The Internet is abuzz with rumors about the upcoming mid-engine Corvette.
But if it weren’t for a man named Jim Perkins, there might not have ever been a C5, C6, or C7, much less a much-anticipated C8.
Perkins passed away Friday after a career that took him literally from the bottom of the rung to the top of the ladder at Chevrolet.
If not for an uncharacteristic begging by General Motors for Perkins to return to the flock after soaring overseas to help launch the Lexus brand in Japan in the late ‘80s, the C5 might not ever have been produced.
Upon his return to GM in 1989, Perkins told Motor Trend:
“I didn’t recognize Chevrolet when I went back. It had lost its pride. There was so much infighting among sales, marketing, product planning, distribution, you name it. Everywhere you looked was a silo with its own management, and that’s the kiss of death. It took about a year to replace some top managers with people who would be a lot more responsive. TCE [Total Customer Enthusiasm] had to start at the top, so we had to move some people out who had been there a long time and had a bad attitude about things.”
Perkins knew Chevy needed a shakeup from the top down, as well as a halo car that wasn’t going to be the aging C4 Corvette. When he got back in 1989, though, GM brass had determined that the Corvette was “nonessential,” and there wasn’t going to be a C5, according to former Chevrolet PR leader Ralph Kramer.
In an interview with Automotive News, Kramer gave the credit for the eventual existence of the C5 to Perkins:
“It was Perkins who found the money to go ahead and get the prototypes built. If it wasn’t for that, that car was destined to be shelved. He had the opportunity to move some funds around and he did that surreptitiously, causing no end of anguish among the auditors.”
During his time with Chevy in the early 1990s, Perkins also did what he could to restore the image of Chevy by creating employee, dealer, and product councils, allotting funds for NASCAR and truck development, touted Chevy’s American bona fides, and led the way, of course, to his crowning achievement – the C5.
Ironically, though, Perkins wasn’t there for the launch of the 1997 Corvette as he retired from the company in 1996. Apparently a hard worker from the get-go, though, Perkins soon became CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group until 2005, when he then turned his attention to building specialty products for Hendrick’s aftermarket Camaros.
So when the new C8 Corvette eventually makes its debut in the coming months, don’t forget to give a little nod of the cap to Jim Perkins for his role in paving the way for this supercar.
As the National Corvette Museum said late Friday:
“Jim was an instantly likable person, who could relate to anyone, no matter where they were on the social ladder, With a down-to-earth way of looking at things, he had an innate ability to cut through difficult problems to find solutions (even occasionally unorthodox ones), inspiring great respect and loyalty to those around him. He was able to save the Corvette from cancellation by marshaling resources and talent in ways that he freely confessed (with a grin) ‘could have gotten me fired or worse.’ Under his leadership, however, Corvette would go from the chopping block to being the 1998 Motor Trend Car of the Year, paving the way for all Corvettes since.”