Corvette enthusiasts await debut of 2014 model

Members of America's Corvette Club can't wait to see General Motors Corp's 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, the first new Corvette in nine years, which the automaker will unveil this week at the annual Detroit auto show.

The seventh generation Corvette, called C7 by fans of the iconic American sportscar, has a front-mounted engine and a shape like a race car. GM showed it to the media on Sunday and will make pictures and video available to the public.

But 100 members of the Corvette Club from southeastern Michigan are counting the hours until January 19, when GM will give them a chance to see and touch the car an hour before the doors of the auto show are opened to the public, said social director Peter Shilland, who owns an exclusive 2009 Corvette Callaway edition.

"We want to hear from the engineers and see how far they've come with the C7," said Shilland, a former GM employee.

The car has been has been redesigned from the ground up and goes on sale next summer.

Dan Akerson, GM chief executive officer, said the Corvette is a "halo car" that will draw buyers to the Chevrolet brand, which accounted for 71 percent of the company's U.S. sales in 2012.

Akerson said the Corvette is indicative of the risks the company is willing to take with its new products and called the new Corvette "a balanced risk."

"It's a statement about American ingenuity," Akerson said on Sunday night. "It's a statement about our technology, and, quite frankly, our risk-taking. This is the first car that was designed, start to finish, since our bankruptcy."

Since it debuted 60 years ago this month as a GM Motorama "dream car" concept in New York, the Corvette has earned the nickname "America's sports car" - embodying Detroit muscle and engineering know-how. To date, GM has built and sold more than 1.5 million.

Even as sales have dwindled from a peak of 42,571 in 1977 to 14,132 last year, Corvette has maintained its cachet and exclusivity as the only legitimate U.S.-built competitor to such exotic European sports-car brands as Ferrari and Lamborghini.

That position has been secured by continuous technical improvements and equipment upgrades to the car over the decades, with the 2014 Corvette poised to offer "better performance by every measure" than its predecessors, according to chief engineer Tadge Juechter.

At its heart is a new version of Chevrolet's long-running "small block" V8 - a 6.2-liter engine that produces 450 horsepower, but can run under part throttle on only four cylinders and is expected to return average fuel economy of better than 26 miles per gallon.

The new front-mounted V8 is also potent enough, when equipped with either a new seven-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, to propel the Corvette from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds - pure supercar territory.

In comparison, the 2013 Porsche 911 - its exterior dimensions are virtually identical to those of the 2014 Corvette - has a rear-mounted 350-horsepower 3.6-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that enables 0-60 acceleration in 4.6 seconds, with an average EPA fuel-economy rating of 23 m.p.g.

The Porsche is priced from $83,000 to $173,000. The current Corvette starts at just over $50,000 and runs up to $112,600.

The 2014 Stingray's edgy new exterior design was inspired to some extent by the swoopy Corvette C6.R race car, while the name dates to perhaps the best-known Corvette, the 1963 Sting Ray.

The 2014 Stingray maintains the classic sports-car proportions - long hood, short deck - while providing a visual complement to the car's extraordinary performance. To help reduce weight, Chevrolet has fitted a carbon-fiber roof and hood, composite body panels and an aluminum frame.

And, to support the car's mission of knocking off more expensive and exotic European rivals, the new Corvette features a variety of branded high-end hardware from such European suppliers: Michelin tires, Brembo brakes and Bilstein shocks.

A more premium cockpit, bristling with the latest digital technology and intended to attract luxury import buyers, can be trimmed in leather, aluminum, suede and carbon fiber. Among the available gear: A color head-up display, a pair of eight-inch configurable screens and a 3D navigation system.

"I don't know that much about the C7, but I'm anxious to hear about some of the new technology in the car," says Corvette club member Shilland. "I like the idea of more innovation."

(Editing by David Gregorio and Matt Driskill)