Saturday, January 19, 2013

2014 C-7 Corvette - Nice, But Not Unique

This past week, GM premiered the 2014 new generation C7 Chevrolet Corvette. While not a bad looking car except for the rear, there's something about it which at first I couldn't figure out why it didn't excite me. Then it occurred to me that it's like the newest Victoria's Secret model or the hot new actress; she looks good and you wouldn't turn down a date with her, but she doesn't take your breath away because she looks like dozens of hot new models you've seen before, there's no unique factor that stands in my mind. I've seen this car before, lots of times.

From the front, the C7 looks like the Dodge Viper with a little of the Ferrari Berlinetta;

The side profile has been seen before in the Ferrari 599 GTO and the Nissan GT-R;

The back end has the obvious look of the 5th generation Camaro. At least it doesn't appear to be made of what Jeremy Clarkson calls "plastic from a newsreader"

One constant complaint about the previous generations of Corvettes was the rental fleet cheapness of the interior, an afterthought of plastic pieces loosely screwed together. GM says they have heard your disgust and promise that the new interiors have geniune leather, aluminum, and carbon fiber. I still see what looks like lots of gray plastic, but it's certainly a big improvement. The A pillar seems to cut down on visibility though;

The old rounded lines of the Corvette have given way to sharp angles which look like the designers used a chisel on the mold rather than a rasp. For all the hype and anticipation built up by GM's friends in the automotive press and the return of the Sting Ray moniker, I was hoping for the retro look design that brought so much success to the Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro pony car revivals. A retro look 1963 Sting Ray Coupe would have been the sensation I would have hoped for.

When it comes to the composition of the body itself, the C7 does leap forward with an aluminum frame and carbon fiber panels blended with the iconic fiberglass. This should work wonders for the power-weight ratio, and it appears to have done so if the under 4 second 0-60 reports are accurate.

GM is spending billions of taxpayer largesse to develop a new 5.5 liter V8 with variable valve timing and other Teutonic tech, but for now the 2014 will use the holdover 6.2 liter pushrod but all aluminum casting and direct injection bringing 450 hp to the base model. The front engine/rear gearbox configuration continues which keeps the 50/50 weight distribution

The rear suspension has joined the 21st century, casting aside the transverse leaf spring upper arm for a double wishbone multi-link configuration.

Prices start at $50,000 for the base model, certainly within the ballpark for the legacy Corvette market, with engine packages and other options that top out at around $100,000.

Since I'm not a member of the automotive press, unfortunately I can't personally take one out for test drive on the track, nor will a local Chevy dealer let me take one out and open it up since I'm not in the income bracket to be a serious potential customer. I'll have to do it vicariously through the acid test of Top Gear and the acid tongue of Jeremy Clarkson to see if the new Vette can bring the excitement and fun.

The writers at Top Gear's web site seem to be quite impressed so far, but it's a report from the Detroit Car Show and not a performance review. The reporter is certainly not the tough judge that Clarkson, Hammond, May, and the Stig are. The commenters seem to be a bit tougher to please, especially this one whom I suspect may be Jezza himself commenting through a sockpuppet;

It's Frankenstein's monster. A parts bin nightmare. It's got the Viper's grill, Evora's profile and windows, the Ferrari's headlights, the Camaro's taillights, the Chrysler 300's dash and steering wheel, the McLaren MP4's parking break, the 458's cluster, etc, etc. It feels like one of those contests where you win a prize for guessing where all the pieces should go. And for God's sake - 106 horsepower LESS than the Camaro that costs less. Really? Awful to the power of ten.

Ouch! I won't be quite that harsh, but I will say that while the new Corvette does take quite a few steps forward as far as composition, interior, new technical features, power and suspension, they are catching up rather than leading the pack. I like the C7, but since I've seen it's like before it's just not new or different enough to separate it from the other GT's or sports cars in its class. If it were the Victoria's Secret model, I'd certainly take her on a date but I'm not induced to marry her.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Route 66 - Kerouac in a Corvette

For the 1961 television season, CBS expanded on the popularity of anthology series like The Twilight Zone and the road novels of Jack Kerouac with a new show about two young men with a lot of money and time on their hands who go on the road to see America and meet all sorts of folks. Every week, Tod (Martin Milner) and Buzz (George Maharis) would pull into town in their Corvette convertible and meet someone with interesting problems. The pair would help them resolve the problems before topping the tank off at the Esso station and doing it all again in another town somewhere in America, towns which for some strange reason everyone drove nothing but Chevys.

Besides beginning Martin Milner's television career niche of riding around in a car with another guy getting involved in other peoples' problems (Adam-12) , Route 66 also featured many then unknowns who would go on to stardom such as Lee Marvin, Walther Matthau, Robert Duvall, Darrin McGavin, Julie Newmar, Robert Redford, James Caan, and William Shatner.

Every season, Tod would dip into the trust fund (Chevy's product placement folks) to get himself a brand new Corvette, starting with the 1961 convertible in the picture at the top of this article. The 1961 and 1962 Vettes were the last of the 1st generation Vettes with the 283 cubic inch (4.6L) V8 and the solid axle rear. The 1st gen was far more a roadster than the muscle car/sports car it would become with the introduction of the Sting Ray in 1963. Think of it as an Austin-Healey with a bigger engine and better wiring.

In 1963, the Hollywood-Detroit axis would put Tod in the all new 2nd gen Vette, complete with the new beefier 327 (5.3L) with fuel injection small block V8, or the new big block 396 (6.5L) in 1964. The 2nd gen would also chuck the solid axle for rear independent suspension, graduating the roadster into a superior handling sports car and from touring car to race car.

Here's the memorable opening theme song and opening credits

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Nobody Ever Wears Luke Dukes

One of the cartoon shows as sitcoms we used to see back in the 80's was of course the half hour dirt road car chases we know as The Dukes of Hazzard. You knew it was on tv in the other room by the constant soundtrack of banjo and fiddle music, police sirens, and muscle car engine sounds.

It was fun entertainment that didn't try to make you think, although there are stories that many Walmart shoppers used to break up into discussion groups on Friday nights after each episode.

The star of the show obviously was The General Lee, the orange 1969 Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 six pack and four on the floor, Thrush glasspack mufflers, and the horn that played "Dixie". Almost every chase involved Bo and Luke escaping Roscoe and Enos by executing jumps over ponds, fishin' holes, and even Roscoe's police cruiser with a big "Yee-haaaahhh"

While the Charger got more fan mail than actors Tom Wopat and John Schneider, it wasn't my favorite car of the series. What caught my eye were the yellow 1973 Plymouth Road Runner and the 1980 Jeep CJ-7 that co-starred with The General.

The 1973 Road Runner on it's own was a relic of the underpowered junks that Detroit turned out in the 70s. The Jeep was the Golden Eagle version powered by an AMC 304 V8 with 210 hp, plenty to power the light Jeep but were most often seen wheels up in the ditches of countless rural secondary roads.

But look at the ACCESSORY that came with the Road Runner and the Jeep!

As show narrator Waylon Jennings would say; "Don't that beat all..."

The cars may be forgotten, but 30 years later the cutoff shorts worn by hot young women to this day are called "Daisy Dukes"

Here's some more eye candy provided by Daisy which kept the boys watching