A design as rich as its black cherry paint

1992 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray IIIIt was in January of 1992 when the Corvette Stingray III concept was formally introduced in Detroit, at the North American International Auto Show. (However, auto enthusiasts had been reading about it for months in their favorite automotive magazines).

By that time, Corvette’s fourth-generation (or C4) model was entering its ninth year on the market. In terms of design, the 1992 Corvette was largely the same car that had been available to the public since March of 1983. Despite its phenomenally advanced shape, a dramatically updated interior for the 1990 model year, and substantial exterior updates for 1991, anxiety for something modern from Corvette was mounting.

Wanted: snake charmer
1992 Dodge ViperFanning the flames of desire in Corvette fans was a new sports car that had recently slithered into town. Available for purchase as of January 1992, it was packing ten cylinders worth of credentials and looked every bit as venomous as its name implied.

1992 Dodge ViperDodge was looking to make a statement and with Viper, they did. Interestingly, they didn’t try to make a better Corvette but rather went a different route, defining their car with blunt, brute force.

However, apart from having enough power to splat a passenger to the seat like a bug on the windscreen, it was the car’s looks that bowled people over. Its sinuous body panels looked as though they were supposed to be covered with scales.

1992 Corvette production modelWhile Corvette still looked presentable, particularly in ZR1 attire, its once exotic shape had become increasingly commonplace and, after almost a decade of sales, some of the older ones were being less cared for and showing signs of age. Father time was settling in.

While there will always be Corvette devotees, there is no question that Viper stole some of the prestige away from what had historically been considered America’s sports car. Chevy needed a response.

C5 concept 1990-07Automotive journalists of the time were estimating Corvette’s fifth generation would bow by 1995. They were wrong; it didn’t arrive until the 1997 model year.

Even though C5 would be a whopping five years out, those to whom Corvette’s legacy had been entrusted had been quite busy conceptualizing where to take the car’s design. (More on C5’s development in a future post.)

An obvious choice
Turn the clock back two years prior to the Corvette Stingray III’s Detroit debut, and travel a couple thousand miles westward to California. In an unassuming industrial park, just north of Los Angeles, within the city of Thousand Oaks, some of GM’s best designers were given a ridiculous choice. See, GM’s Design Staff vice president, Mr. Chuck Jordan, was interested in getting some fresh ideas for Corvette and to accomplish that, he sought out the trend-setting locale.

1989 California IROC Camaro conceptThe aforementioned designers, in Thousand Oaks, worked at GM’s West Coast Design studio, otherwise known as the Advanced Concepts Center, or ACC. The ACC studio, established in September of 1983, had originally been headed by Henry Haga. The ACC team, under John Schinella, Mr. Haga’s successor, had already produced the California Camaro IROC-Z concept, for 1989.

What was the ridiculous choice the ACC team was given? They could work on a truck project, or take on Mr. Jordan’s request for a Corvette concept. I wonder how long it took before the first person caved to laughter.

Mr. Schinella’s team obviously chose the Corvette. Consequently, there were to be familiar traits in the design of the concept Corvette which, naturally, is sometimes referred to as the California Corvette or ACC Corvette.

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