MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. -- My need for speed has been slowed by collisions with reality.
Over four decades of driving, averaging 32,000 miles annually by my conservative estimate, I have accumulated enough traffic fines and penalties to pay for a full year at a good state college.
Mentally, I have succumbed to the weight of the law and have yielded to the sobering knowledge that stupidity behind the wheel can lead to death or other serious injury. I have witnessed many traffic fatalities worldwide. Thankfully, I was involved in none of them.
I have, at 65 years of age, matured. But I still indulge my fascination with speed whenever safely and legally possible, which is why this week's column is personal cause for celebration.
Welcome the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe, now officially the "Corvette Stingray," the Stingray name resurrected from the 1963-68 era of the C2 Corvette Stingray automobile.
In attitude and performance, it is an appropriate reuse of nomenclature. But anyone who has been brutalized by the C2 Corvette Stingray, especially driving over less-than-perfect roads, will not confuse the new car with its predecessor. By comparison, the 2014 Corvette Stingray has a sophistication and finesse once thought exclusively resident in cars European and prohibitively expensive.
That is not hyperbole.
I had my choice of prototype and production Stingray models here during a Chevrolet event connected with the 63rd running of the Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance. I settled on and stayed in the car probably most of us will buy and drive -- the gasoline-fueled, 6.2-liter V-8 coupe (455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque) equipped with an optional six-speed automatic transmission.
A seven-speed manual transmission is standard. But it remains to be seen if that will be the transmission of choice for the demographic group most capable of affording the new Stingray's $51,000 entry price. Buyers with that kind of discretionary income tend to be older. Older drivers, according to currently available industry data on consumer transmission choices, tend to prefer automatics.
Either way, buyers of the 2014 Corvette Stingray are likely to be pleased. Mine was a relatively short drive, about 150 miles. But I am still pinching myself in realization that this actually was a product from the Chevrolet Division of General Motors, a corporate entity that once turned out factory loads of automobiles whose interiors seemed passionately at odds with exterior styling and whose idea of "sport" was akin to gladiatorial motoring.
That old Chevrolet and GM are dead. The 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe, free of any of those previous product dissensions or miscues, is proof. Witness the attention to detail that binds function and design in engineered wedlock. The radiator is tilted forward to better accommodate engine cooling. Aerodynamics is helpmate to design: The roof is lowered a half-inch. The car's body is widened by as much. Handling is enhanced by an electronically limited slip differential that unobtrusively controls the transfer of torque from one side to the other of the car.
You sit in the driver's seat and are treated to an epiphany of harmony once thought impossible in anything GM -- interior sculpture and colors that blend perfectly with exterior body; well-stitched leather that feels supple to the touch; a well-balanced use of analog and digital controls.
It is a rear-wheel-drive two-seater resting atop a rigid aluminum space frame that gives the whole thing a wonderful lightness and tightness of being that makes the new Corvette Stingray coupe an absolute joy to drive. It requires premium unleaded fuel for "best performance." But, equipped with the seven-speed manual transmission, it has decent fuel economy (for a sports car!) at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon on the highway.
It is one of the few cars that can induce me to seek out roads less traveled in pursuit of thrills more appropriate to wanton youth. And this I did here on a variety of mostly abandoned back roads on California's Monterey Peninsula. And I did it reasonably within the law, mindful of the California Highway Patrol's excellent efforts in reducing traffic fatalities on the peninsula -- down to 17 in 2012 from 35 a year earlier.
I did nothing, I think, to upset that remarkable progress. But I did enjoy that new Corvette Stingray coupe. I thank the people of GM, Chevrolet, the Monterey Peninsula and the Great State of California for the opportunity.