Back in 1958, Pete Brock made General Motors cool.
Now, some five decades after the legendary 21-year-old super car architect and father of the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe fashioned the prototype Corvette Stingray, GM chief executive Dan Akerson has tapped Brock’s high-octane legacy to redesign and reengineer the car that defined American cool.
The goal, Akerson says, is to use the Stingray to heat up the tepid American automotive giant, who ended 2012 with 17.9% of U.S. car and light truck sales, the firm’s worst finish since the 1990s.
Brock says naysayers agitated about GM’s slide shouldn’t lose sleep over whether the seventh generation Stingray has the juice to drive the company back to profit.
“The bean counters are no longer in control,” Brock says. “A whole new generation of designers and racing engineers are running the show. The new Corvette is the finest I’ve seen since the early 1960s.”
As Brock, 76, tells it, “GM management for decades never listened to the hardcore guys who built the Corvette,” he says. “Our ‘vette crew never went anywhere within the company. Management finally gets it, and the pro-set racing tech that’s gone into the new Corvette is being fed to the entire GM fleet.”
Brock promises that the re-minted Corvette will be “one hell of a ride.” Indeed, the 2013 model—450-horsepower of V-8 with enough torque to go from 0-60 miles per hour in less than four seconds—is a street-legal aluminum and carbon-fiber race car with gas mileage better than 24 mpg in highway driving.
“Adopting the Stingray name is going to be a winner,” said Angela Forgeron, the MSN Autos Canada editor, speaking from the floor of the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “It’s a halo car. It will make a huge impact in the streets.”
Brock, who decades ago walked out on GM, says the 2012 Corvette sets a new standard for excellence at the company. “There are certain angles that are just spectacular,” he says. “This is the first Corvette since my day that’s actually been designed with engineering and racing feedback from the ground up. This was how we used to build cars at GM.”
Brock reckons the 2013 Corvette will be the ultimate attraction for high-performance sports car owners in search of the unlimited speed limit in something other than a Ferrari or a Porsche. Sitting on tower of tires shortly before the flag dropped on the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans, he tells a story of cars, curves and dreams that are really never deferred.
Brock cited an incident he witnessed at Le Mans in 1970, the year a Hollywood film company, Solar Productions, entered a Porsche 908 roadster mounted with three movie cameras and co- piloted by Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams. The two cameramen, both proven racers, entered the field to film Steve McQueen and Jackie Stewart drive a 700-horsepower prototype Porsche 917 in the race for the movie “Le Mans.”
Brock recalls the race was treacherous. It rained the entire 24 hours, and was so wet that the Mulsanne Straight turned into a wading pool. Ferraris turned into fireballs along the Dunlop Curve, Alfa Romeo gearboxes littered the White House Straight and the Arnage Corner looked like a junkyard in a thunderstorm.
At 3 a.m., six-time Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx accidentally plowed his V-12 Ferrari 512S into a trackside official and killed him. Only 16 of the 51 cars that officially started the race were able to finish.
“The favorites were crashing out or breaking down,” Brock recalled. “About four hours before the end, the cameramen realize they have a damn good chance of actually winning Le Mans.”
Linge pulled into the pit for a fresh roll of film, told director Lee Katzin that “Le Mans” was no longer a Hollywood fantasy and asked him to cancel further film stops in return for an almost certain victory.
“Katzin ordered them to keep coming back for film,” Brock said. “It was tragic. Linge and Williams lost their chance at every boy’s dream come true.”
Brock maintains such a dream never dies. “Now they can go for it in Stingray,” he says.
Vickie Elmer contributed reporting from Detroit.