There's few greater challenges in the automotive realm than redesigning an iconic car with a devoted following. Play it too safe, and only the die-hards keep buying; go too far, and the enthusiasts can feel alienated without a new audience developing. There's no more iconic American car than the Corvette, and the 2014 Corvette Stingray unveiled Sunday has already sharply divided fans around the world. One person's affordable supercar is another's reminder of the Pontiac Aztek.
That Corvette fans themselves would raise the name of the Aztek, the ugliest vehicle ever developed by General Motors, demonstrates the passions involved with the Corvette. In 60 years, the car has only been redesigned seven times, and the 196os editions ranks as the most beautiful American sports car ever created. Chevy designers knew this going in; GM design chief Ed Wellburn commissioned 300 potential designs for the car, and vowed that he wouldn't let it use the historic Stingray name if it wasn't worthy.
Every new generation of the Corvette sparks a debate among the faithful, and the so-called C7 has done so more than ever before. On the most popular Corvette Forum, the debate over the direction chosen by GM began as soon as the first photos appeared, and hasn't stopped since. One fan summed up the case for the new car thusly:
The new Corvette is awesome, in looks and performance. The exterior is nicely evolved, and the interior is revolutionary, especially the Lamborghini inspired optional track seats. Love the extreme chopped rear end and hood scoop. Side profile is nicely carved...All parameters have been incrementally and necessarily increased to maintain the car's promise of supercar performance at a Chevy price. Resurrection of the Stingray moniker is a nice touch. This car delivers.
But the critics emerged quickly. While the front-end treatment received some mild criticism, the rework of the rear which removed the traditional Corvette round taillamps in favor of vent-surrounded polygons, sharp creases and four exhaust pipes led some Vette owners to consider pitchfork and fire, accusing GM designers of slighting its heritage by making the Corvette look like a lowly Camaro:
Not feeling the looks at all. To many body lines, too square in the back, it looks like it morphed itself from God knows what! The car lost its heritage and iconic features including the tail end and lack of roundness!
Another brought up the Aztek, the Godwin's Law of vehicle styling:
Grand slam front end. Strike out on the rear. Who let the Aztek engineers get hold of the rear end? Don't like it. Hopefully it will grow on me.
The front looks very nice. The rear is an abomination. It looks like a friggin Camaro. I can’t believe GM did that. We saw similar Camaro-like pics on the Corvette forum many months ago and almost everyone laughed. We all thought, no way would GM make a Vette have a Camaro look. Well, that nightmare came to fruition for Vette fans
Ironically, the Corvette Stingray revival has received a more positive welcome on forums devoted to other sports cars. Mustang fans like it. BMW M3 fans respect the numbers but aren't sure about the rear end. Even Ferrari owners seem favorably disposed to the new shape, although they too question the busy-ness out back. As fast as the new Corvette Stingray will be, it can't outrun controversy.
See the rest of our coverage of the 2013 Detroit auto show