That headline had me until "Aztek"...
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GM Designer Tom Peters on Camaro, Corvette, and Pontiac Aztek
By Christian Seabaugh - Photos By Brian Vance - April 26, 2014
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GM director of exterior design for performance cars Tom Peters popped by the Motor Trend headquarters today in celebration of the Chevrolet Camaro event tomorrow at Los Angeles' Petersen Automotive Museum. Peters, who designed the current-generation Camaro, the C6 Chevrolet Corvette, and the Pontiac Aztek (one of these is not like the other), swung by to show off a 2014 Camaro Z/28, Camaro 1LE, and Camaro SS Spring Special Edition, as well as his cherry 1969 Camaro ZL-1 clone, and to answer a few questions for us.
Though our discussion with Peters begins with the face-lifted 2014 Chevrolet Camaro, Peters' involvement with the Camaro goes back to the origin of the fifth-generation Camaro, when GM VP of Global Design Ed Welburn came up to him and told him it was time to bring back the Camaro. The result was 2006's Camaro concept, and ultimately the production 2010 Camaro. Peters' love of cars goes back even further than that, when he would sketch out gassers and hot rods on paper as a kid and sell the drawings for a nickel. That boyhood enthusiasm still drives him -- for example, he said the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, which he oversaw from start to finish, was designed with nine- and 10-year old kids in mind. His design philosophy seems focused on not just making cars, but characters that enthusiasts can connect with.
With the face-lifted 2014 Camaro, Peters and his team wanted to make the car look lower, wider, and meaner. Peters told us his solution was to look to classic Camaro's like his '69, and fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor for inspiration, all while applying heat-management and aerodynamic tricks picked up during the development of the 2014 Corvette Stingray and the Camaro ZL1. For example, Peters said the smaller upper grille area and larger lower grille area were designed based on lessons learned while developing the ZL1. The Camaro ZL1, with its 580-hp 6.2-liter supercharged V-8, is really susceptible to heat, but by essentially flipping the Camaro's front fascia for 2014, cooling was improved while also updating the Camaro and making it look wider and meaner at the same time.
The rear of the new Camaro was also designed to be meaner than before. The "jewelry-like" taillights on the original 2010 Camaro were replaced with brick taillights inspired by the 1969 car. Not only did Peters look to 1969 for inspiration, but also the race track. Peters told us he pictured the rear of the 2014 Camaro sitting on the starting grid at a racetrack with its V-8 rumbling (it's worth noting that Peters is now making revving V-8 sounds as he describes this to us), with the more purposeful rear end serving as a "game face" for the Camaro brand.
The taillights weren't the only inspiration his 1969 Camaro ZL-1 provided. Peters also used the slim '60s blue bowtie badge on the back of his Camaro as a source of inspiration behind the "Flowtie," and the revised badge on the nose of the 2014 Camaro. "Changing the bowtie was difficult," Peters said with a hint of exasperation in his voice. With the thinner upper grille area, Peters wanted to use a slimmer bowtie on the nose of the updated Camaro. The usual bowtie, which he describes as "a candy bar," wouldn't work with the new grille area, but after much debate at the board, Peters and his team were allowed to slightly modify the Camaro bowtie.
Speaking of Peters' 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 clone, it’s a beaut. Peters bought the body shell of what would become his Camaro ZL-1 clone in Huntington Beach for $1900 back in 1994, when he was working at GM's California design studio. It's 427 ZL-1 V-8 was meticulously pieced together part-by-part through the GM parts catalog, The '69 Camaro ZL-1, which Peters daily-drives, is fitted with a T56 six-speed manual, custom 15-inch wheels sporting modern rubber, uprated brakes, and a modern suspension system.
Before Peters had to head out, we had a chance to ask him about what he thinks of the competition, as well as the infamous Pontiac Aztek that he helped design. On the new 2015 Ford Mustang and updated 2015 Dodge Challenger, Peters says that both cars are "awesome."
"Competition with Challenger and Mustang improves the breed," said Peters, "all are awesome."
When we brought up the Aztek, Peters looked visibly disappointed with how the car wound up, especially when he told us its premise. The original idea of the Pontiac Aztek started back in the mid '90s when Peters and his team asked themselves "what would happen if we put a Camaro and an S10 in a blender?" The result was what the team christened the Pontiac Bearclaw. Then, a higher-up at GM requested the Bearclaw be built on the U-Body minivan platform. Peters and his team made do, with the 1999's Pontiac Aztek concept as the result. Then, GM's many committees got a hold of it. Someone decided it had to be "best-in-class," another decided it had to be covered in plastic body cladding, and so-on and so-forth. The result was the Aztek that we all love to hate. We'd say with designs like the C6 and C7 Corvettes, as well as the fifth-generation Camaro, Peters has more than made up for it.