Over its storied 60-year history, the Corvette has come to mean many things: speed, power, physique — in essence, the quintessential American sports car.
Interior design? Not so much.
It’s Helen Emsley’s job to change that. “There was nothing bad about today’s interior, what we are replacing,” said Emsley, interior director for performance cars at General Motors. “It was a good interior. But, back then, we didn’t focus on the interior as much as the exterior. So whenever anybody talked about the Corvette, it was always about the exterior. Then it was like, ‘Oh yeah, the interior, it’s nice.’ But there was never the wow factor.”
The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible, making its North American debut this week at the New York International Auto Show, is a dramatic improvement on that front, outfitted internally with hand-wrapped leather, carbon fiber, and aluminum trim accents. “For a car of this level and stature, you need real materials,” said Emsley, who, prior to her career in the auto industry, studied textile design at London’s Royal College of Art. “I think that was lacking in today’s car. It was a good car. But it didn’t have real aluminum, it didn’t have real carbon fiber.”
Making ample use of these genuine articles, the new seventh generation Vette aims for a “cockpit” effect that is both comfy and snug. “You feel that it’s enclosing you while you’re driving,” Emsley said.
No more banging your knees uncomfortably against the center console as you wheel around corners. The new model notably includes padding to protect the driver’s precious patellae.
Another highly visible sign of the renewed focus on interior is the vibrant hand-stitching, which is done in an accenting color to emphasize the level of detail. “If you buy something nice, that attention to detail is so important,” said Emsley. “It’s like a beautiful handbag or beautiful pair of shoes that you buy.”
Not wanting to go down in history as the British woman who destroyed an American icon, Emsley said she and her team tried to honor the car’s long tradition while simultaneously ripping out the insides and starting anew. But, like any significant overhaul, the objective is more about expanding appeal than appeasing purists. “Yes, there is a lot of history and everything else and that’s great. We can’t forget that,” she said. “But we need to get the guys that are buying Porsche, those customers that are not buying our car.”
How buyers respond to Emsley’s enhanced interior will soon be apparent. The 2014 Corvette Stingray goes on sale this fall.
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