Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Fixed Roof Coupe

The Hardtop for Hardcores
Introduction by Rick Tavel © Do not use without permission

Several weeks ago Hib Halverson shared an interesting story with me concerning the birth of the C5 Corvette and more specifically the FRC which I believe most Corvette enthusiasts would find interesting.  I asked Rob at The Corvette Action Center to resurrect Hib’s article so all FRC enthusiasts could enjoy it. Few of us have the insight and the access to the inner workings of GM like Mr. Halverson who was there, reporting on the FRC developmental events as they happened back in 1997-98. In some ways it was much like the debates and discussions surrounding the styling and performance capabilities of the new C7.   There was a great deal of speculation and heated debates about just what the FRC would be.  There were two camps among the enthusiasts and also within GM who each held their own very specific ideas of what the FRC would be and what its purpose would be. Marketing very clearly wanted a decontented, lower price Corvette that would help boost sales based on its lower price. Engineering disagreed and wanted the FRC to be a performance model that would take advantage of the new model’s lighter weight and stiffer chassis.  Leading that group, the group that wanted to build a street legal competition car, was Dave Hill, then chief engineer. The opposing camp was led by Brand Manager Dick Almond, who saw a stripped down, lower priced, Corvette as a way to capture those buyers who lusted for but couldn’t afford the ever rising price of America’s only real sports car.  Both sides had valid points to make.

It is interesting to read Hib’s account of not only what actually happened in the debate inside GM but also how the outcome affected the actual FRC that made it into production and how the car was marketed.  One of the most exciting aspects of Hib’s story is the short time frame in which this transpired -from the time the debate came to a head and the ensuing changes to the car that were nedessary in time to meet the introduction deadline. Those of you who have read "All Corvettes Are Red" have a pretty good idea of what it takes to get a model into production and the timing required to make it happen. The incredible "about face" that occurred in the time frame of less than six months is almost inconceivable and unheard of in the automotive industry. From Chevrolet's bungled release of the preliminary Dealer Order Guide in late April - early May, which showed the FRC as the decontented, base model advocated by Almond and the marketing people, compared to the actual model released in the fall which was Dave Hill's performance car, not the opening price point model that was detailed in the Dealer Order Guide. This is just one of the interesting and unique events that marked the birth of the FRC. And so it was in the case of the FRC.  In less than six months the FRC that the dealers and marketing department thought they were getting was completely transformed to Hill’s performance, lightweight Fixed Roof Coupe, the predecessor to the renowned C5 Z06.

 While doing some research for the FRC registry which I am working on, Mr. Halverson contacted me with some information that I had not uncovered regarding how the FRC had actually evolved deep inside of GM. He shared with me his story from the perspective of a journalist that was actually there documenting the launch of a new model C5 Corvette and the ensuing FRC a few years later.  Some of you may have read some of his articles about the Corvette over the past years.  He has written for all of the major automobile publications.  If you haven't it would be worth digging back through "VETTE" magazine's archives to read some of Hib's accounts of Corvette development.  Over the years Hib has been not only a supporter of the Corvette but an objective journalist who has honestly and fairly evaluated both the car and the company that makes it.

He is known as one of the most knowledgeable journalists on the Corvette (his background as an automotive service technician gives him a thorough working knowledge of what he writes about and enables him to ask the questions that many other journalists do not fully understand). He is also known as one of the more “controversial” automotive journalists for "pulling no punches" and ferreting out the real story. He recently wrote an article about his experience of building his own Corvette 427 engine in the GM Engine Build Experience program at the General Motors Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan. This experience was offered as an option for buyers of Z06, ZR1 and select GS models and he takes you through his personal experience and each step of building the 427 for his Corvette.  (You can read about his experience at the Corvette Action Center ). So now that I've shared a bit about his background go to the link below and let Hib tell the story he shared with me a while ago. As GM gets ready to introduce the new C7 read for yourself about the introduction of the new C5 model over sixteen years ago.  Hib's article was originally published  in the 1998 issue of Vette Magazine.  Read about the initial road tests and first impressions, and understand why the Fixed Roof Coupe (known then as the “hardtop) became known as the Hardtop for Hardcores.  

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