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March 17, 2013

Redesigning the 'Vette: A dream job but a tough one

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. He was in Southern California at the Petersen Automotive Museum recently for the car’s first appearance on the West Coast, and he sat down with the Los Angeles Times to discuss the car’s radical design departure.

General Motors Co. first unveiled the 2014 Corvette Stingray on the eve of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. As expected, the car drew 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.

As with every Corvette since the first one emerged in showrooms in 1953, the 2014 model will serve as the standard bearer of the brand’s engineering, which often finds its way to other models.

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. He graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts with a degree in industrial design.

Here are highlights of the interview:

QUESTION: So how does one become exterior design manager of Corvette? Did you apply?

ANSWER: No. You’re selected. Upper management will basically look at experience and fit and whatnot. I’ve had some prior experience with Corvette in ‘86 to ‘89, just two years out of college, and got to work with the team that created the C-4 and worked on the early C-5.

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