The Rebirth of an American Legend by James Schefter
In this, another fly-on-the-wall peek at General Motors (after Michael Shnayerson’s The Car That Could), the former West Coast editor for Popular Science James Schefter is allowed to prowl around the hallways of GM, focusing on the design and launching of the 1997 Corvette.
Schefter begins with the image of a Hindenburg-esque GM in 1992, fighting a staggering loss of $10 billion. In desperation, the carmaker turned to its classy jewel, the Corvette, to solve its financial woes. Released in 1953, the Corvette hadn’t had a redesign since 1984, and an underground lair called “The Corvette Skunk Works” had been intermittently working to update the car since 1988. Faced with company-wide losses, the Corvette project was buried and unearthed again by a succession of GM honchos, until at last the new car was set to be launched in 1995.
Schefter specializes in minutiae: He gives a compelling description of how artists painstakingly carve out models from 800-pound blocks of clay, and he elegantly describes how the project’s engineers solved a gas-tank design problem.
The entire corporate world of GM takes on elements of the archetypal Old West: There’s the Corvette itself, seen as a beautiful and reliable show horse; executives who pledge their word with a handshake; and heroes who are taciturn but proud of their teams, prone to space race pronouncements like “If we lose the summer of ’95, we lose the program.”
While the elevation of the business book to drama is increasingly common, Schefter seems to have a little fun with it, though he tends to relentlessly cheerlead for GM. (And it looks like they missed ’95 after all: The book will be released on the same day as the newly redesigned Corvette.) Overly dramatic but always readable, it’s the attention to insider details that make this account interesting for Corvette enthusiasts and pedestrians alike. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Radio satellite tour)
ALL CORVETTES ARE RED: The Rebirth of an American Legend by James Schefter (