The fastest model in 1967 wrung 435 horsepower from a 7.0-liter V-8.

Fast-forward 50 years, and buyers of the 2014 base Stingray still have a V-8, albeit one with 6.2-liters of displacement making 450 horsepower. That’s mere a starting point: Chevy will undoubtedly release more potent versions of the C7 throughout its life span.

In addition to notable increases in power, the 2014 Stingray deviates from previous Corvettes with four squared-off taillights, the feature that may most offend traditionalists. Since 1961, one of the most consistent elements of a Corvette’s DNA were four round taillights.

FULL COVERAGE: 2013 Detroit Auto Show

Welburn characterized the change as quite purposeful, an effort to make this new Corvette more appealing to both a global audience and a younger audience. (The typical Corvette buyer is a white man in his 50s.)

The car “needed to be a leaner, very fresh design that departed from some of the traditions," Welburn said. "Is it at all controversial? Probably a bit. And that’s OK. I think if we would have played it safe there, it would have caused us to play it safe with a host of other things."

That Welburn’s designers would stray from tradition is actually in keeping with the heritage of the original Sting Ray, said McKeel Hagerty, founder and chief executive of Hagerty Insurance, a company that insures and tracks the classic car market.

It was a given that the 2014 Corvette would be better than its predecessor in all aspects -- otherwise it would represent a total failure. But to truly set it apart, Chevy needed to make a bold aesthetic statement in 2014, as it did in 1963.

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"The performance has to be there," Hagerty said. "I mean what are you going to do, have a slower Corvette this year? So it also has to be pretty. And that’s what the [1963] Sting Ray was when they introduced it. It had a sort of visual iconography that didn’t have to make total sense."

If speed was Chevy’s only goal in 2014, Hagerty said, the design team would have likely made different choices. "If they just wanted to make the fastest bloody car for $65,000, there’s probably a bunch things on it that they wouldn’t have done. So they did it because it’s got to be beautiful.”

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Full coverage: 2013 Detroit Auto Show

Photos: Seven generations of Corvettes

GM expects 2014 Corvette will boost sales

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