- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

Probably few are prouder that the Chevrolet Corvette is approaching its 50th birthday than Dave Hill, General Motors' vehicle line executive for performance cars.
In 1992, after spending his GM career at Cadillac, Mr. Hill became Corvette's chief engineer. At the time, the automaker was in such dire financial straits that its very survival was threatened. The board of directors had ousted the company's top executives and installed new officers charged with putting an end to the financial hemorrhaging. Future product programs such as the Corvette were tenuous. It looked like there might never be another Corvette. Funding and manpower to develop the C5 Corvette, the fifth and current generation, had been postponed repeatedly.
"A concept or capital request would be turned down because there were other mouths to feed. Our budget was cut to practically nothing, and the team kept shrinking," Mr. Hill recalled. But the team never totally went away. In fact, it continued in secret "skunk works."
"We kept scheming to figure out how to make the car better and the business case so good we could sell it," he said.
In 1993, the C5 Corvette got the green flag, one of the earliest product programs to do so. "It was a compelling program and had some heroes who put their reputations on the line supporting it. They insisted no matter how bad things were, things were going to get better and making a new Corvette was going to be part of making GM better," Mr. Hill said.
Today, Mr. Hill believes the C5 Corvette is the best Corvette yet because of the postponements and constant work that led to the right balance of expressive styling, functionality and technology. Indeed, the C5 Corvette won immediate critical praise from the automotive press. Today, it is winning in showrooms and on the racetrack. It was tops in its segment in the J.D. Power and Associates quality surveys this year for the second time, and it is gaining market share. It won its class for the second time in only three years of racing at LeMans.
"I don't know where you'd find a time that was any richer in Corvette's history. Six years into production, the Corvette has brought credit to GM, Chevrolet and America for being the car that it is," Mr. Hill said. "But it did come close to extinction."
And here it is near the 50th anniversary, a milestone few vehicles ever achieve. Chevrolet kicked off a yearlong celebration, leading up to the milestone with a 50th-anniversary edition of the 2003 Corvette pacing the Indianapolis 500 in May. A production version, sporting unique paint and trim as well as new features, is in showrooms this year.
Corvette displays and activities will be at car events across the nation throughout the year. A caravan of 50 Corvettes, one representing each model year, traveled from Flint, Mich., where the first Corvette rolled down a makeshift assembly line in June 1953, to GM's Technical Centers in Warren, Mich., to St. Louis, where Corvettes were once made, ending up in Bowling Green, Ky., home of the National Corvette Museum and the plant that assembles today's Corvette. Next June 26-28, the year of activities starts off in Nashville, Tenn., with an extravaganza, featuring cars, activities, displays, concerts, parades, clinics and club functions. Tens of thousands of people are expected. The nearby National Corvette Museum will also offer special events and tours.
Meanwhile, as the Corvette celebrates its birthday, engineers and designers in Detroit are putting the finishing touches and doing final testing on the next-generation Corvette, known as the C6 for the sixth generation. GM officially is mum on the details of the C6, but spy photos on the Internet and sketches in enthusiast magazines suggest it will be reminiscent of the third-generation Corvette the Sting Ray era in terms of styling, though sleeker. Reports suggest it will offer even more high-tech features and include a more powerful model.
Mr. Hill won't confirm any of the reports on the upcoming Corvette, except to say that he expects it will be another leap forward, as each generation of Corvette has been throughout its illustrious five-decade history.


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