One car’s excellent styling cue is some American car’s gimmick

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (courtesy of GM)
The 2009 Corvette ZR1’s transparent hood section is a gimmicky rip-off of the 1999 Ferrari 360 Modena’s see-through rear deck

Once again, an American auto manufacturer has found a way to take a great styling statement from a European company and bastardize it into a worthless, gaudy joke. I’m not talking about a Pontiac, Cadillac, Lincoln, or Ford Mustang this time, rather the newest Corvette – the ZR1.

The Corvette ZR1 is a fantastic car. And don’t get me wrong, it’s even a fairly pretty car. Unfortunately, though, it has a Plexiglas engine cover that is simply goofy.

Ferrari debuted a see-through engine cover on its 1999 360 Modena. It was a wonderful styling touch, especially due to the fact that its mid-mounted V8 was itself a work of art. The unique transparent lid enabled people to drool over the chiseled engine with red valve covers without the owner present. This styling element not only found its way to the 360 Spider, but also to the Enzo and 430. Audi used a similar treatment to expose the engine in its mid-engined R8.

Chevrolet designers, however, chose to take a different approach on the front-engined Corvette. The ZR1 uses a transparent plastic cover on the front hood that recalls the size and location of a Shaker hood scoop. Instead of seeing a beautiful engine in all of its glory…or even some of the valve covers, all people will see is a cheap plastic engine cover. What a letdown.

Obviously, Corvette designers knew they couldn’t pull off a full transparent panel due to the restraints of having a front-mounted engine. And they also were stuck with the power-over-pretty supercharged V8. (Stuck is probably the wrong way to say it, as it is a world-class engine that produces supercar-spec numbers with utilitarian reliability and economy.) Given the lack of visual appeal, maybe they should have just bagged the transparent cover gimmick.

Corvettes have never been cutting edge in the looks department. Early generation Vettes stole heavily from Ferrari and Jaguar. The 1968 C3 Corvette used a tail stolen lock-stock and barrel from the Ferrari GTO. The 1997 C5’s voluptuous curves follow nearly identical lines in some areas to the Mazda RX7 that had gone out of production in the USA two years earlier.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but at some point GM is going to have to realize that a styling element that works for one car can appear as a foolish gimmick detracting from the overall package in another.


4 Responses to One car’s excellent styling cue is some American car’s gimmick

  1. Like the 250 GTO was a rip-off of the Jaguar E-type (A car Enzo Ferrari called “The most beautiful car ever made.”) The 360 Modena stole the idea for the clear engine cover from the Jaguar XJ220. I will agree with Picasso however that artists copy, but great artists steal. 😉

    To be honest when I saw the ZR1 I thought that was a sticker. It is after all just plastic… under clear plastic. I agree it is goofy and stupid, and stylistically makes no sense. This is what Picasso meant by “copying”… the concept is there, but the execution is seriously lacking is panache. Basically it is a lame attempt that falls down on its face. Mind you, I bet GM discontinues it and 30 years from now this feature will be sought after by collectors akin to a split window Corvette, or to wrap it around to the E-type, welded louvers and outside bonnet latches.


    PS: That photo shows up HUGE… serious: GIGANTIC… in the RSS feed.

  2. I have no idea why WP turned my parentheses into smileys.

    oh.. and why is this one tagged with “audi”??

  3. Audi is cited and tagged , because the R8 is the most current car that utilizes the transparent engine cover.

    Jaguar did indeed have a visible engine in the XJ220. It wasn’t cited as the originator of the concept, mostly because the XJ220 had the entire clear roofline that came back, rather than a specific special clear panel within painted panels to reveal the engine.

  4. That is a slick car and I do not know if the word gimmicky can even be used in the same sentence.

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