Redesigning an icon like the Corvette presents a delicate balance of preservation and innovation.
New 'Vettes arrive only about once a decade, each paying homage to a storied past while distinguishing itself as a new generation.
The job of designing the seventh Corvette fell to Kirk Bennion. Since its debut earlier this year, the 2014 Corvette Stingray has drawn much fanfare, as well as criticism. The car marked a relaunch of the storied Stingray name first used in 1963 and boasted an estimated 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, making it the most powerful standard Corvette in history.
But its styling has created a stir among Corvette purists, who question the decision to replace the car's signature round taillights with squared LED lights that lean away from center.
Bennion, a native of Sanborn, N.Y., a small town north of Buffalo, had a passion for Chevy early on — his first car was a 1970 Camaro Z-28. At 52, he's been working with General Motors for 29 years.
Here's an edited version of an interview with him:
Q: Is there a lot of pressure that comes with redesigning the Corvette?
A: "There's a lot of fun. There's a lot of hard work. A lot of camaraderie. It's an iconic car, and I don't want to say they get special attention, but they do get special attention.
"It's something that you have to be very respectful of, but it's also something that you know this is not just another car to work on. If you're not into working 8- to 16-hour days, you're probably not going to be working on Corvette."
Q: Is there any car that you looked to or saw as an inspiration in designing the C-7?
A: "More often than not, we're competing against the previous Corvette. Ford has their look. Ferrari has their look. Part of what's successful for Corvette is that it has to look like a Corvette, and that it has a very strong, loyal customer base, and we're looking to broaden that. So we're really making sure that we put enough distance in between the C-6 and the C-7. That was our goal."
Q: There's a lot of talk about the rear end. Did you anticipate there would be a lot of discussion about that?
A: "Yes, absolutely. We made a conscious effort to make the back end of the car different. There are a lot of detractors. One of the criticisms is that there isn't a lot of difference from a C-4 to C-5 to a C-6. You know, we kept our dual element lamps, license plate was in the middle, exhaust down below. And from a block away, people couldn't tell you there was a lot of difference — or there wasn't 20 years of difference — in the car.
"Round tail lamps especially have been on Corvette for over 50 years. Well, round tail lamps have been adopted by other manufacturers and other cars. So it's no longer a unique night-time signature, and that was something we really wanted to give our customer — a unique LED, indirect-lit signature — something that people, if they saw this car at night, they would know without a doubt that this was a new Corvette."
Q: Why did you go to the square lights?
A: "Well, they're trapezoidal. They're leaned over, but they actually tie into the quarter-panel line. They really fit the flow and gesture of the car in that they're multi-dimensional."
Q: Why did you decide on the name Stingray?
A: "We've wanted to use it in the past. But we just didn't have the car that we really felt supported it.So the agreement we had with ourselves was that, when we got done with what you know as the C-7, we would step back and make a decision with our upper management about whether this car is new and compelling enough to support the use of the name.
"Here again, we're not trying to embody the '63 or '68 or '76 Stingray. This car is all about being a new Stingray. ... When it was all said and done, we thought the car was good enough. We put the badge on, but we didn't do that until very late."