A new Corvette is supposed be the most momentous event in the American automotive universe. It is an unequaled source of magazine-cover speculation both breathless and absurd: "Mid-engined Corvette!" "Turbine Power for Next Corvette!!" "Chevrolet Readies Flying Corvette!!!" A new Corvette is a royal wedding, a celebrity drug overdose, and a presidential sex scandal, wrapped in fiberglass and dropped onto four wheels.
The 2005 Corvette, however, is none of these things. It is a new Corvette without the dramatic new look, without the stunning new technology, without the miraculous new materials. At least part of that is because the '05 Corvette is striding onto the stage well before its predecessor gets all stale and crusty. For the first time since the 1960s, the Corvette's product cycle approximates that of a normal car.
This is a change from the recent past. If you read James Schefter's All Corvettes Are Red, you know that the last new Corvette took only slightly less time to complete than most ancient Egyptian pyramids, largely because it was carried out despite General Motors' visionary leaders. (All of whom, we can assume, are now lying about atop large piles of money in their vast northern Michigan lakefront homes.)
Things at GM are much better now. We can tell, because the new, sixth-generation Corvette (or C6, as we cognoscenti say) is making its debut only seven years after the C5. And, evidently, the car was done with the full backing and cooperation of the company's management. It's a new day indeed. This is certainly positive news both for GM and for Corvette fans, but the C6's timely arrival has diminished its dramatic impact.
What's also diminished the C6's impact is that the styling looks so familiar. Yes, the hidden headlights are gone, the grille is centered, and the whole car is a little pointier. But overall, the '05 looks like a cleaned-up, better-executed version of the C5 rather than the entirely new design that it is.
Make no mistake: All the body panels are new, as are the greenhouse and the roofline. The leading edge of the roofline is higher, the trailing edge lower. The wheelbase has been stretched a little more than an inch, the length snipped five inches, the width shaved an inch.
The smaller size was an attempt to give the Corvette, in the words of chief engineer Dave Hill, a "more maneuverable, more tossable appearance." Don't confuse that with a more maneuverable car, however, as the turning circle is again nearly 40 feet. Still, we're glad to see a smaller Vette, particularly one with just as much passenger space and nearly as much luggage space.
The trimmer size is also intended to make Chevy's sports car "more acceptable in an overseas environment," according to chief designer Tom Peters, who also penned the C6's platform mate, the Cadillac XLR, as well as the Pontiac Aztek. Aiding the international cause are exposed headlamps, which eliminate the need to add extra lights for Europe. Dropping the hideaway lights "was one of the most grueling choices that we made," says Hill, but he adds: "With the Corvette, when we make a decision that's technically correct, then it's right for the car." And, indeed, the exposed lights incorporate HID low beams and also save weight, cost, and complexity.
Underneath the new skin, the formula is unchanged even if many of the parts are new. The C5's fiberglass and balsa wood sandwich-construction floor panels are carried over, and the Corvette again uses an extruded-aluminum cabin support architecture, hydroformed frame rails, and a structural central tunnel. A new rear tub eliminates the provision for a spare tire (part of the previous design but never used), which allows the car's tail to be narrower.